Hornsby was born in Williamsburg, VA, and grew up in that combination college town and tourist center, later attending the University of Miami and the Berklee School of Music. He then spent years playing in bars and sending demo tapes to record companies.
In 1980, he and his brother (and songwriting partner) John Hornsby moved to Los Angeles, where they spent three years writing for 20th Century Fox. There Bruce Hornsby met Huey Lewis, who would eventually produce him and record his material. Hornsby finally signed his band, the Range, to RCA in 1985. Their debut album, The Way It Is, was released in August 1986. It eventually produced three Top 20 hits, the biggest of which was the socially conscious “The Way It Is,” which featured Hornsby’s characteristically melodic right-hand piano runs. The album stayed in the charts almost a year and a half and sold two million copies.
Hornsby & the Range won the Best New Artist Grammy Award for 1986. Hornsby’s second album, Scenes from the Southside, was not as successful as his debut, though it sold a million copies and produced the Top Ten single “The Valley Road.” Hornsby also began to make his mark as a songwriter for others: Huey Lewis had a hit with his “Jacob’s Ladder,” as did Don Henley with “The End of the Innocence.” Hornsby’s third album, A Night on the Town (1990), found him trying to break out of his signature sound into other areas. It was less successful than its predecessors but, along with the pianist’s extensive session work, it signaled his determination to tackle new musical challenges.
Hornsby worked extensively as a producer and sideman in the early ’90s, notably doing temporary duty in the Grateful Dead after their keyboardist, Brent Mydland, died in July 1990, and producing a comeback album for Leon Russell, an idol of Hornsby’s. He also became the father of twin sons. He finally turned in his fourth album, Harbor Lights, for release in 1993. This solo album, which did not feature his backup band, the Range, went gold, and Hornsby toured the U.S. and Canada through the end of the year. He followed it with a similar effort, Hot House, in July 1995, returning three years later with the double album Spirit Trail. Here Come the Noise Makers was issued in fall 2000. Since that time, Hornsby has released a handful of albums including Big Swing Face in 2002, Halcyon Days in 2004, and the jazz-oriented Camp Meeting in 2007. – William Ruhlmann