“I play because I want to learn the unknown corner of everything of myself and the world. Music opens up eternal things…It’s the only chance you have to communicate with other things. I love playing live and I hope I never have to quit, but I’ve been doing it 50 years and I’ve done 10,000 gigs and every one of them is always unusual, you might say.” - Col. Bruce Hampton
A balance of teamwork and individual talent is a juggling act that Col. Bruce Hampton has perfected for decades. One week before his return to Pensacola and Vinyl Music Hall to team up with the All-Star members of Siriusface (Brooks Hubbert (guitar/vocals), Dave Easley (pedal steel guitar), Scott George (bass) and Sims Chadwick (drums), Col. Bruce commanded the plate as I threw a few questions his way.
Link to the Pensacola News Journal “Music Matters” column on Col. Bruce Hampton.
*** Col. Bruce Hampton Interview ***
MS: Hello Col. Bruce! Good afternoon.
BH: Was it eleven minutes and 7 seconds? It was close. (we both chuckle)
MS: That is precision.
BH: I’ve been emailing my wife thinking it was you for about a week. I think I got one through to you. You’re a hard man to reach.
MS: Yes, sir. Sorry about that. I apologize.
BH: Hey, no big deal, man. I bet the weather’s perfect there, isn’t it?
MS: It’s doing good. Pretty warm. Pretty humid, but it should be pretty awesome when you get down here next week.
BH: I can’t wait. I love that place, man. I like that place a lot. We’re going to have a good time next Saturday.
MS: The show coming up. What I love about your shows is not just the music, but I never know what to expect. What musicians are you going to bring with you and what can we expect as far as surprises from you?
BH: Dave Easley from Louisiana, he’s the best steel player ever. Dave Easley, he plays with Brooks Hubbert a lot. The bass player is…all from Pensacola.
MS: Pensacola’s finest. You have a tradition of pulling from Pensacola’s top players. Sean Peterson, Tyler Greenwell, Grammy Award winner. What do you look for in a musician?
BH: Well, to look like he can throw a baseball. (chuckles) I want him to look like a pitcher. I want him to look like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, or Cy Young. (chuckles)
MS: What is about the Pensacola musicians that you like so much? Aside from the baseball look-like I’ve said-You’ve played with a lot of Pensacola players. You’ve lived here yourself.
BH: I’ve lived there for about seven or eight years. I certainly miss it. It’s one of the better cities in the United States. I’ve been to em’ all twelve times. I’ve got the t-shirt and that. Definitely in the top 10. Where are you from Mike?
MS: I’ve lived in Pensacola for 35 years, but I was born in Brunswick, Georgia. Right outside St. Simons Island.
BH: Yes, I know it well. One of the great writers, Stanley Booth lives there also. He did the Rolling Stone book. That’s funny man. You’re Brunswick and Pensacola.
MS: It’s a small world.
BH: You’ve got a good gig writing for the paper in a beautiful spot.
MS: Yes, sir. Thank you.
BH: You’re blessed.
MS: Col. Bruce, you’ve played in pretty much every type of environment there is; arenas, clubs. What’s the wildest venue you’ve ever played?
BH: The wildest?
MS: Yes, sir.
BH: There was a place in France called La Bastille and it had waterfalls behind me. And I can’t remember where in France that was. I was there 35 years ago. It was the most amazing one. Then, I’ve played just little bars in the middle of New Mexico that might have had 12 seats. And I’ve played the Atlanta Pops Festival, had 600,000 people and clubs that are 10 or 12 seats. I really like anything under a thousand seats. Then it’s still music and you can get the magic pretty easy there. Once it gets over a thousand people, it’s almost a Broadway show. You’ve got to keep it so rigid and they expect to come see something that they expect to come to see. You really cant’ take many chances if you’re at that level.
And I prefer music. The spontaneity. People go to music shows generally because their friends are there or they’re going there to socialize or something. When you look at the great music venues, symphony halls or the bluegrass clubs, or the jazz clubs, they’re not packed for the music. People go to those, you know, but there more of a social situation it seems. Pop music is good, it’s not around a long time (chuckles). People like records for about six months and then it’s gone.
MS: By definition, Popular music is…Since you mentioned that, Col. Bruce. What does playing live and doing these concerts, what does it do for you?
BH: I play because I want to learn the unknown corner of everything of myself and the world. Music opens up eternal things where you’re not going to get it in the everyday thing. It’s the only chance you have to communicate with other things. I love playing live and I hope I never have to quit, but I’ve been doing it 50 years and I’ve done 10,000 gigs and every one of them is always unusual, you might say.
MS: That’s what I love about your shows.
BH: You never know quite what’s going to happen. One day I want to bring in an ironing board and do some ironing for maybe two hours. And then other days, just dribble. I would love to go in and see a symphony dribble for about three minutes. It would just change the course of what I thought it would be. 16.3% of life is chaos. I don’t think you should try for chaos in music, but there ought to be a point where it opens up and you can do it.
MS: That is beautiful.
BH: No matter how much we try to keep everything perfect, it’s going to collapse into place. And all great chaos, man, it’s become a new form easily. Swing to be-bop and reggae was the reggae musicians trying to play The Meters tunes in New Orleans. That’s how reggae came into being; they turned the beat around. It used to be called “ocean music” until about 68’ and it became reggae in about 68 or so. And I’m must blowing hot smoke, but it sure is fun. (chuckles)
MS: Have you ever considered doing a…I could see you doing a tv show or a documentary film, Col. Bruce…
BH: We have a documentary film finished and we’ve been showing it quite a bit and if we get a chance Saturday, I’ll show you parts of it. I think we end pretty early, so if there is a DVR around, I’ll have the film with me and play it for a bunch of people. We’ll probably go show it over at Brooks’ house. You’ve got to be at the gig, or we’re nothing without you, Mike. And also we’re nothing with you. (chuckles) We’re nothing no matter what. (Hearty laugh)
MS: We are all just dust in the wind.
BH: But yeah, there is a documentary that’s just finished and we’re trying to get a publishing deal. It has Dave Matthews and Billy Bob Thornton and just a ton of people in it. You can go online and see some of it. It’s called “Basically Frightened”.
MS: Col. Bruce, I want to thank you for your time. Is there anything you want to add for the people that
will be at your show at Vinyl next week or anything you want the people of Pensacola to know?
BH: I think we’re in good shape. Mike, you’re a pleasant guy, I wish the rest of the world was like you.
MS: Thank you, Col. Bruce.
BH: Mike, it’s a pleasure man, and I hope to see you next Saturday.
MS: Yes, sir. I will be there. Do you drink?
BH: No, I don’t. Never done it.
MS: How about I buy you some water? I drink water.
BH: Well, I’m against water now too. I’ve quit drinking everything.
(I break out laughing…silence from Bruce and then he chuckles)
BH: Water sounds good. Alright, sir, I can’t wait.
- Michael L. Smith