Kool Kat of the Week: Mad, Mad Music Radio: Col. Bruce Hampton Takes His Eclectic Talents to the Airwaves with Radio Free Radio on AM 1690

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 By:

Radio Free Radio; Hosted by Col. Bruce Hampton and Michael Holbrook; 7 p.m.;  first and third Thursdays of each month

By William Ashton
Contributing Writer

For a self-proclaimed “shy accountant,” Col. Bruce Hampton has made a spectacle of himself for more than four decades. He’s acted in an Oscar-winning movie (SLING BLADE [1996]), made 15 records (or so) and helped organize the H.O.R.D.E. concert tours of the ‘90s, but he’s mostly known as a performing musician, playing thousands of shows since the late 1960s.

A big, genial man, Hampton had a heart attack a few years ago, but he still plays 150 shows a year. He says that, at age “66 and above ground,” that’s plenty. “If I could go on at 8 p.m., I’d do more, but a lot of southern clubs start at 11,” he says. “It’s a young man’s game.”

Col. Bruce Hampton’s music is an unpredictable blend of blues, jazz and psychedelic rock, with a dash of funk and what not. Before the term “jam band” was coined, Hampton was jamming; he’s played  guitar and sang with The Hampton Grease Band, Aquarium Rescue Unit and Fiji Mariners (among others). A touchstone for many musicians in the jam-band circuit, Hampton was there for all but one H.O.R.D.E. tour in the ‘90s, he recalls.

“The only time I missed [H.O.R.D.E.] was when I went out with [the late blues musician] Hubert Sumlin one year, which was fine. We were in Louisiana one night when Sumlin offered to take us to the Crossroads [the intersection along Mississippi’s Highway 61 where blues legend Robert Johnson was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil]. We declined very quickly,” Hampton says. “It was a long way away.”

Col. Bruce Hampton (his legal name, he says) has recently taken his talents to the airwaves, playing music and sharing stories on AM 1690’s “Radio Free Radio” with former Hampton Grease Band member Michael Holbrook.  The show airs at 7 pm on the first and third Thursdays of each month.

“I’ve done occasional programs on AM 1690. Jon Waterhouse (from the radio station) asked us to do it every other week,” he said. “I do whatever Jon tells me.”

Hampton and Holbrook seem to have thousands of stories about life on the road, touching on encounters with everyone from Frank Zappa and John Lennon to Muddy Waters and Chet Atkins.

Playing with G.E. Smith led to Hampton’s sitting in on-air with the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE band one night a couple of decades ago, when Smith was “SNL’s” musical director. Longtime friend Billy Bob Thornton cast Hampton in SLING BLADE – and Hampton’s band performs in Thornton’s forthcoming movie JAYNE MANSFIELD’S CAR.

Sometime this year, Atlanta fans may see Col. Bruce playing regularly at the long-shuttered Avondale Towne Cinema. Hampton is among those meeting with Avondale city officials, with a goal of reopening the venue under new management, he says.

“A couple of lawyers from Alabama are planning to reopen the venue, and music will certainly be a part of it,” said Hampton, who saw wrestling matches at the Avondale landmark when he was growing up in the Decatur area. “I’ll try to play there twice a month and have guest artists. We had a similar (residency) at Brandywine in the ‘90s and it was a huge success.”

Another successful outlet for Hampton’s talents are the summertime Jam Cruises, which gather assorted musicians – many from New Orleans – for musical voyages through the Caribbean.

Hampton seems surprised that he likes the cruises. “I dislike Disney World. I hate just about everything with a lot of people involved, but this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “There’s food 24 hours a day, music 20 hours a day. The musicians are the cream of the crop. It’s fascinating and great.”

Hampton’s own fascinating story is the subject of a 2012 documentary, BASICALLY FRIGHTENED: THE MUSICAL MADNESS OF COLONEL BRUCE HAMPTON; the DVD (with new bonus live footage) has recently gained distribution through Amazon.com after a couple of years of limited availability.

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Band on the Run: Burt & the Bandits Race Up to Marietta’s Earl Strand Theatre Sat. July 30 & Invade the Starlight Drive-In & Smith’s Olde Bar

Posted on: Jul 27th, 2011 By:

Burt and the Bandits, 8 p.m. Sat. July 30; $12 advance; $15 at the door; Earl Smith Strand Theatre, 117 North Park Square, Marietta.

When ATLRetro launched in January, we knew the first Kool Kat of the Month had to be Jon Waterhouse. In a city fortunate to have several strong contenders for its most Retro Renaissance Man (Or Woman), Waterhouse is an undisputed 20th Century Pop Culture King. And that’s not just because he hosts a radio show called THE POP CULTURE KING SHOW on AM 1690, though that show, along with a regular freelance gig with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, allows him to interview many 20th century icons.

No, what’s so cool about Jon is the quantity and diversity of Retro culture that he’s tapped into. He’s done promo work for Van Halen and fronted Van Heineken, a Van Halen tribute band. He hosts all of Blast-Off Burlesque’s shows, transforming seemingly effortlessly into a succession of creative characters from a sci-fi nerd to Rip Taylor. For four years and over 100 Silver Scream Spookshows at the Plaza Theatre, he played Retch, Professor Morte’s lovable sidekick. He’s collaborating on a book related to the 1939 classic movie THE WIZARD OF OZ.

And just when you wonder what he could possibly do next, Jon’s latest adventure is Burt and the Bandits, which pays homage to the 1977 Burt Reynolds hit SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. They’re playing the awesome art-deco Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta on Sat. July 30, and after getting the lowdown from Jon, we can’t think of a better reason to dust off the old Trans Am, get loaded up and truckin’, never mind them brakes, put that hammer down and give it hell all the way to OTP…

Burt & The Bandits. From left to right: Jon Waterhouse, Barb Hays, Benny Boynton, Tim Price and Doug Williams.

ATLRETRO: How did you get the idea of a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT tribute band?
JON WATERHOUSE: Well, as a child of the ’70s, I remember the days when Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star going. There really hasn’t been another film celebrity like him since. He kind of cornered the market with a perfect mix of machismo and silliness. I have a special spot in my heart for his films, especially his earlier exploitation flicks like WHITE LIGHTNING and its sequel GATOR. Of course the original SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT is at the top of the heap. Anyway, many of his films featured great, fun music. You’ve got the Jerry Reed tunes from SMOKEY, and even the Ray Stevens title track from CANNONBALL RUN.

So about six or seven years ago I had the idea of a band that would play songs from Burt Reynolds movies dressed as the SMOKEY characters. And the set would be supplemented with what I call “classic country comfort food” from the same era, back when country was at its coolest. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton. It would be a tongue-in-cheek, comedic presentation, while still showing respect for the music. Heck, they did it with HEE HAW. Even Jerry Reed, who was a Chet Atkins disciple and one of the greatest finger pickers of his day, laced his music with humor. So that was the basic idea.

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