Bruce Hampton, 70, Jam Scene Patriarch, Dies After Collapsing on Stage

Bruce Hampton, who was known as the granddaddy of the jam scene for his energetic, eccentric guitar playing in a career that lasted five decades, died in Atlanta on Monday. He was 70.

His death was confirmed on Tuesday by Investigator Eric Sliz of the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office in Atlanta.

Mr. Hampton, who for years called himself “colonel” before officially adding the abbreviated title to his name in 2000, collapsed on stage at the Fox Theater in the waning moments of a concert in honor of his 70th birthday, according to news reports and a family statement posted on Twitter through the Tedeschi Trucks Band, whose members were in attendance.

The concert, billed as “Hampton 70: A Celebration of Col. Bruce Hampton,” was coming to a close with an encore performance of the song “Turn On Your Love Light” when he collapsed, Blake Budney, manager of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, said in a telephone interview.

He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died, Mr. Budney said. .

“Last night marks both a tragic loss of one of the great musical and mystical heroes of our time, Col. Bruce Hampton, and a celebration of a man that influenced, nurtured, and pushed the boundaries of all musicians and human beings who were lucky enough to enter his welcoming and inspirational sphere,” the band said Tuesday in a statement on its Facebook page.

Mr. Hampton was born April 30, 1947, according to public records. He grew up in Atlanta, according to a biography posted by Terminus Records, which lists him as one of its artists.

He first gained attention in the late 1960s and early ’70s as the leader of the avant-garde Hampton Grease Band, which The New York Times labeled variously as “one of the more cockeyed rock groups” of the era and “a mischievous, mystifying group.” Critics, The Times wrote, called the band’s music “eclectic,” meaning that it drew from a number of sources — and critics could not figure out what else to call it.

The Hampton Grease Band opened for a number of prominent groups, such as the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band. But it also sometimes played practical jokes. The band once opened a concert for a pop-rock group by playing its own versions of that group’s hits, according to a report in The Times. The move elicited boos, and the Hampton Grease Band responded with a lengthy encore.

In the decades that followed, Mr. Hampton would lead, join or help form a number of other acts, including the Aquarium Rescue Unit, the Fiji Mariners and the Code Talkers.

“Bruce Hampton is the 1970s rock star who wasn’t: a comic, bearish, dadaist spieler with a deep Georgia accent, a Dali in the body of a Southern wrestler,” The Times wrote in a 2001 review.

Others labeled Mr. Hampton’s music “surrealist.” In a video of an interview posted in June, he was asked who he was. In an absurdist answer, he replied with a laugh: “It’s a mix of 103 people. I’m not sure I exist.”

Friends and family said Mr. Hampton was also a mentor to many musicians, with a keen eye for talent. His influence on those musicians and his dedication to aiding their careers were perhaps the most lasting element of his legacy, they said.

In a message posted on Facebook, James Forrest Hampton III identified himself as Mr. Hampton’s nephew and said his uncle was also a doting relative. Mr. Hampton’s survivors include his wife, Sara, and his brother, Jim.

“He taught me how to be weird,” James Hampton wrote in the message, “and how weird was good.”

Many of Mr. Hampton’s associates also noted the fortuitous but seemingly appropriate end to the musician’s life.

“Bruce was the only person I could think of who has ever played at his own funeral, because in essence, that’s what he did,” said Scott McKinney, a bluegrass musician known as Fudd who said in a telephone interview that he had known Mr. Hampton more than 20 years. “Bruce couldn’t script it any better.”

Col. Bruce Hampton at the Fox Theater in Atlanta on Monday. Credit Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Bruce Hampton, 'granddaddy of the jam scene,' dies after gig

Death came for Bruce Hampton as he celebrated his 70th birthday doing what he did best -- jamming on stage.

Hampton, known as the "granddaddy of the jam scene," collapsed on stage while rocking out Monday night during a concert held in his honor in Atlanta.

His agent, Micah Davidson of Midwood Entertainment, confirmed to CNN that the musician died. He gave no further details.

Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band guitarist who was on stage performing with Hampton, posted a statement Tuesday on his official Facebook page asking for privacy for Hampton's loved ones.

"After collapsing on stage surrounded by his friends, family, fans and the people he loved, Col. Bruce Hampton has passed away," the statement said. "The family is asking for respect and privacy at this difficult time."

The all-star event, held at Atlanta's Fox Theatre, was billed as "Hampton 70: A Celebration of Col. Bruce Hampton."

The stage was packed with performers -- including Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, Phish drummer Jon Fishman and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell -- when the seasoned musician appeared to take a knee, then lay down as 14-year-old guitarist Brandon "Taz" Niederauer shredded chords on one of Hampton's favorite songs, "Turn on Your Love Light."

Some in the audience thought the guitarist's actions were a part of the show.

Those on stage continued to perform. They included Blues Traveler frontman John Popper, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

Then people came out from the wings and carried Hampton off stage. The song abruptly ended.

An ambulance arrived shortly thereafter and took Hampton away as dozens of bewildered fans watched quietly.

Born and raised Gustav Valentine Berglund III in New York City, Hampton was beloved in the music industry as a founding member of the rock blues quintet the Hampton Grease Band, which got its start in Atlanta.

While the band released only one album, "Music to Eat" in 1971, it developed a bit of a cult following, and Hampton went on earn a reputation as one of the best jam musicians in the industry.

He was the subject of a 2012 documentary, "Basically Frightened: The Musical Madness of Colonel Bruce Hampton."
Hampton he gave an interview in 2015 to the site Live For Live Music in preparation for his reunion tour with the Aquarium Rescue Unit.

He spoke of his extensive career, which stretched from playing in bands in the 1970s to doing voice-over work in commercials for brands such as Popeyes fried chicken and Motel 6.

"I was a lasso instructor and a lariat importer, and they were all weird, fleeting jobs," he told the site. "I've been fortunate to do music all my life, and I've done enough acting to make it fun."
Fans, including a few famous ones, grieved Hampton on Tuesday.

"So so sad to say goodbye to the great & wondrous Col. Bruce Hampton," Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes and Chris Robinson Brotherhood told CNN in a statement. "The music world lost one of a kind last night, a true original, a man who heard the light! God speed Col. Bruce, we miss you."

Added longtime friend Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers, "Just by example, he taught us to challenge our ideas about music and what it's for. Bruce was equal parts prankster and mystic. He was serious about music, but also taught us not to take ourselves too seriously. He was a one of a kind human. What an honor to be with him on his final night."

Vocalist and saxophonist Karl Denson called Hampton "the poet of some undefined movement that all the artists came to for wisdom and clarity."

"Once you connected with him, you felt inspired not to be jive, to know what was important and take chances," Denson said in a statement. "Most of all, he made us supremely happy."

Leavell, the keyboardist who tours with The Rolling Stones and was part of the Allman Brothers Band in the 1970s, said Hampton died doing what he loved.

"A poetic exit," Leavell said. "And I'm sure if he had written the script himself, that would've been the last page of the last chapter."

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