Dan Hornsby is bound to be a controversial figure since he was both an A&R man for Columbia as well as a singer and bandleader in his own right, blurring the traditional lines of decency between the two occupations as if squinting through a patch of fog on a Tennessee mountain highway. Lovers of both country blues and barbecue might just be the man's biggest fans, with the exception of the grand-daughter that never actually met him, the talented performer Nikki Hornsby. The saucy story in the former cases involves the famed '30s recording artist known as Barbecue Bob. Hornsby and crew were trekking around Atlanta when they came upon singer and guitarist Robert Hicks, who just happened to work at a barbecue spot, Tidwell's. It was Hornsby who came up with the idea of the gimmicky stage name for Hicks, resulting in hit records and the reality of being able to eat and listen to barbecue simultaneously, which is not something that can be said about bok choy.
Another of Hornsby's decisions broke his own performing career open but might be said to have had a devastating effect on instrumental music, at least as it is perceived in the music business. Obviously there have been instrumental hits since Hornsby's heyday as a talent scout. Yet the actions he took regarding the ensemble of fiddler Jess Young would certainly strike a nerve with any instrumental bandleader who has been pressured to add a vocalist. Young fronted a trio that was actually one of the first Southern string bands allowed an opportunity to record -- and it was Hornsby who made sure what was released would not actually represent the music the group played. The young A&R man simply had a hunch the sides would sell like hotcakes rather than curiosity pieces if there were singing. So far, a typical A&R decision. But it is not every record company executive or producer who would go ahead and sing the vocals himself.
That was the nervy shot Hornsby gave himself, and it worked. The record combining the string band and vocals -- "Bill Bailey" with "Are You from Dixie?" on the flip -- had already sold 30,000 copies when Columbia gave Hornsby the nod to bring the combination back into the studio. There is no need to speculate about whether Hornsby was happy with these developments: as a performer, he became known as Cheerful Dan Hornsby. His repertoire could easily earn him the additional nickname of "cornsby." Ditties such as "Oh Susanna" and "Little Liza Jane" can be found in his discography, credited to both his trio and the Dan Hornsby Novelty Quartet. He later became associated with Atlanta's WSB radio and was inducted into that city's Country Music Hall of Fame. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi