Nowhere Is Now Here
Col. Bruce Hampton, AKA Hampton B. Coles RIP, 5-01-2017: died after collapsing on stage, at the or a peak of his 70th birthday party jam. Can’t help thinking about an interview where he and some other musos were talking about going to see Widespread Panic’s Mikey Houser, who was dying—and comforted them. Hampton was amazed; “God, if it was me, I’d be going bananas.” The Col. was a philosophical guy, which helped make him such a resourceful artist and entertainer, incl. the comedy, but part of that, the basis of it, seemed like, was being totally upfront about such feelings.“Basically Frightened” is one of his catchiest tunes.
The only time I saw him perform live was at an engagement party—everybody looked like the cast of Friends, in Montgomery’s version of a Spanish Mission inn—bassist and drummer came out first, set up this shuddering heartbeat that went on all evening, and he came out and played thin, incisive, sustained guitar notes, avant-garage maybe: pared down and later for the poo. Long rolling vocal thunder.
Here’s an excerpt from a profile-preview I wrote for Charlotte Creative Loafing in 2005 (mention of Coe is ‘cause they were playing the same night, at different places), followed by a core quote:
…Col. Bruce Hampton, another dedicated road warrior and Southern rock veteran, who carved an itchy maverick niche for himself at the dawn of the 70s with his Atlanta-based, Zappaesque Hampton Grease Band. Col. Bruce deals with connection and separation by successfully combining — but never binding — wild strands of jazz, blues, bluegrass, garage punk and psychedelia, in a way so many jambands fail at miserably. This fusion is greatly helped by the fact that Hampton’s a living crossroads for improbably talented musicians. A particularly good example is the first, self-titled and very live set by his 90s group Aquarium Rescue Unit, featuring several once-and-future members of the Allman Brothers Band — keyboardist Chuck Leavell, guitarist Jimmy Herring, bassist Oteil Burbridge — plus other finds like drummer Jeff Sipe and percussionist Count Mbutu. ARU’s psych-jazz-rock even featured a mandolin player, Matt Mundy, who ricocheted through the heavier sounds.
Hampton’s current band, the Codetalkers, is built around the post-bluegrass cadence of another mandolinist, Bobby Lee Rodgers, who also penned most of the songs on the Codetalkers’ debut, Deluxe Edition. Rodgers’ rippling rhythms and slightly nasal vocal clarity could make him seem merely mellow, without Hampton’s infectious, restless guitar, and the solid-but-swinging rhythm section of drummer Tyler Greenwell and bassist Swan. Together, they illuminate the funny, scary, matter-of-fact travelin’ blues of “UFO,” “Saturn,” and a cover of bluesman Skip James’ just-as-cosmic “I’m So Glad.” Hampton wails on the James classic and his own cell tune “Isle Of Langerhan” (it’s a real place, look it up!). Furthermore, the Colonel spews the ebullient nonsense of “Rice Clients” like confetti, reaffirming his status as notable Zappa and Beefheart acolyte.
Col. Bruce has also been known to announce, “Nowhere is now here.” Fittingly, this Friday night, he and Coe — these two inveterate rollin’ stones who travel lighter than everything except the speed of sound — exit the highway void to meet metaphysically (only) in Charlotte. Bring your wayward hearts and heads out for some of the best travellin’ music around.
Oh yeah, and when Tedeschi-Trucks Band played Beale Street Caravan a couple weeks ago (smoking show, posted there), Derek quoted the Col. re never playing the same set twice, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”