People already know who Bruce Langhorne is, they just don't know it. Bob Dylan celebrated the session musician from the 1950s and '60s folk revival movement as "Mr. Tambourine Man."
Langhorne, a 20-year Venice resident, was a fixture at Gerde’s Folk City in New York City’s West Village. He was the house accompanist and played with the likes of Carlos Santana, Gordon Lightfoot, Odetta, Joan Baez and Richard and Mimi Farina – but it was Dylan who gave him the moniker for his unique tambourine – a large Turkish frame drum – with which he could inspire crowds of people to join in his rhythmic beating “anywhere,” he said.
Despite his extensive career appearing on numerous albums, Langhorne just released his debut solo album, Tambourine Man, which explores his talents in a showcase of his many styles, including reggae, rock, blues, Afro-Caribbean and salsa.
The album is the first release of recordings and compositions made by Langhorne during the latter part of his career.
Langhorne grew up in Harlem and was on track for a spot at the highly respected Juilliard School for his violin skills until an accident with a homemade rocket destroyed three of his fingers on his right hand.
Langhorne didn’t let the mishap keep him from music. At one point, he was fluent in more than 50 stringed instruments. He has played live and in the studio with countless musicians. Langhorne has toured around the world and produced several movie scores, including the haunting sound of Peter Fonda’s 1971 movie "The Hired Hand."
More than eight years ago, Langhorne formed the Venice Beach Marching Society, a tribute to the music of New Orleans. Langhorne marched down the Venice Boardwalk every Saturday with a cart of amplifiers and a drum.
“No one was getting paid,” Langhorne said. “People would just show up, and that was really what the whole thing about it. One of our mottos was ‘We march for fun and other good causes’ and that’s kind of the way it happened.”
In the summer of 2006, the marching group stopped playing together after Langhorne suffered a stroke and a string of other medical maladies that pushed him into a contemplative frame of mind.
He doesn’t play music anymore, but a recent party at his home brought more than 30 people to his tree-lined backyard, where a band set up on the porch and the "Tambourine Man" played drums and enjoyed the spontaneous jam session.
Inside Bruce’s house, every wall is a different color and a variety of instruments strewn about serve as both decoration and a reminder of his career. In one corner, different drums, bongos and a standup bass sit huddled together, just in case someone wants to play a song with the Tambourine Man.