Grammy Award winner Bruce Hornsby is a music icon. From his albums with the Range in the ’80s through his solo releases in the ’90s to his work with the Grateful Dead, Hornsby built himself a somewhat unpredictable career as a go-to piano cat in a wild array of styles—not only rock, but jazz, bluegrass, classical, electronica and Broadway musicals. He’s collaborated with Bob Dylan, Sting, Crosby Stills And Nash, Branford Marsalis, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Spike Lee and countless other artists. But Hornsby’s latest album with the Noisemakers, Rehab Reunion, is piano-free. Instead, he chose to play the dulcimer, and Hornsby recruited the likes of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Mavis Staples to contribute. The dude is a fellow music obsessive, so MAGNET asked him to bend our ear on these songs.
Bon Iver, “Holocene” from: Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Love this. It’s probably the fourth or fifth song I came upon after having heard that Justin Vernon had been interested in my music for several years. This reached me right away; love his vocal phrasing, and love the unique instrumentation. And love his singing on our new record!
John Coltrane, “Giant Steps” from: Giant Steps
For years, this was seemingly the crucible, the proving ground and intense test for jazz improvisers trying to showcase their abilities playing through difficult chord changes at fast tempos. I finally tackled it with Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette on our Camp Meeting record and tried to find my own way of playing and presenting it. I’m a “friend of jazz”; I know the language but don’t speak it fluently because I don’t play the music often. I could call our record Dilettante’s Dream!
Radiohead, “Pyramid Song” from: Amnesiac
This song reminds me harmonically of “Everything In Its Right Place” from their Kid A album. That song influenced me in the writing of my songs “Sticks And Stones” (Big Swing Face, 2002) and “Here We Are Again” (Solo Concerts, 2014). “Pyramid Song” takes me to a similar emotional place; love it.
2Pac, “Changes” from: Greatest Hits
Obviously, this song is a special one for me. Out of the blue in late 1996 or 1997, I received a cassette in the mail from the Shakur Foundation. On this cassette was an early (and way more incendiary) version of the song. They were contacting me to make me aware of the song’s existence, and to ask what I thought the publishing splits should be. I love what Tupac did with my old song, and loved what many other rap/hip-hop artists have done with it as well.
The Grateful Dead, “Dark Star” from: What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been
By the time I started playing with the Dead, this song was played at a much slower tempo than this first studio version. The song totally works both ways. I was playing with the Dead at Wembley Arena in London in the fall of 1990 when during the drum section, Garcia, in whose tent I was sitting, asked me to go out and play “Variations On A Theme Of Dark Star.” I did, and this improvisation ended up on the Dead album Infrared Roses as a “song” called “Silver Apples Of The Moon”!
The National, “Fake Empire” from: Boxer
This is a beautiful, quietly anthemic piece that keeps building and building. I would imagine it’s a very dramatic live piece. Very affecting, with a very affecting video. I can’t relate; my videos were great cures for insomnia on MTV during the period 1986-1991.
The Staples Singers, “I’ll Take You There” from: Be Altitude: Respect Yourself
Iconic and timeless. Their version of “Samson And Delilah” is sublime (as are so many other Staples records). So proud to have Mavis sing a duet with me (“The Celestial Railroad”) on our new record. We had a beautiful time and lots of laughs.
The Hold Steady, “Stuck Between Stations” from: Boys And Girls In America
This is a great rock song, with Craig Finn delivering these (also great) lyrics referencing Kerouac and University of Minnesota athletic teams. Sometimes it reminds me of Springsteen’s “Rosalita.” I feel he’s a kindred spirit lyrically, especially the songs that my kindergarten friend Chip deMatteo and I write together. I’ve heard Finn play and sing solo, just guitar and vocal, and it’s totally affecting.
Bob Dylan, “Ballad Of A Thin Man” from: Highway 61 Revisited
Of course, a classic, from the greatest. I think the humor in his writing is sometimes underappreciated. At age 10 or so, I would listen to my little red 45 of “Like A Rolling Stone” over and over, trying to phrase the vocal exactly like him. Got to play with him on Under The Red Sky, sat in with him live in the early 2000s, and he sang Henley’s and my “End Of The Innocence” in his concerts for a while; all transcendent moments for me.
Jewelz, “40 Bars” from: unreleased
Whoever put this playlist together for me really did their homework. This is the great Allen Iverson rapping, from his ‘90s record that I’m not sure was ever released. “Chuck,” as I and many others from his home area call him, is an old friend. I’m so happy about his Basketball Hall Of Fame induction that is happening this year. And maybe it’s time for him to make his follow-up record!