Ask Bruce Hornsby if radio programmers understand him, and - once he stops chuckling - he answers, “I doubt it. But I’m not surprised. I’ve never been easily slotted. I’ve never been part of a movement or part of a new trend. I like that. My whole thing is about trying to find my own voice.”
And that voice, surrounded by Hornsby’s stiletto piano playing, resonates strongly on his new album, “Hot House,” coming from RCA on Tuesday. It’s a project that his label feels, despite Hornsby’s claims, could re-establish the artist at radio.
“Bruce is a gold artist who is only one hit away from being a platinum artist,” says Hugh Surratt, RCA’s vice president of artist development.
That hit could be “Walk In The Sun” or “Cruise Control.”
Hornsby’s 1986 triple-platinum debut, “The Way It Is,” spawned three top 20 hits. His next album, 1988’s “Scenes From The Southside,” went platinum, while 1990’s “A Night On The Town” and 1993’s “Harbor Lights” have only surpassed the gold certification point.
The songs on “Hot House,” recorded at Hornsby’s home studio in Williamsburg, Va., strike a balance between the accessible, thoughtful pop of “The Way It Is” and the jazzy, nonlinear stylings of “Harbor Lights.”
Similar to “Harbor Lights,” the new album was recorded with a core group of artists, bolstered by a number of guest musicians including guitarists Pat Metheny and Jerry Garcia, banjoist Bela Fleck and vocalist Chaka Khan.
For an artist like Hornsby, whom Surratt says has a target audience of 18- to 44-year-olds, a slow build for “Hot House” is more important than an out-of-the-box blast. “We’re not looking to try to have a massive blow-out on this. We’re looking at a 12-month time line. We’re positioning it like it should be, but we’re not going to try to overhype the record or overpublicize it.”
In August, RCA will concentrate on retail programs and getting the record in listening posts. RCA will also tie in with a headlining Northeast tour Hornsby has slated for that month. A bigger tour with Hornsby as an opener or co-headliner will shape up later in the year.
A sports fanatic, Hornsby is also available “to throw out that first pitch or sing the national anthem” along the tour route, adds Surratt. (Hornsby addresses his sports fixation on “Big Rumble.” “It’s basically a song about people making sports into religion, and I’m saying I’m right in there with them,” he says).
Surratt says the second phase of the media campaign will begin in September and will include consumer advertising and a round of television appearances.
Television has become a vital part of the Hornsby campaign, which is ironic, given that he initially shunned the medium. “I never did TV for the first three records,” he says. “I thought it was kind of a little too show-bizzy. I turned down Johnny Carson for seven years. But last year, I knew I’d made the most inaccessible record of the past four, so I knew I had to find an alternate way to get the word out, and actually I came to enjoy (TV). I did 20-plus TV shows last year. The one we’re most proud of is: We’re the only band that didn’t lip-sync on the Jackson Family Honors special. And we got paid.”
RCA is also looking at other television means to expose Hornsby, including VH1. “We’re still in initial discussions with them, but they seem very interested in having Bruce perform for one of their music specials, as opposed to just playing his clips,” says Surratt.