On Monday, May 1, one of jam rock’s founding fathers, Col. Bruce Hampton (born Gustav Valentine Berglund III), released his soul to the cosmos during a birthday celebration in Atlanta. He was 70. Hampton’s passing proved to be just as glorious as his rich musical career.
The legendary musician was in the encore of “Hampton 70: A Celebration of Col. Bruce Hampton” at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta. The concert brought together a plethora of family, friends, fans and fellow musicians, including Warren Haynes, John Bell of Widespread Panic, Derek Trucks, Jeff Mosier and Mobilians Jake Peavy and Ben Jernigan.
According to the music website JamBase, Hampton and his festival cavalcade of musicians were in the midst of performing the show’s finale, “Turn On Your Lovelight,” when Hampton collapsed onstage. A regular in Mobile known for his onstage antics, Hampton lay unconscious onstage for several minutes before it became evident he was not acting.
After news of his passing spread, social media came alive with a number of positive memories from a multitude of people whose lives Hampton touched.
“People thought they were going to Col’s birthday party,” said Soul Kitchen co-owner Brad Young in a Facebook post. “They were going to his funeral and death day. How poetic is that? I’ve known Col for 17 years. He was THE most interesting man I’ve ever met.”
Young continued with a series of anecdotes, such as his visit to Hampton’s home in Pensacola, where the day concluded with Young taking home “a wonderfully haggard, ripped-up tweed Fender Blues de Ville amp.”
Hampton’s Codetalkers project was the first band to play in the current location of Soul Kitchen. Young also revealed Hampton had no specific financial guarantee when he played, he simply told Young to “just pay me what you can.”
Hampton leaves behind an extensive musical legacy that helped shape the world of jam rock with bands that include Hampton Grease Band, Aquarium Rescue Unit, The Quark Alliance, The Madrid Express many, many others. Hampton was one of the founders of the H.O.R.D.E. Tour, which set modern standards for mega-festivals years before Bonnaroo, Hangout Fest and Coachella.
Hampton was also known for his memorable appearances in feature films. His portrayal of Morris in the 1996 film “Sling Blade” made him one of its more memorable characters, even though he was only onscreen for a handful of minutes. His most recent film work was “Here Comes Rusty,” which was filmed here in Mobile.