Interview: Colonel Bruce Hampton – The Jam-Band Genius

by Steve Spohn
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The Colonel is one of the most gifted and influential improvisational players that most people have never heard – but jam-band luminaries know exactly what he sounds like, and who he is.

Many describe him as a mad-man musical genius. The co-founder of Capricorn Records, Phil Walden, says “he may very well be the Vincent Van Gogh of Rock-N-Roll music.”

Colonel Bruce – a hugely respected singer and guitarist – attributes his early success to Duane Allman, who got him his first record contract (listen to interview below). He’s worked with Frank Zappa. He’s done free concerts with The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and Spirit. He’s been on the bill with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He helped start the H.O.R.D.E. Festival in the early-’90s with jam-band powerhouses like The Blues Traveler, Phish, Widespread Panic and The Samples.


ARU (from left): Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Sipe, Jimmy Herring, Matt Slocum and the Colonel

Susan Tedeschi, of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, even wrote a song about him, titled “Hampmotized” (listen at bottom). Susan’s husband, Derek Trucks, says this about the Colonel: “I definitely think he’s the father of whatever the quote-unquote jam-band, alternative scene there is.” The praise and testimonials go on and on.

For first time since a one-off gig in 2011, Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit – including Jimmy Herring on guitar – will reunite for a 15-show reunion tour. The legendary Georgia-based band began to unravel in 1993 when Colonel Bruce left – the official break-up occurring two years later.

This is a much-anticipated tour, some 20 years in the making.

In case you haven’t heard ARU, here they are performing “Fixin’ To Die” in Atlanta: was lucky enough to have Colonel Bruce call in and reminisce about his career and to talk about his upcoming tour with The Aquarium Rescue Unit. The Colonel touches on his friendship with Frank Zappa, Duane Allman, Pigpen, some of the strange instruments he plays – and the night he was on the same bill as John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

The SongMango interview with Colonel Bruce Hampton:

AQUPromo SongMango.comThe band will be hitting the road with its classic lineup of Col. Bruce Hampton, guitarist Jimmy Herring, bassist Oteil Burbridge, drummer Jeff Sipe (aka Apt. Q-258) and, the most recent addition, keyboardist Matt Slocum. The band’s original mandolin player, Matt Mundy, is sadly, still in retirement.

The tour kicks off in Boulder, CO, for two shows on July 29th and 30th, then heads down South to the Colonel’s neck of the woods, and wraps up August 16th in Brooklyn, NY. All tickets are on sale right now.

Tour Dates

06/05/2015    PRS Event – Ram’s Head Live, Baltimore, MD
07/29/2015    Fox Theatre, Boulder, CO
07/30/2015    Fox Theatre, Boulder, CO
07/31/2015    Mishawaka, Bellveue, CO
08/01/2015    Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO
08/05/2015    Iron City, Birmingham, AL
08/06/2015    Cannery, Nashville, TN
08/07/2015    Buckhead, Atlanta, GA
08/08/2015    Georgia Theatre, Athens, GA
08/09/2015    Orange Peel, Asheville, NC
08/12/2015    The Ritz, Raleigh, NC
08/13/2015    The National, Richmond, VA
08/14/2015    The Howard Theatre, DC
08/15/2015    Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY
08/16/2015    Brooklyn Bowl, NYC, NY

Here’s a trailer for the 2012 documentary Basically Frightened: The Musical Madness of Colonel Bruce Hampton. Hear jam-band icons heap praise on the master:

Here’s some classic ARU footage from ’92 that will get you in the mood for the upcoming tour:

Here’s the song “Hampmotized” that Susan Tedeschi wrote about her friend, the Colonel:

Check the ARU site for more tour info.

Steve Spohn is a former Saturday Night Live and Nickelodeon Television executive. Growing up near Princeton, NJ, led to a musical addiction, with WMMR in Philly and WNEW in NYC providing the daily dose. When not attending or planning to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts, he's plugging away as a screenwriter in Beverly Hills. Reach Steve at