It might be a stretch to call Bruce Hornsby one of our homeboys. And yet, the fact that he graduated from the University of Miami's music program in 1977, which in many ways provided his pathway to success, gives us something we can brag about as well as a further reason for hometown pride. It’s always nice to point to a UM graduate’s accomplishments, and in Hornsby’s case, there’s certainly a lot that deserves notice. His early albums put him on the verge of superstardom right off the bat, garnering him a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1987 and a hit single his first time out with “The Way It Is,” his moving testimonial to the instability of American race relations.
From that point forward, Hornsby has continued to diversify, expanding his parameters through work for hire with Bob Dylan; Elton John; Sting; Eric Clapton; Stevie Nicks; Crosby, Stills & Nash; and more. He’s always managed to transcend specific genres, from his early rural ballads like “The Way It Is” to his 1990 album with jazz legends Wayne Shorter and Charlie Haden, A Night on the Town.
Hornsby’s new album Rehab Reunion finds him returning to his roots, but for us locals it holds special significance, given that one of its tracks, a song titled “M.I.A. in M.I.A.M.I.,” offers a litany of local references including Dan Marino, Don Shula, U.S. 1, and “Little Cuba” (a less-than-oblique reference to Little Havana). “MIA, FLA, 305,” he sings in its jaunty refrain. It sounds like a travelogue detailing a trip — real or imagined — Hornsby might have taken while bumming around during a break from his studies.
“I didn't write the lyrics for ‘M.I.A.,'” Hornsby quickly concedes. “My songwriting partner Chip deMatteo wrote them. I imagine he came up with the fun title ‘M.I.A. in M.I.A.M.I.,’ because that's the way his mind works, and wrote it from there. But I really don't know. I used to spend a good bit of time down there. I started a music program at my old school, UM. But I'm not there as much the last couple of years."
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Still, Hornsby admits he has a special affection for his old stomping grounds. “I could easily live in Miami,” he insists. “My wife and I had a place in North Miami Beach for several years and loved going there. It's such a unique cultural melting pot, so rich in so many ways."
He also has particularly fond memories of his days at UM. “I think I remember most everything from my time as a student in Miami. It was such a seminal time for me, so important to my development as a musician. I had a great, tough teacher, Vince Maggio, who I still consider to be my teacher. I played gigs all over the area to put myself through school, and participated in jam sessions in the Foster Building virtually every day, on and on.”
At one point in his career, Hornsby spent some time in the Grateful Dead, and it’s well worth noting that he credits his UM education with giving him his training in the kind of improvisation that the Dead demands. “I loved their loose approach... although having been a Jazz major at the University of Miami, I was always game for winging it and improvising.”