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Conversation With Keith Horne

I first met Keith Horne at a Namm show years ago; He was playing with a fusion band and tearing it up…. great chops, great feel, solid player. Then I found out he’d worked with such artists as Tanya Tucker and Waylon Jennings and I thought, there’s a crossing of genres you don’t see too often. Beyond his obvious versatility, Keith is also a multi-instrumentalist and sings with the best of them. For some artists I believe having that kind of musical versatility is a well thought out plan, but as far as Keith goes, he’s quite simply a born natural at it. His main band (he is quite busy with many artists in Nashville) is called Hot Apple Pie which is kind of Nashville’s answer to Bela Fleck as far as genre crossing goes. Keith is very simply put an extraordinary bassist and multi-talented musician and session player with some very serious things to say on his instrument, and if you are not familiar with him, I’d highly recommend checking him out.

Jake: I’m going to dip back here with this first question. I read that you grew up with the Wooten brothers. I’d enjoy hearing about that.

Keith: We actually met around 83. We both lived in Virginia at the time, and I was playing in a house band, a rock band with the hair and makeup, the whole thing. The Wooten brothers were actually in New York at that particular time, but their home base was back in VA, and I kept seeing them in the paper working on some particular project in town. They had their own record out, and were on the road off and on, and I knew they were doing some stuff with Whitney as well, but they ended up coming back home. Somebody had told Reggie about me playing in this club and he came to check me out, and that was kind of wild because I had a white Mohawk at the time—definitely looking the part. He heard me play and ended up bringing Victor and the other brothers out as well. At that time they actually became a country band for the Busch Gardens theme park right after I met them, and I would go up there to see them play on occasion. We would always get together backstage after they were done playing and be jamming stuff like Alan Holdsworth and Weather Report.

It was a pretty crazy thing to see them playing country and all that, and I was playing country gigs at the time so we really hit it off on that. But all of us were really into the fusion thing at that time and learning all we could about it. I was doing a top 40 band at that point but I was pretty bored with that and did nothing but listen to fusion, and that’s when I realized I had to get a lot more into the fusion and jazz thing, and Victor and those guys already knew that stuff pretty well. They really helped to school me in that genre.

Jake: Knowing the strength of Reggie’s playing, as well as Victor’s, must have made it quite a learning experience to be around both of them. I know that a lot of Victor’s style came about through his brother’s influence.

Keith: Absolutely. I’d become very close with Reggie, and we did a lot of playing together. When I first moved to Nashville I lived with him. We’d be up to five or six in the morning every night jamming, and I can’t begin to tell you how much he showed me.

Jake: In my article with Victor in the magazine, we talked in great depth about his approach as far as what to study, which he also went into great detail on in his latest DVD. As far as spending as much time as you did with them, I wonder what you personally ended up working on over the years as far as practice goes.

Keith: I never went to school, and never got to study things like scales and modes. Basically, I never got to do the whole music theory thing. When I was a sophomore in high school I was playing six nights a week and doing my homework on the breaks. Along with that I was listening to so many records back then as well. I was listening to players like Stanley Clarke and Verdine White. Verdine was a huge influence on me. So were the bassists from the Average White Band and Steely Dan. I was also listening to a lot of horn players. I’d work on their lines to give myself a better concept of phrasing. This really helped as far as soloing and playing over chord changes. Eventually Reggie helped me quite a bit on the theory end of things. When I solo now I just kind of play what comes to mind and rely on my ear a great deal. The other thing that really helped me was being a guitar player first. I started playing when I was six years old. I was mostly playing country guitar, but I learned a lot about chords. That time spent on guitar definitely helped shape my bass playing.

Jake: That actually kind of leads to my next question. I know you play multiple instruments kind of seriously and wondered what kind of impact that has had on your bass playing?

Keith: I was actually a drummer before I was a bass player as well, and that really helped my approach out as a bassist. I’ve played with so many different drummers, and having that experience on drums really made a difference for me. It helped my rhythmic playing a great deal. I find that no matter what style of music I’m playing I never have a problem hooking up with the drummer. There’s no doubt about working on different instruments making me a better bassist.

Jake: Tell me about your band, Hot Apple Pie, which is a pretty unique musical entity.

Keith: I’ve played with so many artists over the years, and always wanted to have my own band kind of thing. I’d been a sideman for so many years—I actually started working the moment I got here in town, but always wanted to be in a project where I was not necessarily a sideman. I got an e-mail one day from a guy I already knew and had played with named Brady Seals, looking for a bass player for a band that was going to be kind of like an Eagles band, but a little more edgy. We planned on playing many different styles music, and there would be vocals involved, and I had already done so much singing, so it sounded like a good fit. So the band came together and we ended up getting a record deal about four months after we first got together with DreamWorks. It went to the top twenty, which was cool because the band was very different. It was kind of a country, funky, chicken pickin’ thing with kind of a hip-hop bass to it with a lot of muting, which was pretty unusual for the styles of music we were doing. It was definitely kind of a dance band, and we had the number three song at one point.

We’re still out there, but it’s been hard with the band because things in Nashville have changed so much over the last few years. It’s become so much more pop orientated, even in the country scene. A lot of people in the pop world have come here to do things. But even with that happening, we hope we can keep the band going. We play such a variety of music—we can play a be-bop tune, or a fusion tune, or a country tune, or rock tune—kind of doesn’t matter what style comes up, we’ll do it. But we try to keep it commercial, and that’s one of the harder things to do. We won’t go bubble gum per se, but sometimes that’s all the radio stations want.

Jake: Once again, you’ve kind of lead in to my next question. I’m curious about the Nashville scene. I know you’ve been there for quite a while, and recently Victor Wooten moved there, and bassist Bryan Beller as well. Is the Nashville scene at this point a pretty hip musical environment in your opinion?

Keith: Adam Nitti has moved here as well. Nashville has become a very good environment for a lot of players over the last ten years or so. I’ve been here for nineteen years, and now there are so many styles of music happening here that have really changed the musical landscape of Nashville. The Christian music scene has become quite big here, as well as the pop scene, and as always the country scene is thriving. It’s also a very cool place to live—very laid back. A lot of my friends from L.A. have moved here. The L.A. scene is so different now, and a lot of these players have kids, and they find Nashville to be a better environment as far as that goes. So Nashville kind of represents a good musical environment as well as a good place to raise a family, which most certainly has an appeal to some of the players these days.

Jake: With the diversity you have as a player, I’m curious as to what you have been listening to as of late that catches your interest?

Keith: I listen to so much music—my iPod consists of everything from Tony Bennett to Rage against the Machine, Mariah Carey, Kid Rock, Nickelback, on and on the styles go. But as far as bass players go, I’m very moved by Richard Bona. I kept hearing about him, and hearing about him, and then I went to Youtube and watched him and about fell on the floor. Wow—what an amazing player.

I’m a big Oteil Burbridge fan with his scatting and all, and then I caught Richard and it just blew me away. I also I understand he plays a bunch of instruments as well. These days it’s so easy and accessible to watch all these great players. Growing up in the seventies, all we had was a needle and a record player, and it’s come so far since then which is a tremendous learning tool in many ways.

Jake: With the music business going through such a radical change these days, as we’ve talked about, where do you see the quote-unquote contemporary bassist residing in this new musical environment we exist in?

Keith: These days in general, and especially in country music, bass players have so much more leeway than they have in the past. The bass itself is not just the backbone anymore; it’s a whole new voice, especially on the contemporary scene. I’ll listen to artists like Brian McKnight and hear a tremendous amount of very cool bass work involved. It does so much more than just lay the foundation down, there are lines and fills, and they are all very musical and complement the tune. The bass at this point in time, in my opinion, is another voice, not just the backbone.

On a lot of the sessions I do I simply try to just lay it down and make it work, and in general, that’s how it’s been for a long time. But now I find producers as well as artists asking for more. I hear comments like don’t be afraid to play out, and that’s very cool, and relatively new. These days you can get hired for the “way” you play, and that as well is also relatively new. It’s definitely a new game in some ways for a bassist these days, and even though we’ll always be the foundation, it’s nice to know that people will respect your talents and open the door a little bit more for your “voice” to come through.

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