Sunday, June 26, 2016

30 Years of Bruce Hornsby

It's hard for me to believe, but Bruce Hornsby first arrived on the music scene three decades ago in 1986.

I became an instant fan with the release of Bruce Hornsby and the Range's debut album, The Way It Is. The top two singles, the title track and “Mandolin Rain,” played constantly on the radio and on MTV. The group also won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1986.

Hornsby and his band's music isn't your typical '80s sythesizer pop. Rather, it is timeless, led by Hornsby's graceful piano playing and his band's tasteful soft-rock groove. And unlike Billy Joel's bluesy, soulful piano playing, Hornsby's style gravitates more towards jazz and new age, often compared to Keith Jarrett and giving Hornsby's pop a more elegant flavor.

Even the group's videos were not your typical racy or avant-garde MTV fare, simply featuring exquisite cinematography of Hornsby and his band playing in the studio.

I distinctly remember buying Hornsby's first album on vinyl from a record shop on the top floor of the Bergen Mall, the second one on vinyl from a suburban Sears where my family went to get a portrait photograph taken, and the third and final Range album on cassette from a music store on the underground level of the Garden State Plaza.

As I listened to these albums as a teenager (and attended a 1993 Hornsby concert in Holmdel, New Jersey, with my brother), I never could have imagined that I would get to interview Hornsby nearly two decades later, which I did by telephone in 2002. I then met him in person strictly as a fan five years later at a free outdoor concert and CD signing at J&R Music in New York City. When my turn came to get autographs and talk to him and his fellow musicians at the time, I quoted an obscure and hilarious line from one of his solo albums, and he immediately started singing the exact song with that phrase, which I had also gotten him to do on the phone five years earlier. His bass player, legendary jazz musician Christian McBride, was laughing and shaking his head. Hornsby's people also got a good laugh out of it. In addition to meeting and getting autographs from Hornsby and McBride, I also got to meet and get an autograph from Hornsby's drummer at the time, Jack DeJohnette, also a legendary jazz musician.

Hornsby and his current band, the Noisemakers, just released their latest album, Rehab Reunion, this summer. This is the first album on which Hornsby doesn't play piano, instead concentrating solely on hammered dulcimer.

But it all began with Bruce Hornsby and the Range, 30 years ago.

--Raj Manoharan

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