Somewhere in the crossroads of being a worldwide musical superstar and a high-level college basketball player is a common denominator that’s much grittier than either glamorous lifestyle or situation would lead on.
In that space, one that unites multi-Grammy award winning musician and pianist Bruce Hornsby and his son Keith, who will start and play a major role for LSU basketball this season after sitting out a transfer year, is a shared approach that’s yielded success and fame for many a person that started off with a little talent.
“I think what Keith may have gotten from observing my life and how I go about it is I’m kind of a grinder, well I am a grinder, and I’m always working at what I’m doing,” explained Bruce. “I’ve always done that since I was younger and definitely since he and his brother have been around. I think that’s probably affected him on a work ethic level.”
In this instance father couldn’t be more right about son. Keith internalized what he experienced in his formative years, making the important distinction between accomplishments with the lights on and stands packed and the work it takes to get there when the building’s empty.
“The main thing that goes into it that you can relate to (between music and basketball) is the amount of practice you have to do to succeed at it,” said Keith. “My dad’s someone that believes in putting the hours in. He still does it. So I guess you could say just the amount of time when you’re not in the spotlight and you’re working on your craft, whether it be on the piano keys or on the court with a basketball, that’s to me the biggest relationship.”
Of course, within the marriage of the two worlds, there is a less blue collar and more magical connection that only a master craftsman can fully recognize and quantify.
“I consider basketball and soccer, just to me, to be the games that are most like improvised music, the most improvisational of the sports because you’ve got five guys out there and however many are on a soccer field, and you have plays but it’s very much just sort of reacting to what other players are doing,” Bruce, who still regularly takes to the court at 59, detailed.
“It’s a pretty free-flowing, improvised game often, and that’s like playing improvised music, whether you’re playing jazz music or rock music. It’s about a bunch of guys playing together and just kind of winging it.”
Long before Keith was at LSU – or prior stop UNC-Asheville, where he averaged 15.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a sophomore – he was Bruce Hornsby’s son. He still is and will always be, but the label on that jar’s slowly being peeled back as Keith’s horizons expand, something neither minds.
“I hope that’s the case,” leveled Bruce. “Somebody came up to me at the local college deli here at William & Mary, one of my old friends, and he jokingly said ‘Hey, aren’t you Keith Hornsby’s dad?’ I said to him if that’s what I become known for, I think that’s fantastic. If that’s happening that’s just great. I saw that Keith posted something on social media recently saying ‘Not so many questions about my dad. I must be doing something right.’ So I’m happy that’s happening. It shows he’s making his own name.”
For Keith the ever-present association has been a blessing by and large, but he concedes there have been confounding moments where the name on the marquee quickly shifts from his to that of a man who casts quite a shadow.
“It’s only ever been (a burden) in the sense that literally before and even now, whatever I do lots of times his name comes along with it,” conveyed Keith. “I could have like a 40-point game, but (the headline would read) ‘Keith Hornsby, son of musician, scores 40.’ It’s not all the time, but it’s more than you’d think. His name follows. It’s a goal of mine to kind of rid that so hopefully I’m doing that slowly but surely.”
What’s been comical for both Hornsby men is the undying refrain from hecklers and well-wishers alike, people who can’t get out of their own way fast enough to be next in line to drop “That’s just the way it is” quips, referencing the 1986 classic from Bruce Hornsby and the Range, on or about Keith.
The elder Hornsby, who in a musical sense coined the phrase and helped create the song that Tupac sampled in the nineties, feels his son is being short-changed on originality.
“I would just hope that the people commenting would be a little more creative and come up with something new. That’s just me,” Bruce mused. “You see that and you think of the people who yell Free Bird at the concert as their request, and they think that’s just hilarious. You think ‘Man, isn’t that a little tired? A little old? A little been-done?’ So that’s my reaction, but really I couldn’t care less about those things. That’s all fine. Whatever somebody wants to do, they’re just having fun with it and it’s fine. I think Keith feels the same way. He doesn’t really care, but he seems to be happy that at least right now it’s happening less.”
That Keith is in a position to forge his own identity is a mixture of opportunity and preparation.
A former prep player at prestigious Oak Hill Academy, he had to toil in a smaller setting in the Big South Conference before earning his ticket to a more celebrated league. Even then, after the move from the east coast to the bayou, patience was a virtue Keith had to accept and thrive under for an entire year.
Bruce’s perspective in this regard proved to be invaluable.
“I really think as of this day in October that he made the right decision by coming to LSU. I feel like he’s made a situation for himself because he really worked hard in his redshirt year,” Bruce noted. “We talked about it when he started thinking about a potential move to another school, and I was fairly emphatic with my opinion that ‘What could be better than a year to get better?’ This is a hard game, and it’s really competitive. So you have a year to play against great players every day in practice and get better and work on your game, and I knew he’d work on it because he just likes to do it.”
Which is where the creative live performer drove home another point about the value of hard work and how it can create a cycle that transforms lives.
“People say ‘Wow, Keith’s really improved so much over the past two or three years.’ And to me it’s a simple answer why that’s happened. He just likes to do it,” continued Bruce. “He really truly enjoys the work and that’s a beautiful thing. That’s something I’ve always said when people talk to me about music and practicing. I tell people and I tell kids who are interested in doing it – If you practice a lot you’ll be good. If you don’t practice a lot you won’t be good. But if you practice a lot then you’re going to get better, and the better you get the more fun it is. Then the more fun it becomes the more you want to do it.
“It’s just a beautiful cycle of events that can occur if you’re willing to put in the time. He has, in his own way, bought into this completely, so he’s improved a lot because he just likes to do it. That’s just beautiful to me because he’s someone who finds a passion in life.”
On his end Keith is similarly pleased with his decision. Having tacked on 20 pounds of muscle and assumed the role of team leader – quite the feat considering he wasn’t allowed to play in games while on the roster a season ago, Keith is poised to make a sizeable impact on LSU on and off the floor.
“I think this is the best situation I could’ve asked for,” Keith acknowledged. “When they did recruit me, one of the biggest reasons I chose LSU is they really put into my heart that they needed me. Now a full year later, coming into the season where I can play, I have really no regrets of coming here. I love almost everything about it.”
A short conversation with Bruce is all it takes to realize he commits all-in on his sons to the same degree he has his legendary career. So it should come as no surprise that he and his wife Kathy will rack up frequent flyer miles in the months to come, following around not only Keith but twin brother Russell.
“We’re hoping to get to see about half the (LSU) games. We’re going to the Paradise Jam (in the Virgin Islands), and we’d like to see a few away games because we just want to see the crowd scream and holler and heckle,” Bruce said, laughing. “So hopefully we’ll see about half of his games and also watch his brother Russell run indoor track at Oregon. If you look at my schedule on my website, you’ll see that there’s nothing booked between mid-November and April. That’s why.”
It doesn’t exactly have to be dragged from Bruce that he enjoys the south Louisiana area, particularly a musical haven like the Big Easy.
“Well I’ve had some of my most memorable music moments in New Orleans, so I have a fond feeling for that area like crazy,” he confirmed. “I could get specific about it, but this is an article about basketball so I’ll leave it at that. But for instance a couple of years ago we played the great Jazz Fest. I’ve played it twice now, and it’s such a memorable and fantastic event. There’s a YouTube video of us playing and there’s 20,000 people out there. It’s just the best.”
Bruce is also aware that denizens of the Deep South aren’t customarily his demographic, but that won’t stop the 6-foot-4 artist from attempting to expand his footprint while at the same time taking in precious moments for Keith and the family.
“I love coming down there. In the Deep South I’m about 5-foot-2, popularity-wise, kind of small,” Bruce joked. “So I don’t play down there that much, but I’d like to. Maybe Keith’s going to school down there will make me book more gigs down there, in between home games of course.”
All of this is more than okay with Keith, who as his father aptly notes “doesn’t take life too seriously.” Further proof on that front surfaced over the summer when the duo took in some old-school footage on the hardwood together.
“Actually this summer I watched an old high school tape of him playing, and although it was hilarious, he showed some skills that surprised me,” Keith recalled. “I was getting hype for him on the tape, and he enjoyed it, too. He was talented, and he’s still athletic.”
Keith, who also indicated his famous dad was no stranger to getting “trash buckets” back in the day, may want to blaze his own trail, but in many ways he still looks up to the man whose name and presence he can’t escape, not even 1,100 miles from home.
“One thing that’s interesting that we do is I have to make 10 free throws in a row or, if I miss, I have to run a suicide,” explained Keith. “Thing is, if I miss, he’ll run them, too, and he’s almost 60 years old. So the fact that he can do it still to me is just so impressive. I idolize it honestly, and I only hope I can do that at his age.”
Improvising may be in the genes of both, but here’s betting it’s the other commonality they share – unrivaled dedication – that will have Keith on the backyard court with his little one in 40 years.