When thinking of artists who’ve made significant contributions to the musical landscape, Bruce Hornsby should come to mind.
Incredible pianist, vocalist, and accordion player, he’s collaborated with notable classic rock legends since the 1980s.
His extensive musical offerings over the past four decades have garnered fans from various genres.
We’re taking a deeper dive to learn more about this virtuoso and what he’s doing today.
Let’s jump in!
Who is Bruce Hornsby?
A multi-instrumentalist, Bruce Hornsby has been a member of numerous successful bands since the 1980s. He’s also had his own equally successful solo career.
Born in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1954, Hornsby formed his first band at age 20 with his older brother, Bobby.
The band, Bobby Hi-Test and the Octane Kids, featured Bruce on Fender Rhodes piano and vocals. They played for free at fraternity parties at the University of Virginia. Their songs were mostly covers from the Grateful Dead plus tunes from the Allman Brothers Band and The Band.
The Hornsby brothers’ band ended when Bruce began studying music and moved away from Virginia. He attended two semesters at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and then completed his studies at the University of Miami in 1977.
After college, Hornsby returned to Williamsburg, where he played gigs in local clubs. He moved to Los Angeles three years later with his songwriting partner and younger brother, John.
Here, Bruce joined his first band, Ambrosia, in 1982. The band was near the end of their journey, so he only played on their last studio album.
Then, in 1984, he hit the big time when he formed Bruce Hornsby and The Range. The following year, they signed their first record contract with RCA Records.
Not long after, he released the single The Way It Is, which topped international music charts. It remains Hornsby’s biggest hit to date.
Bruce Hornsby’s musical career has remained successful over the last 37 years. He’s been an accomplished solo artist, formed three other bands, and partnered with legendary musicians. Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Eric Clapton have all shared musical space with Hornsby.
Three Grammy Awards and numerous other music awards are a testament to Bruce Hornsby’s immense talent.
Was Bruce Hornsby in the Grateful Dead?
While never becoming a formal member, Hornsby did perform in over 100 Grateful Dead concerts.
He started sitting in as a guest in 1988, playing accordion or synthesizer. When the Dead’s keyboardist died in 1990, they asked Hornsby to fill in until they could find a permanent replacement.
Even after the new keyboardist joined the band, Bruce would make guest appearances, sometimes playing on his grand piano. Bruce Hornsby’s sit-ins up until the band’s demise in 1995 was a special treat for Deadheads.
Bruce Hornsby’s Best Known Songs
The Way It Is
This song was released in 1986 and became an instant international hit. It reached the top spot on music charts in the US, Canada, and the Netherlands.
The lyrics speak of a society where some people have so little while others have more than enough. The Economic Opportunity Act passed in 1964 is referenced in these lines.
Well, they passed a law in '64 To give those who ain't got a little more But it only goes so far
This song is as timely now as it was during its writing 35 years ago.
Also released in 1986, Mandolin Rain saw nearly as much success as The Way It Is.
Bruce Hornsby’s piano playing on this song is incredibly sweet and moving. The lyrics speak of heartbreak and remembering a love that went away.
Runnin' down by the lakeshore She did love the sound of a summer storm It played on the lake like a mandolin Now it's washing her away once again
The Valley Road
Bruce and his brother, John, co-wrote and released the Valley Road in 1988. It topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for a week after its release.
The song is about a young couple who are from different socio-economic backgrounds. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Bruce Hornsby explained that growing up in Virginia inspired the lyrics for the song. He said, “Every year, some rich girl would get involved with some country guy, and they would act irresponsibly and have to deal with the ramifications.”
While no one was lookin' on the old plantation He took her all the way down the long Valley road They sent her away not too much later And left him walking down the old valley road
How Many Instruments Does Bruce Hornsby Play?
In addition to his beautiful vocals, Bruce Hornsby is proficient on the piano, keyboards, accordion, and the Appalachian dulcimer.
Throughout his career, he has played various pianos, including a 9ft Model D Steinway Grand Piano. He currently owns three of these pianos.
Is Bruce Hornsby Still Touring?
While he doesn’t have any upcoming shows planned yet, he did tour this past summer with his band, Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers. He also just completed a solo tour in November through the South.
His most recent album, Non-Secure Connection, was released in 2020 and included several prominent guests. The late Leon Russell is featured, plus Vernon Reid from the band Living Color.
What is Bruce Hornsby Doing These Days?
It appears he is enjoying some well-deserved downtime with his wife, Kathy, after his recent summer and fall tours. Bruce Hornsby is also an avid basketball fan. In fact, he often attends college basketball games throughout Virginia, where he and Kathy reside.
With a passion for performance and entertaining crowds, he’ll likely announce an upcoming tour. When he does, do yourself a favor and catch Bruce Hornsby live. You won’t be disappointed!
Have you seen Bruce Hornsby live? Tell us about it!