Songwriter, pianist, accordionist and composer Bruce Hornsby broke onto the national music scene in 1986 with 'The Way It Is.' - Photo courtesy of Michael Weintrob

Just a songwriter at heart

As one of contemporary music's most diverse popsmiths, Bruce Hornsby says he likes to keep his music loose. It's an innovative approach he learned while playing with The Grateful Dead between '90 and '95, and one that lets Hornsby, a songwriter at heart, spontaneously evolve and expand his ideas.

Hornsby, sans his band, the Noisemakers, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 6, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

"My left hand will be the rhythm section at this show," Hornsby says during a telephone interview. "I have two repertoires. There's the one I play solo and the one I play with the band. The solo concerts tend to show the softer side of what I do as a singer and songwriter, and they're more adventurous."

Hornsby nailed his first big hit with "The Way It Is," the title cut of his 1986 debut album recorded on RCA Records with his band, the Range. "The Way It Is" produced another hit, "Mandolin Rain," and the album went on to become a multi-platinum seller. The next year, Hornsby and the Range won a Grammy for Best New Artist.

"The Way It Is" was labeled the "Virginia sound," a mix of rock, jazz and bluegrass with a Southern feel. Over the years, Hornsby, based in Williamsburg, has drawn from pop, jazz, bluegrass, country and modern classical music for his creative style.

His success at collaborating with other artists is reflected on releases such as the bluegrass project "Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby" and the jazzy "Camp Meeting," with drummer Jack DeJohnette and upright bassist Christian McBride. He's also ventured into projects with Bob Dylan, Bela Fleck, Charlie Haden, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Branford Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Levon Helm and a list of others too long to name.

In 1989, Hornsby co-wrote and played piano on Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence," and in 1991 he played on Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me."

He garnered another Grammy in 1990 for Best Bluegrass Recording for his version of "The Valley Road," and shared a Grammy with sax player and composer Branford Marsalis in 1993 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for "Barcelona Mona."

"I get asked to be part of a lot of outside projects," Hornsby says. "Chip deMatteo, a childhood friend of mine, and I have written a musical called 'SCKBSTD.' It was commissioned by Playwrights Horizons in New York City. And I've done a score for a Spike Lee movie coming out in August."

Hornsby has written songs for Lee's movies for 20 years, he says, but this is his first feature film score. He'll perform songs from the new film, "Red Hook Summer," and from "SCKBSTD" during his show at the Craterian.

"Some of the songs from the musical are influenced by modern classical music," he says. "There's a song called 'The Don of Dons.' It's about Donald Trump. Another, 'Holy Trinity,' is about home delivery: UPS, FedEx and the postman."

Before he appears at the Craterian, Hornsby will perform two nights with guitarist Bob Weir at the Fox Theater in Oakland, Calif. Then he'll make a stop at the University of Oregon to visit his son, Russell, a distance runner coached by Vin Lananna, before turning around and heading to Medford.

"I just wrote a new song with Robert Hunter of the Dead that I'll premiere at the show with Weir," Hornsby says. "I may play it at the Craterian show. The concert will run the gamut from older music to newer music. There'll be old hits from my time with the Grateful Dead to the bluegrass record I made with Ricky Scaggs.

"I have so much to draw from, and there are so many areas that I've dealt with through the years. So I try to give everyone a large dose of all of it."

Tickets to the show cost $42, $45 or $48, and $30, $33 and $36 for ages 18 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., online at www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

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