Across two cities, two days, one flight and a concert, Col. Bruce Hampton reflected on his career in music. One week before his return to The Handlebar to perform with Brooks Hubbert, Col. Bruce and I shared a phone conversation for an article in the Pensacola News Journal.
***Col. Bruce Hampton Interview***
MS: What is the most exciting part of the Col. Bruce Hampton experience for you?
BH: Being up on stage. Everything else is a bit of a nightmare, but to finally get onstage…
MS: Of all the shows you’ve played, what is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen at one of your shows?
Silence…and the phone call is dropped. Col. Bruce calls back and I ask the question again.
BH: Sir. You know what. Can I call you in an hour? It’s too crazy.
MS: Yes. Sure.
BH: Are you going to be here in an hour? I’ll have 30 minutes.
After the flight and concert, Col. Bruce and I agree to continue our talk the next day.
MS: Hello, Col. Bruce. How was your show last night?
BH: It was great. Thank you.
MS: I’m looking forward to seeing you again. It’s been awhile.
BH: Looking forward to being in Pensacola, man. It’s my favorite place. Really. I lived there for about eight years.
MS: That’s right. That’s when you had The Codetalkers right.
MS: As a matter of fact, you gave a young man a piece of advice that changed his life. Do you remember Damien Louviere?
BH: Yes, I sure do, yes.
MS: I interview him a couple of months ago and he said the best piece of advice he got was from you. You told him that he had talent, he was a great musician, but he needed to go and starve. He did it.
BH: (chuckles) Oh my God!
MS: It really changed his life. He did it. He’s playing now in New Orleans. He loves it, he’s so thankful for the info that you gave him.
BH: He’s a talented cat. He brought out everything in me.
MS: You influencing so many people, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
BH: I never give or take advice too much. Probably “Eat salad with lunch” is the advice I’ve been given.(chuckles) I try never to give advice. People own their own craft. And I cannot answer for anybody. And can’t remember doing everything, I remember Damien…it’s been 10 years. Giving advice is a dangerous thing. Everybody knows what their path is. Eventually, I mean sometimes. One of the great dangerous in the world is…two of them, there is “old age” and then there’s “clarity”. And you don’t want too much of either. What advice is given me? Probably get a computer job, something of that nature.
MS: Touring, writing, what is the most exciting part of this experience for you?
BH: And you asked me that yesterday and that’s really a tough question. Obviously it’s performing and playing without a doubt. Live music, there’s nothing better.
MS: What are some of your favorite concerts? You’ve played so many.
BH: Probably the best was in 71’ we played with John Lennon and Frank Zappa. That was probably our best. And then I’ve 10 or 15 memorable ones for sure. I got to play with Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player and Jonnie Johnson and he basically invented rock n’ roll. He was Chuck Berry’s piano player. That concert stands out quite a bit. I’ve been very lucky man. Got to see just about everybody I wanted to see. I got to see the Delta Blues masters back in the sixties and classical composers that were my favorites. Kings of the Bluegrass, I saw them too. You know Bill Monroe, Jeff Rowe, yeah I got to see all the great acts.
MS: Is there anybody young or currently blowing your mind now, that’s following in your tradition?
BH: Sir, I would love to say “yes”. Now when I say young, I say under 30, but there’s a gentleman AJ Ghent that is absolutely phenomenal. He’s the only one under 30 that I really like. And he’s a pedal steel player and he’s not quite on the scene quite yet, but he will be. He is absolutely tremendous. He’s as good as anybody I’ve ever heard on anything. He’s 25 and he plays like a complete master already. If you get a chance…I don’t think he’ll be known for at least two years. AJ Ghent. His dad basically invented the pedal steel. “The Sacred Steel” is what it’s called and AJ is the master. His dad’s from Gainesville, Florida his name is Aubrey Ghent. His dad is the best there ever was and his son is taking it six more steps. That’s the cat…that’s the only cat I know under 30. Please tell me, I’m off the scene pretty much. I don’t know anybody young anymore. Maybe…tell me…I don’t know anybody.
MS: The last guy that I saw that really blew me away in your style was Robert Randolph.
BH: Yeah. I know Robert. This is another world. (chuckles)
MS: What’s coming up for you in 2012? What directions are you going to go for this year?
BH: I’ve probably never changed directions in 50 years. I’ve always kept it pretty cool, man. It’s got to be coming blues, folk, jazz or country. And I like hard country, the early 60’s country. Don Gibson. To me that’s pure unique blues or bluegrass. To me it either has essence or it doesn’t. And intent too, what is the intent behind it?
MS: The digital format. Is it a positive or negative? I grew up with records and cassettes.
BH: Man, I’m a hundred and eight years old. I have no idea what it is (chuckles) I know nothing about it. I don’t know about downloads or anything. I know the record industry is gone other than that, I don’t have details.
MS: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen or done at one of your performances?
BH: Well, that a good question there, sir. (pause) Just too much! Boy, I mean…the craziest thing? There’s too many of them. I’m trying to go through my file cabinet and see. Give me a second to think about it. I can’t answer that in the time being. If I get it within the next hour, I’ll call you back because there have been so many.
MS: Definitely. No problem.
BH: (almost immediately) The craziest thing I’ve ever seen was a group we were playing with called Malombo. And they had flown in from Africa and never played electric guitars and they were truly from the jungle. This was in 1971 and the guy played flute and drums and the other guy played electric guitar which he’d never touched, so they playing and it was the most absolute beautiful thing I ever heard and then the light blew out and they ran outside completely crying and scared to death. They’d never seen a light blow. That was pretty crazy. That was as pure as it gets.
- Michael L. Smith