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Remembering Colonel Bruce

28 Aug 2017

written by Croma

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Remembering Colonel Bruce

Photos and Text by Tim Borland

 Colonel Bruce Hampton was a true original. The surrealist musician collaborated with a shocking number of excellent musicians throughout his career, bumping shoulders with Frank Zappa, Oteil Burbridge, Jimmy Herring, Jeff Sipe, and many more. The colonel was joined onstage by luminaries such as Warren Haynes, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Jon Fishman, Karl Denson, and Peter Buck just to name a few. Hampton even made headlines with his death this year, collapsing onstage in front of the lineup of his all-star backing band during the encore of his own 70th birthday performance in Atlanta, Ga. before a packed audience at the Fox Theater.


Mobilians may recognize Hampton as the regional southeastern artist who headlined Southsounds Festival 2016. The musician was a regular performer at downtown Mobile venues, having performed twice in 2016 at Alchemy Tavern. Mod Mobilian reported live from Hampton’s last performance in the Azalea City with his band Madrid Express on December 2, 2016. He would only perform three more shows prior to his death in 2017.


Madrid Express is far from the only project with which Bruce was associated. Seemingly touring with a new group every few years, some of the many incarnations of his backing lineups include Aquarium Rescue Unit and The Quark Alliance. However, Col. Bruce’s first act was entitled Hampton Grease Band. Their debut album in 1971 “Music to Eat” was a flop, but that didn’t stop Bruce from opening concerts for The Grateful Dead and The Allman Bros Band. Well known for his pranks and surprises, Col. Bruce would often surprise hippies with unexpected ‘happenings’ such as exhaling smoke from invisible cigarettes. This reputation is part of what made his performances exciting.


Hampton’s last performance at Alchemy was enthusiasticly received. Ardent fans braved the cold weather to come and dance during his set. Regardless of how many were in attendance, Bruce appeared right at home perched on a stool onstage. The fans who did arrive danced enthusiastically, cheering for more. Madrid Express sailed through a setlist of rock standards, with a few Dead covers to round out the mix.


Hampton fondly recalled his headlining slot at Southsounds the previous spring. When Mod Mobilian asked about the longevity of his career, the musician credited his significant other for keeping him motivated.

“She keeps me young,” Col. Bruce claimed.


In addition to his loved ones, Bruce consistently surrounded himself with talented musicians, and established his own cult fanbase. Hampton clearly fed off of the energy of band and his crowd, as he often smiled and closed his eyes while nodding to the music as he waited for his vocal entrance. At his last Alchemy Tavern show, Hampton appeared to be having a blast, smiling and zoning out with the sounds. He was kind enough stay after the set to meet and  talk with his fans. This hands on down to earth approach to touring is part of what endeared the old musician to a new generation of listeners.


As far as Southern music legends go, Col. Bruce Hampton is without a doubt one of the greatest. With over 50 years of performing, and with a resume of collaborations any jam band would drool over, Hampton was somehow able to get his name into the annals of rock history sideways. Casual music listeners may not recognize his name, Col. Bruce managed to not only get noticed on the jam scene but to actually influence the music directly, inspiring countless other bands in the process. In many ways, Col. Bruce Hampton’s spirit lives on within the hearts, minds, and music of the fans and musicians who carry on the tradition the former helped to establish.


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