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Music pioneer Colonel Bruce Hampton, Dead at 70

All too often when some passes away, who lived a care-free, “I’m invincible,” kind of a lifestyle, we say they “died like a rock star.”

All too often when some passes away, who lived a care-free, “I’m invincible,” kind of a lifestyle, we say they “died like a rock star.”

But the truth is artists such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, G.G. Allin, and even Prince Rogers Nelson, didn’t die the way they lived… they died like addicts.

The same cannot be said of the late Colonel Bruce Hampton, who passed away on May 1, just hours after performing his 70th birthday celebration at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Ga.

According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Hampton collapsed on stage during his encore performance of the Gordon Lightfoot classic, “Turn on Your Lovelight.” He was immediately taken to a nearby hospital, where he died.

Hampton was born Gustav Valentine Berglund III, in Knoxville, Tenn., and is best remembered for his avant-garde rock influence.

Over the years he helped establish a number of bands, most notably the Hampton Grease Band, as well as The Late Bronze Age, The Aquarium Rescue Unit, The Fiji Mariners, The Codetalkers, The Quark Alliance, Pharaoh Gummitt, and Madrid Express.

Later on in his career, Hampton helped start the seminal H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) music festival along with headliners Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, The Samples, The Spin Doctors, and Phish.

For many fans at the time, the H.O.R.D.E. music festival represented the second incarnation of American jam band music. Following the path laid by such classic jam artists as the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band, the H.O.R.D.E. Festival brought together the best of both worlds, blending improvisational jam (Gov’t Mule, Ween, the Black Crowes, Galactic) with more mainstream ’90s rock (Barenaked Ladies, Smashing Pumpkins, 311).

He was also the subject of his own documentary film, Basically Frightened: The Musical Madness of Colonel Bruce Hampton, which follows the musician throughout his career—from his commercially unsuccessful debut album to his continued devotion to the craft.

Hampton was truly a “king of the cameo” and would often surprise fans, by dropping in for an impromptu performance with some of their favorite artists. Although he mostly worked within the realm of folk, blues, jazz, funk and prog-rock, Hampton even made a cameo appearance in Hip-Hop duo, Run the Jewels‘ 2014 music video, “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1.”

In total, Hampton has released more than 16 full-length studio albums and has made several guest appearances on records from such artists as, Frank Zappa, David Earle Johnson, Mike Gordon, Susan Tedeschi, Chuck Leavell, CeDell Davis and Widespread Panic.

Following his passing, on May 1, friends with the Tedeschi Trucks Band shared the following statement from Hampton’s family:

“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 time.”

In memory of the late musician’s work, Salute Magazine remembers Colonel Bruce Hampton with five favorites from his vast catalog.

1) “Fixin’ To Die” – Colonel Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit

Originally written by Booker T. Washington White, the classic Delta blues song has also been covered by Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, G. Love and the Avett Brothers.

2) “Halifax” – Hampton Grease Band

Although the album is said to have been the second-lowest selling in the history of Columbia Records, critics have often compared the psychedelic blues rock album with such artists as Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa and Pere Ubu.

3) “Tumblin’ Down” – The Codetalkers

This funky blues song is a must hear for any fans of the late Col. Bruce Hampton. The song is one of many that show his incredible ability to improvise. Check out The Codetalkers performing “Tumblin’ Down” live at Gottrocks in Greenville, SC.

4) “Raining In My Car” – Fiji Mariners

The prog-rock duo, Fiji Mariners, formed in 1994, featuring Dr. Dan Matrazzo on keys, drums, and bass guitar. “Raining in My Car” has a classic Blues vibe that is sure to get fans moving and grooving.

5) “Pharoah’s Kitchen” – Col. Bruce Hampton

Hampton was approached by his friend / jazz guitarist, Grant Green Jr., who told him “you gotta make a blues album.” Well, he did in 2014, with the album Pharoah’s Kitchen.

The title track was nothing short of spectacular. To hear more, check out this live performance of “Pharoah’s Kitchen” from the Loveless Cafe in Nashville, Tenn. back in 2012.

Hampton’s death was both untimely and unexpected, as he was scheduled to perform at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga., on June 17, 2017.

And although he did not “die like a rock star” in the typical sense, his impact and influence on rock music will long be remembered after his death.

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