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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A Little Band Where Old Friends Play: Nat King Coal Miners

Posted on: Jun 20th, 2011 By:

So many of Atlanta’s best bands got their start when musicians known for other ventures just happened to get together and jam. That synergy has happened again with Nat King Coal Miners to the good fortune of the Atlanta music scene who will get to enjoy one of their first public performances at the Star Bar this Wed. June 22.

The recently formed jazz trio sports three musicians well known locally for years for their involvement in many iconic jazz, swing and blues groups. Spike Fullerton (guitar) most recently has been playing with Ghost Riders Car Club (see ATLRetro’s Feb. 2 Kool Kat piece on him and that band here), but his many other credits include being a founding member of Kingsized. Matt Wauchope (piano) is now with Blair Crimmins and the Hookers toured and recorded with the late, great blues guitarist Sean Costello, giving him the chance to perform with music legends such as Jody Williams, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton and Elvis Costello. Veteran blues bassist Dave Roth is now with Burnt Bacon, but also performed with Sean Costello.

ATLRetro caught up with Spike to get the scoop on how the new venture got started, the Nat King Cole connection, what Ray Charles has to do with it, and why he’s bringing out the Big Girl…

Spike Fullerton playing with Ghost Riders Car Club. Photo courtesy of Spike Fullerton.

All three of you are seasoned musicians well-known in Atlanta for your previous misadventures? Why/how did you decide to get together to form a 1940s/’50s jazz trio?
The late lamented Glenwood in EAV had a terrific Sunday night jam session. I had played with Dave there a couple of times, and Matt turned up one night. We knocked out a couple of standards on the spot and that was it. Both of those guys are so good, you know it in about 16 bars. Dave Roth has both perfect pitch and relative pitch, and big-time chops to go with it; Matt Wauchope, who also plays piano with Blair Crimmins and the Hookers can just knock that Harlem stride style out as well. It’s both humbling and a real pleasure to play with such enormously talented musicians

Why the name Nat King Coal Miners and do you play Nat King Cole classics?
I happened to mention (original King Cole Trio guitarist) Oscar Moore as a big influence on me, and it turned out Matt and Dave already had this project going. Matt and I had both done long stints in Kingsized—I was a founding member years ago—so we had a large pool of common standards to choose from, as well as a shared sense of humor about the material. The language of jazz is pretty similar across genres—it’s just deciding which accent you want to speak with. The King Cole sensibility of strong rhythm, heavy swing, and clever lyrical and musical interplay was a natural.

Who are some other influences on the band’s sound and will you be playing just covers of jazz greats or originals, too?
The three of us are huge fans of the 50s R&B style of Ray Charles—we do a lot of things in that genre as well. It can go from utter melancholy to swingin’ like mad, and just has the most delightful sense of rhythm. We’ll do the odd original, perhaps a Waits cover, all sorts of stuff. Source material is important, but I think we are more concerned with the articulation rather than recreating the original records. So some things may sound more original than they really are and vice versa.

Spike's Big Girl.

Any special plans for the Star Bar gig this week?
Our good friend the Rockin’ Gator, legendary friend to the Atlanta music scene, will be on hand to tape some of the proceedings so everyone who turns up gets a little digital immortality as a side dish. For you guitar geeks out there, I’ll be bringing out a very special instrument from my collection to play for the evening. I had retired it for over a decade, but I love this style, and this group so much, I’m going to bring out The Big Girl (an extremely rare 1949 Gibson archtop), along with a period amplifier for the show.

Where else will the Nat King Coal Miners be playing soon and any plans for a recording?
We are booked for the Summer Shade Fest [Aug 27-28] in Grant Park and have recurring gigs at Blind Willie’s and hopefully the Star Bar going forward.

The Ghost Riders Car Club set had the most heartwarming moment at Bubbapalooza when you guys started pulling Mama Smalley and other Star Bar regulars onstage for an audience singalong to The Diggers‘ “She’s Breakin’ My Heart (While I’m Drinkin’ Her Beer)” Can you share some of the specialness of that moment with anyone who missed the show.
As you may know, I was on the bill at Bubbapalooza I. [Founder] Greg [Smalley] was a colleague of mine on the scene, and we played many a show at many a forgotten venue. It speaks to his impact on the community that after all this time. We should all be remembered so long, and so fondly.

Love your band logo – what’s the story on that?
It’s actually a real King Cole Trio album cover from the 40s. The postmodern sense of motion and optimism, and use of negative space and color, sort of dovetail with what we try to do as a group.

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