Interview: Bruce Hornsby brings together a band of seasoned players

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Mega-talented Bruce Hornsby is a Virginia native and the friend to call when you are in a
jam band. Mega-talented Bruce Hornsby is a Virginia native and the friend to call when you are in a jam band.

Bruce Hornsby is a man of many talents. A master pianist with a playful imagination, his scores have won countless awards and adulation, and he has collaborated with and inspired musicians of all genres, from Ricky Skaggs to Tupac Shakur. When he is not blending bluegrass, jazz, soul, and pop into his own signature sound, he is an avid basketball player and always makes time to hit the court. Following a script, however, is nowhere near Hornsby’s list of accomplishments.

From his early days writing award-winning music with the Range, to touring with the Grateful Dead in the early 1990s, to raising a family in Williamsburg, Virginia, Hornsby has never lost his penchant for winging it. This vibrant taste for creativity remains constant as the three-time Grammy award winner enjoys a summer tour with his long-established band of Noisemakers, who often forgo standard rehearsals, and instead employ the strategy “watch Bruce” when performing live.

Hornsby’s innovation results in music that is grown, rather than played, making the moniker Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers delightfully ironic. With live performances full of improvisation and sparks of musical ingenuity flying from each strum of the guitar or striking of piano keys, the end result is a musical fabric that rings differently in every ear, stirs the soul, and is far from mere noise.

The Noisemakers themselves are old friends, with drummer Sonny Emory, who joined almost a decade ago, being the newest addition to the group. With the release of the group’s recent album Bride of the Noisemakers, they celebrate eleven years of never knowing what may come next, except good fun and good music.

C-VILLE Weekly reached Hornsby via e-mail to discuss his summer tour, his latest music, and his Virginia roots. Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers will perform at nTelos Wireless Pavilion on August 7. Railroad Earth opens.

C-VILLE: Your new release, Bride of the Noisemakers, is comprised of live recordings that you selected, and 25 tracks made the cut. What influenced your choices?

Bruce Hornsby: Actually, my latest release is the soundtrack of my score for Spike Lee’s 2012 film Red Hook Summer, a mostly solo piano record. My favorites from Bride (which features the beautiful cover depicting my bass player JV Collier getting married to my keyboard player JT Thomas in drag) might be (in order) “Cyclone,” “Country Doctor,” “This Too Shall Pass,” “Fortunate Son/Comfortably Numb,” “Levitate,” “White Wheeled Limousine,” “Resting Place,” “Dreamland,” and “Swan Song.”

The Noisemakers, collectively, have been playing with you for quite awhile. Do you have any especially fond or funny memories from touring and performing together?

Generally, we just ride around the country and laugh a lot on our tours. One good memory comes from the mid-2000s, in Seattle. In a rather festive, wild moment in our show, a rather big and strong woman jumped up onto the stage and was moving quickly toward me, seated at the piano, when she was met by two poor, hapless members of our crew. As they tried to stop her, she basically got into a wrestling match with them, and beat the crap out of both of them. During the fracas she purportedly kept screaming ‘Why won’t you let me be with him?’ and ‘Why are you keeping me from him?’ That was memorable and hilarious for all, except maybe the woman, of course.

I hope she is well, and I hope she still comes when we play Seattle, but we’ve not seen her since.

You’ve toured with the Dead, you’ve won three Grammys, and you’ve explored the world extensively. What about Virginia keeps you coming home?

Williamsburg is just a very nice place to live, and it has been a great place to raise our two sons. If I lived anywhere else, it would probably be the Bay Area of California, but it’s very unlikely that we would ever move. I guess I’m a homebody at heart, and ten years in L.A. was enough.

You’re known for your profound exploration of music and its boundaries. Do your Virginia roots influence your music as it continues to grow and change?

I feel that I’m less influenced by the place where I grew up than I used to be, but I’m probably wrong. I’m increasingly influenced by old time traditional music in some of my new and recent work, and certainly that music has a serious Virginia provenance.

Do you have any favorite C’ville spots that you like to visit when you’re in town?

I guess the two spots I regularly visit in Charlottesville are Scott Stadium for UVA football in the fall, and John Paul Jones Arena for UVA hoops in the winter. And for that I thank my longtime, dear friend, Virginia Athletics Director, Craig Littlepage.

~Maggie Underwood

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