How Denver blues royalty the Hornbuckles overcame heroin addiction and estrangement

Categories: Profiles

Courtesy of Hornbuckle
Michael Hornbuckle (left) has recently reconciled with his brother Brian
Michael Hornbuckle was twelve years old the first time he shared the stage with his father, legendary Denver bluesman Bobby Hornbuckle, and at thirteen he was playing weekends with his dad. While he was getting an education on stage, he was also schooling himself in blues guitar by listening to the likes of Luther Allison, Johnny Winter, Robert Johnson, Bukka White and three Kings: B.B., Albert and Freddie.

But around the time the younger Hornbuckle was seventeen, he says, he developed a nasty heroin addiction. "From the start, I was always on hiatus, going to fucking rehab or jail, or overdose after overdose," he says. "I was always in trouble with the law."

He says he was letting down his brother -- bassist and singer Brian -- and whoever else was in his path. "And I would hit these bottoms, and they all kind of looked the same," Hornbuckle adds. "I made these firm resolutions: 'Okay, I'm going to do it this time.' I'm fortunate, because I always had people in my corner that were willing to help, most notably my mom."

Hornbuckle had tried to clean up more than once, but, he says, he would get so uncomfortable in his own skin that the only solution he knew of was to start up again.

"You know, that was the only solution besides putting a bullet in my brain," he says. "I wasn't entirely ready to do any work required to manage a chronic condition, a progressive and deadly illness. So I don't know if that clicked in my head that that's what I had."

A few years ago, Hornbuckle found himself at a sober house in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley, and he ended up managing the place for two years. It was there that he started writing songs on a cheap acoustic guitar, and where, by happenstance, he met up with keyboardist Alex Baker. Baker does soundtrack work for Universal Pictures and had toured as keyboardist with Atlanta-based funk-rock band Mother's Finest, a band that Hornbuckle's father had turned him on to: Some of the first songs the younger Hornbuckle learned to play were Mother's Finest songs.

Hornbuckle played a few new tunes he'd written for Baker, and soon the two were collaborating on songs without any idea of making an album.

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Lisa Wolf DeWitt
Lisa Wolf DeWitt

get out to one of their upcoming shows, for instance at A Taste of Colorado or The Bluebird Theater. They are amazing.

Zep Moore
Zep Moore

Lewis and Floorwax really helped them get their name here in town.


I wish someone would post a couple of photos of Bobby Hornbuckle in the early days e.g. '70s / '80s.    I knew Bobby and he was a great guy as well as an excellent musician.

RIP Bobby.


@Mnizzle Yes, he was.  I shared the stage a few times with Bobby when I was part of Bob Pellegrino's band, and I knew him outside of that as well.  He too had his struggles, so let's just say Michael comes by his honestly, and bless him for getting clean!

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