Bruce Hornsby and Ricky Skaggs are no strangers to each other — musically or personally. The men have enjoyed a long friendship over the years, and have collaborated with each other several times – most notably on their 2007 release for Sony. The talented artists have once again paired up, this time for the new live disc “Cluck Ol’ Hen.”
Hornsby spoke with Billboard in an exclusive interview about the the project, which he says turned out exceedingly well. “A lot of it came from a show we did in Omaha, Nebraska,” he said. “There’s a beautiful hall there, I think it’s called Holland Center. I think it might have been the final show of the entire tour. It was just one of those nights where everything was clicking, and the sound of the recording was also good. You have to be doubly fortunate when you’re recording live shows. You hope you have a great show, and you play well, and you hope you get a certain spark that only comes from live play. At the same time, you have to be sure the recording sounds good. It has to be solid, without any pops or feedback or hisses,” he said, admitting that everything came together for the album. “Luckily, we had enough really good performances that were recorded well also.”
Skaggs and Hornsby’s chemistry is on full display on “Cluck Ol’ Hen,” which includes plenty of unplanned moments.
“For me, it starts with the fact that we both have a similar sense of humor,” he says. That’s why we kept a lot of the raps between songs, because it helps the record feel more like a live show. It’s just a couple of guys relating to each other musically, but also personally. Ricky is a very funny guy, and I like to try to make him laugh, and vice versa. So, I think we connect with each other very naturally.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that both are extremely gifted musical artists, something that shines through on such cuts as “Uncle Pen” or “Little Maggie.” Though a listen to his classics like “Mandolin Rain” or “The Way It Is” might not show it, Hornsby says that he has long been a fan of bluegrass music. “It’s a style that is very much about improvisation, and virtuosity on the instrument. I’ve always been interested in playing well. I’ve loved old time music all my life, and bluegrass festivals. Obviously, there wasn’t much room for what I did there, but I didn’t care. I just was a fan who loved to hear it. I remember seeing the Earl Scruggs Revue play at a huge basketball arena at the University of Richmond – which showed how popular the music was at that time. I was always interested in the music, and through the years, became interested in country and traditional music.”
One of the more interesting cuts from Cluck Ol’ Hen is “Gulf Of Mexico Fishing Boat Blues,” a song the two recorded before. “That’s a song from the first Skaggs / Hornsby studio record. I wrote that, and was inspired by stories of friends of mine from Virginia who were down here, working on some old fishing rig while living in New Orleans. They weren’t doing anything bad, or running from some terrible crime that they had committed. I took artistic license there. Musically, I’ve always been someone who has been interested in pushing the boundaries of different types of music, and in this case, I was trying to write a bluegrass song in an odd time signature. The chorus of the song is in 5/4 time, which served as a little more of a challenge,” he admitted.
Another highlight from the disc is the Bill Monroe standard “Darling Corey,” which serves as a history marker for the musical partnership between Hornsby and Skaggs. “Around 2000, he was making a Monroe tribute record, and he called and asked me to be a part of it,” he recalled, and that track was “Darlin’ Corey.” It made an impact on many listeners, including Bruce Springsteen, who called Hornsby to compliment him on the track.
Hornsby and Skaggs will be touring to promote the disc in October and November. Dates are listed below:
October 3 : Carmel, IN
October 4: Cincinnati
October 5: Nashville
October 6: Meridian, MS
October 18: Los Angeles
October 19: Scottsdale, AZ
October 20: Tuson, AZ
October 24: Broken Arrow, OK
October 25: Overland Park, KS
October 26: Salina, KS
November 1: Milwaukee
November 2: Burnsville, MN
November 20: Huntington, NY
November 21: Morristown, NJ