Michael Hornbuckle learned the blues from his father, Denver blues guitar legend Bobby Hornbuckle. The drummer in his father’s band, when his dad passed in 1996 Michael inherited two things—his father’s Gibson guitar and a desire to learn to play it. Last night, at the Arcadia Blues Club, you could feel his father watching the show and saying, “Great set, son”. Playing a blistering guitar, Michael Hornbuckle rocked the club with his powerful blues sound. In the tradition of his father and other hard-edged blues guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Michael had the crowd mesmerized with his dynamic guitar and bluesy voice.
One of the best songs of the show was a traditional spiritual, with its most famous version being done by Woody Guthrie. ‘This Train is Bound for Glory’ showed how Hornbuckle can take a well known song and make it fresh and exciting. After the show, he said to me “I listened to the song and started playing a riff and we ended up playing the song on an album called ‘Here Come the Blues’. I used those lyrics, threw together the guitar riff. It took two seconds, kind of ‘Gov’t Mule’ sounding, it just happened like that and it feels good! A traditional spiritual over some rockin’ guitar and heavy riffs, I dig it!”.
Michael’s love and tastes of music were heavily influenced by his father. “It was my dad, Bobby Hornbuckle. We grow up listening to all the classic rock and blues people, but what I really got into when I was young was Texas Blues, Freddie King, Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band. I really got into her guitar player and there’s a guy named Pee Wee Crayton I liked, but my dad was my main teacher. He had me playing drums in his band and my nickname was ‘stupid’. He was really a strict disciplinarian. ‘Speed up stupid….slow down stupid….’ play the fuckin’ beat and I didn’t know what he was talking about until I started working with drummers”.
Michael lost his father at the age of 16. “It took him out quick. Part of my therapy was to play his old guitar and I sat down and literally woodshedded it in my grandma’s wood barn. I listened to my dad’s old recordings and his old videos and sponged up as much as I could. That was my therapy when my dad was sick. Just like that, my brother Brian and I had a band and I was playing and singing. It wasn’t polished but I was playing good because I was picking up on my dad’s old stuff”. Indeed, Michael’s favorite guitar is still his dad’s old 1971 Gibson 335. “It’s the best guitar in the world!”.
One of Michael’s favorite songs to play just for himself is “Don Henley’s ‘Wasted Time’. I’m into poets and I think Don Henley was a poet. When I play live, it depends on the crowd. Sometimes it’s a blues solo, sometimes it’s a verse that everybody’s feeling the words and you’re telling a story, sometimes it’s the way the band’s hitting it, hitting on all cylinders. My dad used to say if he could get in that zone, ‘You know, guys use the word ‘zone’ too loosely to describe having a good night”. But if he could get 4 or 5 good songs a night he’d be happy and I understand what he was saying. Because once it happens and there is that exchange of energy, because it’s not there every night, but if it happens, something really happens. You know something happens, time is transcended and there is energy that’s very much a mutual exchange. That’s why I do it”.
‘Lip’ is the kind of song that if ZZ Top got ahold of it it would be another big hit. Michael’s vocals are on point, giving that Texas Blues as real. Hornbuckle’s guitar has no spare notes, just keeping the rhythm and adding enough to keep the song moving. This is a song to listen to over and over again. ‘Complicated’ is a little more of a sophisticated song, but the rhythm on it kept the crowd entranced. Overall, his set showed a lot of energy. Most importantly, it showed he understood the blues. Michael Hornbuckle knows when to do a fast, complicated solo, but he also has that innate understanding like B.B. King that knows when to hit one note and stretch it out, getting more meaning from that than many guitarist’s attempts at using too many notes to set the mood.
The crowd at the Arcadia Blues Club loved the set. Michael Hornbuckle learned the blues from a virtuoso of it and he is certainly someone to watch out for. With his show at the Arcadia Blues Club, he certainly showed that he can rock the blues with the best of them.