An Erudite Client – Bruce Hornsby
Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers are coming to the North Carolina Museum of Art on August 3. In honor of this upcoming event, I thought I would post an excerpt from my book.
10 Things I learned from Bruce Hornsby – (in no particular order)
1. There are ways to acknowledge your accomplishments in a humble manner. Often before a big concert or event, the local radio DJ or event spokesperson will announce the artist in advance, mentioning a few notable accolades of that artist. A typical introduction might be something like, “Please welcome to The Topeka Performing Arts Center winner of the 2010 Best Artist in The World award, Hank Plank and The Two by Fours.”
Early on in my relationship with Bruce an event producer came to me saying, “Can you write down a brief introduction for Bruce that we can read off?” Being new with Bruce I wanted to run it by him first so I did, and he told me exactly what he wanted the introduction to say. So I went back to the producer, gave him a handwritten piece of paper saying how Bruce would like to be introduced. He read it and looked up at me and said, “Are you serious? We can’t say this! Won’t he be upset?”
I said, “No, he’ll love it. He wants to be introduced that way.”
“Okay, if that’s what he wants,” the producer said skeptically.
Still, he asked me several more times before Bruce went on, “Are you sure about this? Really?”
“Yes, I’m sure. It’ll be just fine. Just read the paper as it is.”
So the lights dimmed and the event spokesperson came over the loud speaker and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen. Please welcome to the stage 10 time Grammy Nominee, 7 time loser, Bruce Hornsby.”
2. Don’t feel obligated to do things you don’t want to do. Bruce made no apologies for turning down special functions he was so often asked to attend, and Bruce gets asked to attend a lot of functions. He would just say to me without apology, “No thanks. That’s just not my bag.” People will respect you when you speak your mind.
3. The music matters. In modern times you will have people tell you that it’s all about publicity, or marketing, or style. And to some extent those things are important, but without great music, nothing else matters. Practice your instrument to the point where you become an expert, and then practice it more.
4. Sports and music can be a lot alike. When Bruce is on stage, he challenges his band. He guides them like a point guard on a basketball team, taking them to places they have never been before. He transitions into brand new songs, or tries songs in different keys, and it keeps the band on their toes. He does this because he treats the stage like a basketball court, strengthening his team so they will always be ready for anything. And it shows. Competitive sports are a healthy part of life. Don’t be afraid to put a little friendly competition in your music. Challenge those around you to play the best they’ve ever played by passing the ball to them when they least expect it.
5. Praise people that deserve praise. Bruce had no problem telling me when he felt like I didn’t handle a situation properly. But he also had no problem publicly letting the team around him know when he liked the work I was doing.
6. Pick up the phone. It only happened to me once, and it was a lesson that stuck with me the rest of my life. Several key radio people needed tickets to his show. I was happy to oblige. So I emailed Bruce’s tour manager giving him a list of the radio people who needed tickets and asked him to leave tickets at will call. The night of the show the tickets weren’t at the will call. Bruce said to me, “Did you tell the tour manager?” And I said, “I emailed him.” And Bruce said, “Pick up the phone and call him. Don’t rely on email.”
Although technology will continue to improve, nothing will ever beat a good old-fashioned conversation.
7. Take time for your family. Bruce always puts his family first.
8. Explore music with unlikely counterparts. Bruce started out as an 80’s hit-maker, and then he played with The Grateful Dead. He did a lot of work with bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs as well as jazz great Branford Marsalis. Step outside of your comfort zone to expand your abilities as a musician and songwriter.
9. Laugh at the music business, frequently. In one of Bruce’s early interviews during our tenure together, he was asked if the business of music was frustrating. He explained that you just have to laugh a lot, and that if you take the music business too seriously it will drive you crazy. And it will. Don’t take it too seriously. Learn to laugh at the industry when it deserves to be laughed at.
10. Words. I learned a lot of new words from Bruce. He made me sort of a hobbyist for learning new words. I learned a lot of new words from Allison Moorer as well. Both are avid readers and have an extremely deep knowledge of the English language. Bruce was the most erudite client of mine. I’m still not a word maven, but I strive to be, thanks to Bruce and Allison.
Characterized by great knowledge; learned or scholarly: an erudite professor; an erudite commentary.
An expert or connoisseur.