The Way it Is

Bruce Hornsby (b. 1954) has apparently had a prolific music career, but only one big hit—but it was a great one. He’s dear to my heart because he was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, where I went to college, and performed in town until the late 70s (I never heard him live).

His big hit, from 1985, was “The Way it Is” performed with his group The Range.  It’s a driving song about residual racism in America (it refers to the 1964 Civil Rights Act), and contains one of the best piano solos in modern rock. The song was a #1 hit, but he’s never come anywhere close to that since on the popular charts (“Mandolin Rain” was a minor hit).

Along with “Blowing in the Wind” and “A Change is Gonna Come,” “The Way it Is” form a great trio of modern popular music in America protesting racism. (“Blackbird,” by Lennon and McCartney, was from the UK).

This is almost certainly lip-synched to the released verson, but the only live performance I could find was dire:


  1. Posted December 10, 2013 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    I can’t view that video outside the United States.

    Here’s a the same version (I think) that can be viewed outside the U.S.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted December 10, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

      Thanks stooshie, as an Australian I’m forever being told that I’m in the wrong geographical region, so I played your version – and found I could also play the one that Jerry posted. Thanks for the extra post.

  2. Posted December 10, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    I heard him with Ricky Skaggs and he was awesome!

  3. Posted December 10, 2013 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    The Grateful Dead loved him. He played with them for quite a while after their keyboard player died. Saw him open up for The Dead in Philadelphia in 1988. Nice.

    • onkelbob
      Posted December 10, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      The Dead shows in Oakland CA during December in the 1990’s often featured Bruce joining Vince Welnick on keyboards. This 1993 show really shows how well Bruce simply inspired Jerry (Garcia not our host) to play some of his best material; the interplay on Ramble on Rose is sublime.

  4. KenS
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    Great song! I appreciate it more now than when it first was released. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Ken Phelps
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    For a powerful and evocative protest song, it’s hard to beat James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make it Here”. In a somewhat less serious vein, his “Choctaw Bingo” features a cast of funny and painfully recognizable characters drawn over 8 minutes of great roadhouse music (I’m partial to electric versions of the song with the band, as opposed to the unplugged style, which is by no means bad). Then, for more peeling back the bandaid from emotional and political wounds, there’s “Memorial Day” and “Fireline Road” and…so on.

    • hotshoe
      Posted December 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I wish more people had heard “Can’t Make It Here Anymore”.
      I live in a place like that, and when I see the stacks of broken-down pallets, I get goosebumps thinking of that song.

  6. Dominic
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Familiar with the song but I have never litened to the lyrics – I don’t really too much depending on how easy/difficult it is to follow a singer.

    Did we all have hair like that in the 80s???!

    • gravityfly
      Posted December 10, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      I did. 😉

      Jerry…you’re making me feel nostalgic for the 80’s with this song…

  7. Posted December 10, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Goodness, I like Blackbird! I forgot that I actually like a Beatles’ song. Yes, I know I am defective. 🙂

  8. Brian Axsmith
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this. Great music. But “minor hit” for Mandolin rain? You have tough standards Ceiling Cat.

  9. Maria
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Best keyboard player the Dead ever had.

  10. Posted December 10, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    …didn’t know he trio gigs with Jack DeJohnette and Christian McBride on occasion. Released a very well-received album, Camp Meeting “de facto produced” by Pat Metheny. New-found respect.

  11. Merilee
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Darn!! Just missed him in Toronto 3 weeks ago in a nice smallish venue ( Koerner Hall).

  12. merilee
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Two good ones with Bruce and Bonnie Raitt (Angel from Montgomery and Thing Called Love (speaking of porcupines….)

  13. merilee
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    whoops – did NOT mean to embed…

  14. Taskin
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Yes, a very tasty piano solo indeed. I like watching people’s hands on the keys and his are very fluid. I may have to show this to a few of my piano students. Stevie Wonder’s hands fascinate me too.

  15. jakc
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing how relevant the song still is.

  16. rodgerma
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    It IS a fantastic and very well played song.
    I love it, but am dumb-fumbled that we now, in 2013, is name-calling and demonizing our president because he is….. not white.
    It is disheartening depressing to see this happening every day in my own little neighborhood, just as the rest of the country.

  17. rodgerma
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Another song, Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence”, was covered beautifully by Bruce Hornsby.
    I found one version by the “Raitt-group” at

  18. Willard Bolinger
    Posted December 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I will do a search on the words of these songs, but from my experience almost all songs were not explicit about racism. Elvis with his “In the Ghetto” was more so, but still I appreciate Utah Phillips comments comparing “Blowing in the Wind” to “Get the Bosses off young Backs” was much more explicit. I heard or read almost nothing within the atheist movement about racism. Personally I say that when I moved from Iowa to Fayette, Mo as a freshmen the school had been interated in 1955, but the rest of the town remained Jim Crowed until 1965 or later. They even sold the city owned swimming pool to a private group trying to keep blacks out.I saw christianity and racism as hand in glove for all practical purposes.

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