Check out The Codetalkers on JamCam.

By Tom Speed

Col. Bruce Hampton by V.Kamenitzer
It would be difficult to overestimate the impact Col. Bruce Hampton (ret.) has had on the jam band movement. He has been a major influence on most, if not all, of its major players since its unofficial inception and has in turn influenced a new generation of musicians as a result.

Though the first flowerings had been bubbling up for years in places like Athens, Georgia, Burlington, Vermont, and New York, the flashpoint of the jam scene, its unofficial inception, was 1992's H.O.R.D.E. festival. It pitted together three burgeoning bands on the scene — Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler, and Phish — in a pivotal tour that would vault each of them into larger arenas by combining forces.

As the lore goes, Blues Traveler wanted to bring along their compatriots, Spin Doctors. Widespread Panic responded by essentially saying, "If you're bringing them, we're bringing our friend." That "friend" was Colonel Bruce Hampton, and his band (at the time, for there have been many, and will be many more) was the Aquarium Rescue Unit. The rest is this story.

Col. Bruce Hampton by Thomas Smith
Night after night, the lore continues, Hampton would hold court backstage, imparting his mystic wisdom to these young players, teaching them to rid themselves of ego and play only with intent. Night after night, the heralded players of Phish and Widespread Panic would stand in awe of the manic antics of the Aquarium Rescue Unit, sitting on the sidelines and learning from the least-known band on the bill.

Those who followed his guidance most closely had the most long-term success. Those who didn't burned brightly but briefly, eventually fizzling.

Shaman, mystic, mentor, and parlor trickster — Bruce Hampton often blurs the line between fact and fiction so much that he inhabits a world that is actually both, a place where neither is more important or real than the other.

Hampton began our 1999 interview for Honest Tune magazine with a treatise on the 5,000-year-old origins of baseball in Egypt. "Baseball was the perfect game," he said, "a mystic game based on numerology." Three strikes, three outs. Nine players, nine innings. "Nine was the number of completion," he said, as it was a perfect balance of three threes. It wasn't until years later that I looked back at the issue number to realize that the cover story on Bruce Hampton was Volume 3 Number 3, and the interview was done in '99. And Hampton can pontificate for hours like this on almost any subject.

In that same interview, he recounts the tale of Sun Ra delivering something called the Book of Knowledge to Jon Fishman at a hotel room in the middle of the night. Who cares if it's true or not? It's true to him, and that makes it so.

He made the most profound impact on Widespread Panic and Leftover Salmon. ARU and WSP toured together often in their most formative years, often turning the stage over to the next act with a full-band segue, the band members from one group slowly replacing the band members from the other, never stopping the music — a trick that has become common practice in jam band circles. He has been a frequent guest with Widespread Panic over the years, earning him the nickname "Our Daddy" from Panic front man John Bell. Leftover Salmon borrowed heavily from him in their off-the-wall stage antics and free style of playing.

Col. Bruce Hampton by Thomas Smith
When in Hampton's presence, he at times seems to be channeling mystic energy from the cosmos, whether he's on stage or not (though some would argue that he's always on stage). He is a well-known shade-tree magician and mind-reader. He'll guess your birthday on first meeting. He'll play guitar without touching it. Parlor tricks or mental magic, it doesn't matter. It's real either way.

Here's a parlor trick for you: notice when reading this website or Honest Tune magazine or any other publication that covers jam bands with any regularity, how many times Colonel Bruce Hampton's name is mentioned in interviews with other musicians. Be careful. The interconnectedness of it all may seem like you are uncovering some vast underground transit system. And you are.

On the H.O.R.D.E. tour, The Aquarium Rescue Unit was the vortex from which The Colonel wielded his weirdness. Many argue that it was his finest band in a long line of fine bands. The ARU put out just two albums — the live self-titled Capricorn release of 1991 and the studio masterpiece that followed, Mirrors of Embarrassment. Of course the world of recorded music was not really their forte. This band was all about the moment.

Col. Bruce Hampton by Michael Weintrob
In 1994, Hampton left the ARU, citing health concerns. The road was too much for him at his increasing age. The band continued on with new vocalist Paul Henson, put out another album, and toured a few more years while members came and went. It wasn't the same without its spiritual core, but that doesn't mean the players quit. Guitarist Jimmy Herring went on to stints with The Allman Brothers, Jazz is Dead, Phil Lesh & Friends (the best-yet version that toured for years and earned the moniker The Phil Lesh Quintet), the reformed "Dead," and Project Z. Bassist Oteil Burbridge now holds down the bottom-end for The Allman Brothers Band in addition to fronting his own band. And drummer Jeff "Apt. Q-258" Sipe spearheaded the improvisational Zambiland Orchestra for years in addition to serving on the skins for Leftover Salmon and Susan Tedeschi.

Aquarium Rescue Unit by Michael Weintrob
Of course, you can't keep a good man down. Bruce was back with a new band, The Fiji Mariners, almost immediately. It wasn't a surprise. That's been his modus operandi for decades — take a band to their creative peak and jump out off the precipice.

It started back in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the Hampton Grease Band, a band whose claim to infamy was that they recorded the second-worst selling double album in the history of Columbia Records, second only to a yoga instruction record. The world was not ready for Bruce Hampton, even in those crazy times. The different permutations of his particular lunacy followed in a flurry: bands like The Late Bronze Age and The New Ice Age harnessed a madness that was equal parts absurdity and adeptness. Over the years he served as a conduit for avant-garde interpretations of jazz and bluegrass and blues, the pure forms of American music thrown into a blender and poured into a steaming chalice of strangeness. Many of the recordings of that era were released by Landslide Records in the compilation Strange Voices. All of the albums were re-released in their entirety (for the first time on CD) by Terminus Records, with bonus material to boot.

Col. Bruce Hampton
For the past few years, the Colonel's conduit has been The Codetalkers. Admittedly, Hampton's role in this group has been more to champion the cause of chief songwriter Bobby Lee Rodgers, but over the years, the group has incorporated more and more of the unmistakable magic of the Colonel.

That band now seems to be at its creative peak, with the release of an excellent new album, Now. A few weeks ago, Hampton left the tour, citing health concerns. Was it time to jump off of the precipice again, or was it something more serious?

It was something more serious.

Hampton underwent angioplasty surgery this time, but he is recovering. He is wisely staying off the grueling road in order to recuperate, though he is still playing selected shows. Last month, he reunited with The Hampton Grease Band. At the All Good Festival, he reunited with the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and he performed a stunning set at Bonnaroo with the Codetalkers.

Bruce Hampton with ARU at All Good 2006
By Robert Massie
Hampton, like most musicians - especially those who refuse to sacrifice their art for commerce, has inadequate health insurance. So some friends, believing that the Colonel should not be burdened by such earth-bound concerns any more than he has to, set up a fund to help defray the considerable medical expenses he has incurred.

To contribute to this fund, one need only go to any Bank of America branch. Specific information, including how to transfer funds electronically, can be found at Col. Bruce's website -

A note there states the following:

The Medical Needs account is a controlled trust. Only the one designated trustee can remove funds. He will only remove funds to pay for Bruce Hampton's medical expenses such as hospital visits, clinic visits, and prescription medications.

In the event that the balance of the fund exceeds the costs incurred, any excess will be donated to a charity that benefits musicians with limited ability to pay medical expenses. That charity is called Musicares.

If you have any concerns about the integrity of the Bruce Hampton trust and still want to donate, please give to the Musicares Foundation since they are an established nonprofit organization and have helped Bruce in the past.

As a musician, it's all about intent. In the real world that most of the rest of us inhabit, intent alone is not enough. Action is required. So please help out our daddy if you can. It's immeasurable what he's done for us.

Brato Ganibe. Brato Ganibe. Brato Ganibe.

Tom Speed is Publisher and Editor of Honest Tune magazine. His astrological sign is Leo.

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jamcamdvd starstarstarstarstar Mon 8/7/2006 05:01PM
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Great piece, Tom. The deep knowledge and unbridled passion with which you write every essay is truly a gift to this scene. FYI, the video clip (see JamCam link at top of story) for which the JamBase folks so kindly agreed to include here was shot just last year at the 20th Annual Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash where the Col. not only served up the goods musically, but also honored us with unabashed graciousness and second-to-none style during an exclusive, last-minute interview. Thank you, Col.

Bill Clifford Mon 8/7/2006 08:27PM
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As someone who has been around to catch Col. on the Horde; been there for ARU club gigs; when he (they) were opening shows for Traveller and/or Panic; on the Fiji run, and very personally, there when he pushed a young Bobby out on stage; more simply put, just knowing the Col. the way I've had the pleasure ... I can affirm Toms claim. There has been anyone more influential on the modern jam scene, then our Daddy. May God bless our Daddy. Miss ya Col., and keeping ya in our prayers. Contribution made.

Bill Clifford Mon 8/7/2006 08:29PM
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I mean to say, there has NEVER been anyone more influential on the modern scene.

jencat starstarstarstarstar Mon 8/7/2006 11:44PM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Tue 8/8/2006 06:19AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

The grand supreme creator of psychedelic parlor room jazz.
One thing that I miss from his past projects is Dr Dan.
Dr Dan is from atlanta, and played Keys in The Fiji Mariners. Dr Dan started The Shocktreatment, after the Fiji Mariners broke up, and has since dropped out of the scene. Its a shame, because Dr Dan had a great band in The Shocktreatment, and I miss him being around. We can most assuredly thank Col Bruce for bringing to us musicians like Jimmy Herring, Otiel, Count M'Butu, Matt Mundy, Apt Q258, and, The Codetalkers. When I was in college in the early 90's, The Aquarium Rescue Unit was the most bad ass band on
the scene! Seeing Phish in Knoxville, with Fishman singing "Wind Beneath my Wings" to Col Bruce while he sat on the stage in a chair reading the paper is a Priceless Memory. Peace Ya'll!!!!

whoknowswhy Tue 8/8/2006 07:17AM
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I gave once a few weeks ago and I will be giving again. I cant imagine how much more boring the music of this planet would be without the Col.

NealKaren starstarstarstarstar Tue 8/8/2006 07:28AM
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I've had the pleasure of meeting the Col. backstage at a show in Atlanta a few years ago. What an incredible experience - and, yes, he indeed guessed my birthday - correctly!! Be well, Bruce!! And, thanks for all you have done - and all you will continue to do!!

leadbelly starstarstarstarstar Tue 8/8/2006 08:58AM
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This community would not be anything close to what it is today if Bruce had not been a part of it......hat's off the Colonel!

neddy starstarstarstar Tue 8/8/2006 09:47AM
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Get better Col. Bruce!

One thing, beyond the HORDE mentoring et al, that I've always been amazed about ARU in those baby jam days was the number of bands that OPENED for ARU when they were just getting started and where they've gone today. Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, and Medeski, Martin & Wood are just a handful of bands who got a big helping boost from Col Bruce Hampton, I'm sure there are others.

Panic in the Cave starstarstarstarstar Tue 8/8/2006 12:54PM
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Panic in the Cave

I have been concerned about the Col. for a while now. He is in my thoughts regularly. Not only has he influenced some of my favorite bands he has personally touched me with his unique brand of wierdness. No, we've never met but I've been close enough to be sweated on. His touch on me is as real as it is unreal. I truely love this man. Be well 'our daddy'. I'll see you around town.

I'll share a story with you - A good friend of mine was on his way out of his condo in Duluth, GA when he saw this long haired guy standing outside with a guitar case. It was Jimmy Herring waiting for ARU to pick him up for a gig. Being a fan John stopped to say hi. Soon after a van arrived with the Col. in the front. Col. Bruce, with a new paper in his hand asked John 'what is your favorite letter?' John replied 'C'. The Col. started a bizzare rant that I couldn't possibly remember the details of. But needless to say it was funny as hell.

breckenridgejam starstarstarstarstar Tue 8/8/2006 02:47PM
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This is a very well writen article with a great background surrounding a great musician. The Col. has been around for a long time and is responsible for a lot of inovation within the jam band community. I really like the Sun Ra reference and "our daddy" of WSP. I met Col. Bruce once and saw his Codetalkers play in Hampton, VA after one of the Phish comeback shows in 2003. He seemed like a very humble person that appreciates the fans, along with the energy revolving around wonderful music. I wish him the best and hope for a speedy recovery. Get better soon so I can see you bust a "Time is Free" with Panic & Jimmy this fall!

HillbillyHophead304 Wed 8/9/2006 12:01PM
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The Colonel is the fucking man!!!!

toestothenose starstarstarstar Wed 8/9/2006 03:30PM
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Tom - Thanks for capturing the Col and wrapping some wonderful words around all he's done.

Ching Wed 8/9/2006 06:03PM
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Ahhh Bruce is out there...Ive got to hang with Bruce on many occasions and every time has been one hell of an experience...The man is from Space...he adores SUNRA as we all should...After all Col does a few Sun Ra tunes...Hes a very nice guy taboot...

I remember seeing NMAS open for Fijis in 97 or 98...cant quiet remember...Im sure it was 98...Anyhow this was in Jackson MS...NMAS were still a very unknown band and seeing the 2 bands meet was a thrill...

We had the pleasure of opening for the Fijis in spring of 98...I could go on and on about Bruce...

And hes great at guessing Birthdays...


hippiehick starstarstarstarstar Thu 8/10/2006 08:27AM
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EVILFUNK starstarstarstarstar Thu 8/10/2006 01:13PM
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Bruce Hampton is one of the most important musicaians EVER!

phreakincanuck Fri 8/11/2006 07:36PM
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I was wondering if anyone out there in cyberspace can tell me if you can make a donation to the Col's fund at WSP shows at all? I just got tix today for WSP in Boston and I am hopeful that I will get some for the Wallingford, CT show so if there is an opportunity to make a donation at one of the Panic shows that I plan to attend I would like to do that. Can anyone help me with any sort of answer to my question or share any info regarding my query. I love the good Col. and am grateful for his music and influence that he has had on so many musicians. Long may you run, Daddy!!! Excellent article, Tom! Thank you!

Dankstar starstarstarstarstar Mon 8/14/2006 02:05PM
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I met Bruce at the Lime Spider in Akron Oh, Where I had gone to see the Codetalkers for my 21st birthday. The first thing he said to me was "I knew you would be here,after all it is your birthday is it not" WTF! It was freaky but at the same time one of the coolest things I had ever heard anyone say. THANKS BRUCE!Much love!

dcpruyn starstarstarstarstar Thu 8/17/2006 11:33AM
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I'm listening to a Codetalkers show right now as i'm writing this, one i got from Archive.Org . Remembering the first time i saw the Aquarium Rescue Unit : 1993 i think it was, in New Orleans(my Hometown!) for the HORDE Festival @ Municipal Auditorium . They were only the second act. The Act of All Acts, in my opinion-call it a biblical pun intended if you will. But, after hearing them, i was completely converted(stunned to the Core) to the Multi-Instrumentalism-Improvisation that there Music created. For the remaining 5 hours listening to the Samples,Spread,Traveler, i could only think of how the acts that followed ARU were influenced by the Band that started it all Post-Dead generation "jam-groups". Props to the writer of this article. It really made me reminisce about some very positive memories....most recently, the great performance and time @ the Maple Leaf in N.O. ,New Years Eve with Col. and the Codetalkers, just a few years back.