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Music and the Creative Spirit

Bruce Hornsby: Halcyon Days

By Published: February 23, 2009
BH: Musicians talk about being truly awake but that's a very difficult thing to do; to be truly awake and truly aware and ready to receive and be in the moment. Most people kind of sleep walk through their lives and sleep walk through their lives creatively. And the way the music business is set up and the way that people want to hear music, feeds that approach. Again, my approach comes from my basic personality of always looking for a joyous feeling, to make a joyful noise and I'm also looking to do new things. On a very basic level, I am always looking to entertain my band during a performance (laughs) and that involves a certain creativity in going to new places.

LP: You are known as a story teller but also unique, is your ability to find musicians that are also storytellers with their instruments. That's the way I perceive Pat Metheny and Jerry Garcia. They don't just play licks but they express feelings and emotions through the stories they tell. I felt that they brought this to your compositions. Did you know in advance that this would happen?



BH: I wasn't thinking of them as storytellers but since I am a songwriter, I guess I am more literal in my thought about that. I think of Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Bernie Taupin or Randy Newman as story tellers. The word that I would use to describe what you are saying is that they are both very expressive musicians. They are so expressive and so soulful and that's my reason for being interested in those guys. Are they telling a story? Well, that's a little too obtuse for me. That's a concept in describing them but for me; they are just expressive and soulful players who have moved me many, many times.

LP: Your relationship with Garcia goes back quite a ways.

BH: My relationship with Garcia started in 1987. Both Jerry and especially Phil were fans of my first record and they asked if my band could open for the Grateful Dead for two shows in Monterey, California. This happened for the next four years and they soon began asking me to sit in with them. As time went on, Garcia and I became really good friends and I asked him to play on my record. When Brent Mydland died, they asked me to take his place but I only agreed to help them get through this tough time as they broke in their new guy (Vince Welnick). And so that's what we did.

LP: What was it about Garcia's playing that moved you?

BH: Garcia could play one or two notes and it would be so expressive and soulful. I just loved his playing and both his tone and his attack were so striking. Just a beautiful sound... and that's enough and it's a lot. I feel the same way about Pat's sound or Mark Knopfler's sound. This area can be a little frustrating for a pianist because it has that one sound. People can get different sounds out of their instruments but the electric guitar is so open to finding your own voice. It's so expressive on a sonic level and so varied. There are just so many things that you can do with an electric guitar.

LP: I think there is a unique aspect of the Dead that gets over looked. For the longest time, at least since the Dixieland era, improvisational solos in mainstream jazz were done by a single soloist and the rest of the band worked as a rhythm section. But with the Dead, every member might be improvising through their own voice, all at the same time and any two or more members might be laying down the rhythm at any given time.

BH: I thought they were very innovative and have not received the credit that they deserve. They have a great body of work that stands up to anybody in the pop or rock world and have not been given the credit they deserve as song writers. They were so soulful and so deep. Garcia and (Robert) Hunter should be right up there with Robbie Robertson, and I mean absolutely. They were equally influential but just on a more underground level. Many of my musician friends could not understand why I would want to play with them because they could not get past the way they played and the way they sang their songs. They played and sang out of tune a lot and they could not get past that to hear the incredible song writing.

LP: Garcia had one of the brilliant minds in music. He would come up with such compelling and complex thoughts. What made him unique to you?


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