Col. Bruce Hampton, Jam Band Hero, Dies Onstage

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Col. Bruce Hampton (Photo from his Facebook page)

Many musicians have expressed a wish to spend their final moments on Earth performing for their fans. Col. Bruce Hampton, called a “Jam Scene Patriarch” by JamBase.com, died during his own tribute concert on May 1. The guitarist/singer, the former leader of bands such as the Hampton Grease Band and Aquarium Rescue Unit, passed out during a performance of the R&B staple “Turn on Your Lovelight” at the event called “Hampton 70: A Celebration of Col. Bruce Hampton.” He was taken to Emory University Hospital, where he died. Hampton was 70.

More than 30 musicians were on hand at the concert, held at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, to honor the veteran Southern rocker, including Jimmy Herring, Warren Haynes, Phish’s Jon Fishman, John Popper of Blues Traveler, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, and Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. After Hampton collapsed and was carried offstage, actor Billy Bob Thornton, also on the bill, made an announcement that the show was over. He did not disclose the reason.

Hampton’s family issued the following statement: “After collapsing on stage surrounded by his friends, family, fans and the people he loved, Col. Bruce Hampton has passed away. The family is asking for respect and privacy at this difficult time.”

Related: 10 great Southern rock albums

Col. Bruce Hampton (right) with Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks

Born Gustav Valentine Berglund III, on April 30, 1947, in Oak Ridge, Tenn., he took the names Colonel Hampton B. Coles, Retired and Col. Bruce Hampton Ret. professionally. With the Hampton Grease Band, he released the album Music to Eat on Columbia Records in 1971. It sold miserably (reportedly the second worst-selling album on the label to that time, surpassed only by a yoga album), but Hampton began to build a loyal following that stood with him as he drifted from one project to another over the years.

Hampton’s later bands, including the Late Bronze Age and the experimental Aquarium Rescue Unit, drew large numbers of fans to their concerts and Hampton was considered a progenitor of what became known as the jam band scene, along with such better known outfits as the Grateful Dead, Phish and the Allman Brothers Band.

Hampton released albums with his various units on the Capricorn, Terminus, Volcano and Ropeadope labels, among others. Among the bands with which he was associated were Fiji Mariners, Codetalkers and the Quark Alliance.

He was instrumental in launching the annual H.O.R.D.E. festival in the ’90s. Susan Tedeschi wrote a song in tribute to Hampton, titled “Hampmotized.”

A documentary film, Basically Frightened: The Musical Madness of Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret., premiered in 2012.

A video of a performance of “Turn on Your Lovelight” at the May 1 Col. Bruce Hampton tribute concert has been removed from YouTube. Here’s Hampton performing the song with Gov’t Mule in 2007.

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Best Classic Bands Staff

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