His eclectic rock blazes a trail to Grammys
ALONE in the spotlight, pianist Bruce Hornsby begins a simple, plaintive solo with his right hand. His left hand joins in, chords descending in rich resonance. He pauses, as if to decide what to play next. Out of the stillness begins a fast drum beat, punctuated by sharp hits - two, four - on the tom-tom. The audience breaks into cheering and applause. The stage lights up, and the hard-driving rock tune ``The Way It Is'' begins at the Orpheum Theater.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Hornsby's recent concert here - part of a 21-city tour - showed clearly the appeal a ``good ol' piano player'' has in today's pop scene. Devoid of stereotypes and high-tech glitz, Bruce Hornsby and the Range have challenged the music industry's rule books - and won.
They do everything a rock band should, but with a rough-at-the-edges Southern flair derived from Hornsby himself. Growing up in Williamsburg, Va., set the tone for his music, which is a blend of jazz, country, rock, and New Age - ``a very odd mix,'' Hornsby concedes in a Monitor interview.
``The Way It Is'' raised the curtain on Hornsby and his four-member band last year. Its fresh sound, together with poignant lyrics about racial injustice, pushed them into the limelight.
After seven years of traveling the club circuit, they are finally tasting success: Their debut album has sold more than 2 million copies, and Hornsby has received a Grammy nomination for ``best new artist.'' (CBS will televise the awards show tomorrow night.)
Performing live, Hornsby projects quite a different image from the photograph on his record jacket. When he's not sitting behind his piano, this 6-foot, 4-inch pop star - who originally wanted to be a pro basketball player - is loping and strutting around the stage with an accordion - yes, an accordion - strapped to his chest. He takes total command of the scene, his long legs spread wide apart, shifting and bouncing with the beat. And all the while he beams and grins as if he's having the time of his life.
His somewhat awkward, country-boy image, plus a hit song with a social conscience, has attracted many a fan.
``I feel that if it's true to me and honest from me, then it's meaningful and people will react more strongly. I think people can tell what's honest and what's not,'' Hornsby says. ``In the music business, you face such rejection. If you don't have a good amount of self-confidence, then you're in the wrong business.''
Hornsby should know. It was a long haul for him and his band, who faced rejection from every major record label at least two or three times. Now, at age 32, Hornsby has had enough experience and hard times to make him ripe with self-confidence - even when his style is, well, a bit different from the city-slicker set.
His lyrics, written also by his brother John, call up images of tidewater, rural marshlands, and the Chesapeake Bay. But the element that has garnered him the most attention is the meaning behind some of those lyrics. ``The Way It Is,'' a song about racist attitudes, is based on his experiences ``growing up in a small Southern town where those attitudes prevailed - the narrow-mindedness and bigotry,'' Hornsby explains.