For music fans who are particularly surprised by the last pair, it shouldn't come as much of a shock to those who have been paying attention. Hornsby and Skaggs have been friends since the late '90s, and actually have put out two records together: 2007's Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby, and the recently released Cluck Ol' Hen, a live album pairing the two with Skaggs's band Kentucky Thunder. The latter includes a grassed-up version of what is probably Hornsby's biggest hit, 1986's enduring piano-jam "The Way It Is." The new take on the tune is sure to put a smile on just about anyone's face, but it shouldn't be too shocking that this song melded so easily into an unexpected format.
"'The Way It Is' has been turned into rap songs forever," Hornsby points out. "Tupac Shakur, E-40, Snoop Dog, Mase, Akon...it's been reinvented for years. So it turns out to be a very natural bluegrass song," he explains, adding, "It never fails to jack up the people!
Hornsby himself believes that there shouldn't be anything shocking about, basically, anything he's chosen to do musically over the past 20 years (he himself cheerfully admits that the majority of his greatest work has been under the radar). "[There] are people who are fairly uninformed about what I do," he notes. "They know three or four or five hit songs on the radio of mine – which were all me playing piano along with a drum machine."
Some of these uninformed folks might fall under the banner of purists who raised a stink when Hornsby won a Grammy award in the Bluegrass category back in 1990. He'd been working with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at the time, collaborated with them for his song "The Valley Road" (which was included on the Dirt Band's Will The Circle Be Unbroken: Volume 2), and, in all, scored a fair win on the project. However, the massive success of his pop work had made its stamp.
Both Skaggs and Hornsby laugh when the long-ago kerfuffle is mentioned. "I think there’s a lot of purists in bluegrass," notes Skaggs, who himself has never been afraid over his career to take musical chances. "You know, I think a lot of them are getting to an age now where they’re tired of complaining after awhile; they’ve been complaining for 40 years. But there’s just new elements coming into bluegrass now..there are so many cool things happening"
"Ricky's caught flack for certain things he’s done," points out Hornsby. "And who's more of a flag-bearer of the traditions than him? So if he’s gonna catch it, I can’t feel so bad about it, because I'm the dilettante here, moving into this world. But at the same time, I’ve always loved the music and I’ve always felt a deep kinship with it. So this allows me to explore that end."
Suffice to say that bluegrass fans aren't complaining one bit anymore about Hornsby's inclusion in the genre. The pair's new, live album came about a full six years after their first studio release, mostly out of musical curiosity regarding their live shows over the years. "We recorded a lot of the shows, and I was really curious about it, because I had a great memory of the gigs," Hornsby explains. "So i listened to fully 14, 15 shows and started feeling 'Wow, this is special. This is even better than i thought.' So i compiled what i thought were the best takes...I sent them to Ricky and he said 'whoa, you’re right! This is no joke.' So it was a natural feeling to want to put it out"
At any rate, both musicians are excited about the new — and younger — audience they are reaching. "We’re loving the fact that the young ones are coming out and getting turned onto the music," Skaggs says. "What I'm finding more than really anything is that people are not so excited about country music as we hear it now in Nashville, the modern-day pop country. It's like bluegrass is the only saving grace that's around anymore. "
When asked if the pair plan to record yet another album (after all, it took them six years to follow up the first!) both musicians demur by noting it'll happen when and if it happens — and don't even think about trying to rush things. "I think when you have long careers, you find a way to retain your audience in the face of past history," Hornsby says. "I don’t think you can just make another record of playing the piano in the same way. I like to find a new place to go. A new take on something."
"I feel the same way," agrees Skaggs. "If it’s a cool idea musically, it just makes us both happy. You know, then let’s do it. If we can’t get excited about it, there’s no reason to go in the studio."
In the end, both players are making music for the purest reasons possible: "We just get along well," Skaggs says. "I think because we love music and we love performing for people and we love having this band driving us every night — just driving us to the walls."
- Arts & Entertainment
- Bruce Hornsby
- Ricky Skaggs