Chris Whitley made music with a wide variety of musicians; his side work was extensive, ranging from Chocolate Genius to Cassandra Wilson, as shown in this playlist. One musician I was surprised to discover that Chris sometimes jammed with is Bruce Hornsby. Yet, as a review of Chris’s gig at Kahootz in Richmond, VA notes, Chris and Bruce’s on-stage dueling dates back to at least December 1991:
Out came Bruce Hornsby, a visitor, for the album title song. Unrehearsed, Hornsby and Whitley improvised like mad, Hornsby doing great lifted-eyebrows “Where you going?” expressions, Whitley wailing weird sounds on guitar. By the second tune together [I assume a cover of Johnny Winter’s “Dallas”], an improvised blues, they had it together, and Hornsby put wonderful percussive stuff and bluesy runs over Whitley’s bed of steel as Whitley sang, occasionally collapsing into a chuckle. “Flying back to Dallas, Bruce, gonna take my razor and my gun,” he sang for the encore, eyeing Hornsby for piano. It was a happy, and happening, collaboration and a treat. A howling capacity crowd was pleased to see him.
I’ve searched high and low for that Kahootz duet, but can’t find it. BUT you can listen to Bruce on piano in the Trios concert at the Beacon Theater, NYC, 1994-03-26:
Given their past interactions, I guess it’s no surprise that Bruce played on Rocket House – even if his doing so was very much an after-thought as explained in this snippet from Hornsby’s newsletter:
Chris Whitley, in Bruce’s mind one of the greatest and most unsung artists of the last ten years, was calling Bruce to tell him how much he liked the live Noisemakers album when conversation turned to Chris’ new record Rocket House (Bruce loves to talk about himself and receive accolades, plaudits and laudatory remarks, but decided this time to be curious about his friend’s recent activities). Chris said, “I wish you could play on this, but I just finished it.” Bruce said, “That’s OK, Chris, I could still play on it.” Chris then said, “I’ll send you the finished record and you can just overdub onto it, or play some intros or outros.” So Bruce wound up on the song “Radar”, making a cameo appearance playing a solo electric piano intro for about twenty seconds.
You can listen to that 20-second intro – or the whole thing – here.
2 thoughts on “How Bruce Hornsby Came to Play on Rocket House”
I was the owner of Kahootz, I was there the night Chris played. Bruce came we spoke and took to the green room with Chris, the show was late to start and what i was told when i went to the green room was that Chris hadn’t played with anyone else so Bruce and Chris were working out the songs and how to play them
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Outstanding! I’ve repeatedly searched for info about that show, but to no avail. Thanks for sharing your memories of that night.