Something magical happened as I was compiling a few local stories about the late Col. Bruce Hampton. Common threads appeared that made it easier to understand why he was so loved. His generosity of spirit and playful nature often take center stage over his music, although the music is never far behind.
Mark Thomas, drummer for the ScratchTones, found Hampton’s music by chance. At 16, a friend picked up a Col. Bruce Hampton and Aquarium Rescue Unit album on the basis of the cover art alone.
On the way to a party, Thomas and his friend listened to the album. “I was absolutely blown away, as well as a little confused,” says Thomas. “I had never heard anything like this or ever would. This was not only an album but a moment of musicians performing as if their lives depended on it. It was like a nuclear bomb being dropped on everything I knew or considered music…or art.”
It’s safe to say that a lasting mark was left, yet some years later there would be another chapter added. Thomas’ band was slated to open for the man himself.
“I got there early, set up for sound check, and heard that Bruce’s guitar was lost on the flight,” says Thomas. “I took a beater guitar that local blues musician Mike Zito had sold me for $100 in case Bruce needed something for soundcheck. I go into the club with the guitar, walk up to Bruce feeling a bit nervous, introduce myself and offer the guitar for him to use.
“He was very warm and kind and loved the guitar. I mean, he loved this guitar and wouldn’t stop talking about it. It was used it for the soundcheck, and then the promoters came in with a top of the line Paul Reed Smith for Bruce compliments of Guitar Center. But Bruce wasn’t interested in the PRS—he wanted to use my guitar for the gig and everyone, including myself, was confused.
“We played great, I got to hang out with my musical hero, and he played my shitty $100 guitar.”
“The world is a lesser place without him,” says Scott Rockwood. “When I was introduced to Bruce five or six years ago, the first thing he said to me was the date of my birthday, accurately, with no prior reason to have known it. He was the kind of person that gives you faith that there’s a little more to everything than meets the eye.”
Mike Ingram’s first Col. Bruce Hampton experience was nearly 10 years ago at the former location of Graffiti and the Funky Blues Shack in the Village of Baytowne Wharf. “I just remember him not only playing amazing music, but he was cracking everyone up that was watching his band,” says Ingram. “Nothing but good vibes. He made the venue feel very homey and full of joy.”
Ashley Feller shares: “He’s responsible for the growth of a multitude of musicians, and I know it was a privilege to have witnessed him perform numerous times.”
Donnie Sundal performed with Hampton at the Hub 30A in early April. “Bruce was one of the most interesting and goodhearted humans of all time,” says Sundal. “His sense of humor and sixth sense were unparalleled.”
Perhaps Marisol Irizarry Gerth sums it up best. “Every show was unique, special, and a magical experience for your ears and your soul. I’m just grateful for the music he has left us with.”
Thank you, Col. Bruce Hampton, for the music. And the river of warm memories you cultivated everywhere you went.