In late 1986, Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is” was the No. 1 song on the radio.
It launched a career for the Williamsburg native that is still burning bright.
Since then, he has collaborated with Bonnie Raitt on “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” toured as a part-time member of the Grateful Dead and moved back to Williamsburg, where he launched an annual music festival called Funhouse Fest.
At age 64, Hornsby is still generating plenty of buzz.
His latest album, “Absolute Zero,” dropped in April and was hailed by critics as “daring” and “original” for its unconventional tunes and a star-studded list of collaborators, including Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and the Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
This week, he’s headed to Richmond to play a concert at Music at Maymont on Saturday.
While his ’80s hit “The Way It Is” addressed issues of homelessness, civil rights and institutional racism, his new material comes from a place of personal inspiration, high-profile collaboration and his interest in literature and science.
“‘Absolute Zero’ came into being for the most part through my work as a film composer for Spike Lee,” Hornsby said via email. He created music for “BlacKkKlansman” and several Lee projects over the years.
“Some of the pieces I’ve written for him always sounded like they needed or wanted to be developed into songs. So I selected several of these, and started composing words and melodies over the music,” Hornsby said.
Other songs on the new album, such as “Absolute Zero” and “White Noise,” were influenced by modern literary fiction writers Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace.
Another was inspired by the Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away.”
“I often title my instrumental pieces based on the source of inspiration that led to the composition,” Hornsby said. “I had decided I needed to write a sort of semi-grand end-credit piece, so listened to some score music on YouTube. I was listening to the end piece from Tom Hanks’ ‘Cast Away,’ and got an idea from that. I called it ‘Cast-Off.’”
Vernon of Bon Iver contributed vocals to “Cast-Off” on the new album, as well as the song “Meds.”
Hornsby repaid the favor by helping co-write Bon Iver’s new song, “U (Man Like),” as well as providing piano and vocals for the song.
“Absolute Zero” was originally recorded in Hornsby’s studio in Williamsburg.
He added collaborations with a wide variety of musicians, such as yMusic, a sextet chamber ensemble from New York City, and Rob Moose, an arranger for John Legend, among many others.
“I’ll Take You There (Misty)” was co-written with Hunter.
“It’s the fourth Hunter-Hornsby collaboration,” Hornsby said. “Hunter’s songs are some of the great ones in the songwriting canon. They sound timeless, like they could have been written a hundred years ago. I’m such a fan.”
Hornsby briefly lived in Los Angeles while he was breaking into the business, but he moved back to Williamsburg to be closer to his family.
“I love that my mom is still around, and I’m able to visit her every few days or more when I’m home,” Hornsby said.
He still hangs out with some of his old friends from his high school basketball days, and his sons were able to go to the same elementary school he did.
“All these years later, I love living here, but I’m not really influenced by it,” Hornsby said.
Amos Lee, the “My New Moon” bluesy-folksy musician who played Innsbrook After Hours last year, will be the opening act at the Maymont concert.