Jam band legend Col. Bruce Hampton died Monday night after passing out on stage at his 70th birthday concert celebration at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. (Ironically, that’s the same venue where Prince played his final notes before he died a little over a year ago.)
The joyous celebration ended abruptly after four hours when the music scene veteran collapsed during an encore performance of “Turn On Your Lovelight”. 14-year-old prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer was entering a guitar solo battle with Blues Traveler’s John Popper’s harmonica when Hampton fell at his feet. Many of the fans and musicians onstage thought Hampton was joking around, as he was known for his goofy onstage behavior. The band continued playing for nearly two minutes while he was slumped over a speaker. As it became clear the situation was serious, Hampton was carried off stage before being taken to Crawford Long Hospital, where he passed away shortly after arriving.
News of his death was shared by his family in a post by the Tedeschi Trucks Band. “After collapsing on stage surrounded by his friends, family, fans and the people he loved Col. Bruce Hampton has passed away,” said the note. “The family is asking for respect and privacy at this difficult time.” Rev. Jeff Mosier, who participated in the 70th birthday show, and told his followers on Facebook, “I feel so blessed to have been there tonight and be a part of the greatest gathering of friends and loved ones. I’ve never seen Bruce happier. I’ve never been sadder. I’ve dreaded this day for years, but could have never imagined a more joyful departure.”
Hampton was an elder statesman of both the Atlanta and jam band scenes, known as much for his far-out philosophies on music and life and jovial tutelage of other musicians as he was for his surrealist performance style. A quick peek at the evening’s guest musicians—John Bell, Dave Schools, Duane Trucks and Jimmy Herring of Widespread Panic; Peter Buck of R.E.M; Jon Fishman of Phish; Warren Haynes of Government Mule; and Billy Bob Thorton (who cast Hampton in Sling Blade) among them—shows the extent of Bruce’s influence and just how beloved the Colonel had been.
Hampton first began in music in the late ’60s as the leader of the Hampton Grease Band. The outfit’s 1971 double-album, the surrealist Music to Eat, was often proudly touted by the Colonel as the second worst selling record in Columbia’s history. (The worst is apparently a yoga instructional record.) Despite the lack of sales, the avant-garde act went on to open for the likes of Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band, gaining a reputation for their crazy onstage antics.
After releasing a number of solo albums and efforts with The Late Bronze Age, Hampton formed The Aquarium Rescue Unit in the early 1990s. The band was part of the inaugural H.O.R.D.E. tour and a staple of Atlanta’s scene. Hampton left the band in 1993 to form Fiji Mariners, and later became a fixture on the annual Jam Cruise and a frequent collaborator with a number of jam bands.