Harris: Joining us live from Williamsburg, VA, is Bruce Hornsby. Good morning, Bruce.
Hornsby: Well, good morning, Paul.
Harris: Welcome to the show. As I was listening to that last song, I was thinking about the movie That Thing You Do that came out last year, which I just watched again on video. There is a great scene in there where they’re sitting around and trying to come up with a name for the band. Before they end up being The Wonders, they say how about The Herdsmen, how about The Tempos, how about those sort of things. So, what were some of the other names before you decided on Bruce Hornsby And The Range?
Hornsby: Oh man that stuff is hard to remember, cause that’s been a while ago. I was just going to hide behind a name cause I didn’t wanna be Bruce Hornsby or any of that. I kind of liked what Mark Knopfler did with Dire Straits. If you knew the band you knew it was really Mark Knopfler’s and their name was Dire Straits. Originally we were just the Range. But the record company kind of badgered me about. They wanted it to be just Bruce Hornsby. So we decided to go with Bruce Hornsby And The Range. I sort of compromised there. But as far as other names that we had, oh I can’t remember.
Harris: But there must have been band meetings where you sat around just shooting them back and forth.
Hornsby: Well, not so much. The band never got too involved with that sort of naming thing. They’re just into playing the music. Usually band naming sessions generate into frivolity. At least they always have with us. It always turns into silliness, coming up with funny stuff. Last year as a matter of fact we had a different name every night. We were part of this Further Festival, sort of a post-Grateful Dead festival that travelled around the country. For instance, we played the Nissan Pavilion up there. The Flying Karamazov Brothers were the emcees, a bunch of crazy circus guys, great guys, and they were introducing every band and I didn’t like the style very much cause it felt too much like Vegas to me. “Ladies and gentlemen Bruce Hornsby….” And I wasn’t so into this so I told the guys that we would come up with a different name every day and we’ll be that. So one day we would be Spankula…
Harris: [laughs] See, that’s a great band name right there!
Hornsby: And the next day we would be Bludgeon, the sort of death-metal type of name. The next day we were The Sons of Schenectady. It was just all total frivolity, the next day we were Pantload. [laughs] So you know that’s the kind of names I would come up with when left to my own, with too much time on my hands.
Harris: Those are good. And I know there is another band name from your past from way, way back — not a band that you were in but one that influenced you a lot. A band called Bobby Hi-Test And The Octane Kids.
Hornsby: No, I was in that band.
Harris: You were? Wasn’t that your brother’s band?
Hornsby: Yeah, it was my brother’s band. but I was in the band. My brother was at the University of Virginia and I was at Richmond. One year I went there, I went to music school. I would travel up 64, across 64 to Charlottesville every weekend and play with my brother’s Grateful Dead cover band and that was Bobby Hi-Test And The Octane Kids. And then we became known as just The Octane Kids. We played grain alcohol parties [laughs] around U-VA, frat parties and various occasions like that. So that was a band I was in. Obviously that’s pretty much a frivolous name.
Harris: Now how weird is it going from a Grateful Dead cover band when you’re a college kid, to actually playing as a member of the Grateful Dead for a couple of years?
Hornsby: Yeah, that was quite amazing for all of the people who hung around with that band, friends and students and all of our cronies at the time. It was all amazing for all of them when I started playing with them at Madison Square Garden in September of 1990. I just sort of came walking off the street and started winging it with them with no rehearsal. I think the first or second night I played with them, most of the old guys came up from various parts that they had moved to, from Pennsylvania to Atlanta. And it was an amazing time, an amazing experience. That’s a rare moment in life when you paint yourself into the mural. It was a great time, I wouldn’t trade my time with those guys for anything, I used to play with them a lot at RFK, actually.
Harris: I know that you keep the Dead connection alive. I know at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert a couple of years ago didn’t you do I Know You Rider?
Hornsby: That’s right. The Dead had asked me — Garcia had just passed away about a month before this — Phil and those guys asked me if I would do this as a tribute to Garcia for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert. And it was a really special night and we were really proud to be a part of that night and proud to do something in memory of Garcia. He was a great person, and a great friend of mine and I really miss the guy. I talked to him four days before he died and we just sat on the phone and laughed for an hour, and just gave each other crap like we always did.
Hornsby: I mean he was just a beautiful cat, and I just miss him a lot and it was special to be part of that. I inducted the Dead into the Hall of Fame maybe three years ago which was very funny. Garcia was never much for this sort of ceremonial aspect, but everyone else in the band showed up and they were all in their tuxedos and they brought a lifesize cardboard cut out of Garcia to represent him on stage. It was the picture of him in Rolling Stone which was very funny.
Harris: Did the album ever come out of that concert?
Hornsby: Yeah, absolutely it did. There was not a lot of promotion about it but there was a really great review in Rolling Stone magazine last year.
Harris: I never saw it.
Hornsby: You can find it, you can play our version of I Know You Rider on there. It’s on this album along with lots of great cuts from Dylan, Springsteen, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Lou Reed, and Chrissie Hynde. It’s quite a record.
Harris: We’re talking with Bruce Hornsby live from his home in Williamsburg, VA, the town he was born in and moved back to a few years ago after living in LA for what, ten years, wasn’t it, Bruce?
Hornsby: Ten years, from a very neat period of 1980 to 1990 — the decade of the 80’s, which we’ll call the me decade I guess.
Harris: What brought you back to your home town?
Hornsby: We were some of the fortunate ones, we got what we went there for. It took me awhile. I tried to get a record deal for seven years. Finally, in 1985, I did do that with RCA, then you know our first record went so far so fast, like I said we got what we went there for. And I never really liked living there. We would call it Hell-A. So we decided to move back, my wife and I, we’re both from here. We wanted to have a family, we were lucky enough to have twin boys five years ago and we wanted to raise them here. So we moved back here and I just sort of kept my thing going from here which has been very nice. But we haven’t really talked about why were on the phone today!
Harris: That’s what I was going to get to next, because your connection to Virginia also connects you to the Virginia Special Olympics.
Hornsby: That’s right, a couple of years ago I did a benefit for the Special Olympics, which was actually my first solo piano concert. The last couple of years I recommitted myself to the study of piano. As opposed to most singer-songwriters, I have a real interest in the virtuoso aspect of piano. I’m really interested in playing it at a high level and the last couple years I have got more into the solo thing, something I love doing. So I started developing that to an intense degree. So when I do this concert three weeks from now, it’s really special to me because it’s something I feel like I’m getting good at. It’s something I really have been working at actually.
Harris: Let me give the details here since I’ll be hosting that night and I’m really looking forward to it. Bruce is going to be doing that solo show at the George Mason University Center For The Performing Arts, an absolutely beautiful place, Bruce, by the way…
Hornsby: Yeah, it’s great!
Harris: You can get your tickets through Protix 703-218-6500 tickets are $25 and $32.50 and we also have special VIP circle tickets where you come to a private reception before hand, before the concert, about 6pm or so, and you get to meet Bruce and talk to him and ask him questions or what ever you want. We’ll have food and drink there, too.
Hornsby: Also I’ll tell them funny stories about Spankula.
Harris: Spankula and Pantload, yeah. [laughs] Those tickets are $50 and the reason were doing this is to raise money for Virginia Special Olympics, and I hope you’ll come and join us.
Hornsby: I’ll make it worth their while. I’ll play for a long time.
Harris: You see? Right there — what kind of guarantee do you get from performers anymore, ladies and gentlemen? Here’s a man who’s willing to put it on the line.
Hornsby: I’ll probably take requests at the concert, too.
Hornsby: I have done that for years.
Harris: A man with a guarantee who takes requests.
Hornsby: I never had a set list for years. I was definitely influenced by the Dead. I guess I really wasn’t doing this before I played with the Dead. Our shows are very loose and pretty spontaneous, I think, and the solo thing is perfect for that. Because it’s just me and I can kind of go anywhere I want. So I’ll take requests from the audience, if they just write them down and throw them up on stage.
Harris: Now let’s talk about the fact that you left LA, but you went back to LA last year to work on a big time movie. You worked with Kevin Costner on that Tin Cup movie right?
Hornsby: I didn’t work with Kevin. I know Kevin a little bit, we talked a few times. He was originally trying to get me to write some songs for The Bodyguard. I didn’t end up doing that. It didn’t seem….
Harris: It didn’t seem like Whitney Houston and Bruce Hornsby go together?
Hornsby: Yeah, it didn’t seem right for me. I didn’t do that. Anyway, Ron Shelton, the director of the movie, called me when I was out there doing Jay Leno last year. I went over to his office and looked at some rough cuts of the movie and it looked good to me. I thought it was funny and I’ve always been a sports fan.
Harris: Do you play golf?
Hornsby: I used to play. I don’t play very much any more. I play a lot of basketball. But golf, I was last seen whiffing on national tv on VH-1’s Fairways To Hell golf tournament. [laughs] It was called Fairways To Heaven in Vegas, they talked me into playing, but I didn’t want to. I kept saying no, no, no, but VH-1 kept badgering me so I finally did it and I was so happy I did [laughs]. Anyway that was the last time I played, part of the reason I was seen whiffing because I don’t play much. I used to play a little bit, but once I got more serious about my music, coupled with the fact that I have my twin boys, when I have my leisure time I would rather spend it with my family. So golf was the casualty there. Anyway I liked the movie and he asked me to write the songs and I came up with an idea I liked, a song called Big Stick, about playing golf. A little double entendre for all you morning drivers. I don’t do much for movies usually. I get asked to do it a lot. It seems like once every two weeks there’s a movie coming along. Generally I haven’t done it much. I did it for the Ron Howard fireman’s movie, Backdraft, a few years ago. Anyway it’s a fun movie and I was glad to be part of it.
Harris: It turned out very nicely. Last thing I want to ask you about this morning — and I hope you’re going to do this when we see you in three weeks out there at George Mason — is on the Elton John tribute album, Two Rooms, you did a terrific version of Madman Across The Water. I’m going to play it here after we say goodbye to you. Tell us how you got involved in that and why that song?
Hornsby: This thing came about basically because Elton and Bernie asked me to be a part of this record and I was flattered by that. Elton has always been a supporter of mine. He’s been a great friend to me through the years. I sang with him at Madison Square Garden one night. We had two pianos back to back and by the end of the song we were both lying on the floor doing the dying cockroach and playing with one hand [laughs] for 20,000 people at The Garden. Originally, I picked the song Come Down In Time, a song from Tumbleweed Connection, a song that I loved. But it came back to us that Sting had already picked that, so we said okay, we’ll do something else. I started hearing about what other people were doing and the record sounded very pop to me. It sounded like everyone was doing old hits and sort of the lighter side generally of what Elton did. The Beach Boys were doing Crocodile Rock, Bon Jovi doing Levon, Tina Turner doing The Bitch Is Back. I thought, well, I’ll go the other way with this. Certainly our song on the record is the least pop on the thing, the least commercial sounding. We took Madman Across The Water, a pretty dark tune and sort of did more of a McCoy Tyner-esque version. McCoy Tyner is one of the great jazz pianists of the last 40 years. Anyway that’s how we decided to do that and go in that direction.
Harris: Well it’s a very nice job, and I’m gonna play it now, but first, thank you for coming on with us this morning.
Hornsby: Okay, Paul, I’ll see you in a few weeks!
Harris: I’m looking forward to seeing you at George Mason. That’s Bruce Hornsby in Williamsburg, Virginia today and in Fairfax in three weeks.
Hornsby: This is about the Special Olympics, people should realize it’s really for a great cause and who ever watches the Special Olympics can’t help but be moved.
Harris: Absolutely. Thanks, Bruce!
Copyright 1997, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Nicci Murphy.