Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret: Basically Frightened and Playing for The Cause
AM: As mentioned in the film so many people were inspired by you. What exactly was it that you would teach them that was so pivotal in their careers?
Col: That’s a loaded question man. [laughs] They taught me as much as I taught them. I probably taught them to play themselves more and quit playing what they think is them. Also to get away from the influence, because they had already achieved being able to play with anyone and play any type of music. The key is to start the creative process all over again.
AM: Did you try not to imitate your influences at all?
Col: Yeah, but I sometimes still do and I’m a poor mans Little Richard. [laughs] You learn from your influences and I probably have two hundred. I like every type of music as long as it comes from hear [points to his chest]. To me good music comes from folk music or the church. It can’t be coming from a shopping center or a parking lot, it’s gotta come from the heart. I like every form there is. You can learn from it all.
AM: Have you ever reached that point in your career when it felt too difficult to go on?
Col: I feel like I’m starting over. I feel like I’m two years old. I feel there’s no plateau. If you reach a plateau then you quit living and creating. There’s always a new mountain to climb. Always, that’s life.
AM: What is the mentality that you have when you’re playing?
Col: [laughs] The stage is the only time you can communicate with the unknown. I hope every nights a different night. You can play one song for the rest of your life, just put color in it. It’s all been said and done just do it a different way. But you do have your limitations. Igor Stravinsky said you only have six songs in you. I’ve probably reached that limit thirty years ago. [laughs].
AM: Do you ever see yourself getting back together with Aquarium Rescue Unit?
Col: We played Athens, Georgia last year. They’re talking about doing some New York runs this summer. I think Atlanta, New York, and the West Coast if everybody’s schedule can do it. We had a lot of fun. Although, now I try to be laid back and low key about everything. I play two or three gigs a week and it’s enough for me.
AM: But it’s a love of yours, so it’s hard to just put the guitar down.
Col: Yeah, it’s impossible. I do wake up every day and say “What am I gonna do when I grow up?” [laughs]. But there’s a difference between being childlike and childish. There’s nothing worse than a 70-year old man at a frat party drunk. [laughs] But there’s nothing better when you have extreme joy and you’re 62. Whether it’s music that moves you or seeing a newborn baby or whatever. I’ve been very lucky and blessed to do this. This is just the craziest business. You’re basically selling sound [laughs]. It changes every hour.
AM: But it’s emotions also.
Col: Completely, completely.
AM: You have to sell you what really turns you on, right?
Col: Yeah, like I don’t understand hip-hop, but to each his own. The music I’m passionate about goes from 1930 to 1970. I don’t think I own a record after 1970 [laughs]. I’m mostly a bebop guy; late fifties and the sixties. I was so lucky to be 17, when it was all happening. I mean I got to see Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bukka White many times. We got to tour with Hubert Sumlin about five years ago and he just told stories all night about the Wolf. It was like going to church. We just sat there like little kids with our mouths open. I got to see everybody and it was cheap. I was really lucky.
I remember when I was in school I’d bring in music and everybody would stare at me like my zipper was down [laughs]. To them the weirdest records were Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane, and Miles. I remember the look I would get in 1964. I’d have every blues records made and I’d just get stares.
AM: They don’t know what they’re missing out.
Col; No they don’t. That reminds me, last week I was doing a speech saying “Why can’t radio stations play Bach or Ray Charles or Hank Williams Sr.?” Just something with some quality. Why does it have to sound drunk all the time? It’d just be wonderful if people actually got a chance to hear good music, but they never get a chance to.
AM: Just listen to the music today.
Col: Yeah, some of it’s just trash. America has really only one art and it’s jazz. It’s never heard.
AM: What do you think it is that has people not listening to jazz but mainstream music?
Col: Convenience is the greatest enemy. You can get everything and it’s cheap and quick. To me everything nowadays is like pro wrestling. It’s all instant gratification. They don’t want to work hard or delve into something. A lot of the older music was creative and they played for the cause. Not many people play for the cause anymore.