A Deep Aquarium Dive with Col. Bruce Hampton
Col. Bruce Hampton is a legend bordering on myth. The Atlanta-based musician, singer, ban-dleader, sports connoisseur and mystic headed up the Hampton Grease Band in the late ‘60s, helped start H.O.R.D.E. tour in the ‘90s, lead the iconic collection of all-stars known as The Aquarium Rescue Unit, voiced a talking potted plant on the Space Ghost television show and has appeared in everything from a movie with Billy Bob Thornton to a music video for Run the Jewels. And that’s just scratching the surface.
To interview Hampton is to get interview yourself, and while much of that is taken out of the below transcription (what’s left is much more interesting than us diagnosing the woes of the Indianapolis Colts football team or discussing why I may or may not appear to be a Gemini), the genial—and genuine—nature of Hampton in-person still comes through. The inimitable icon talks about his new movie with Fred Willard and Taz Niederauer, who he’s playing with these days, why he knew Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi were meant for each other and what Jimi Hendrix’s favorite topic of conversation was, among other things. Plus, of course, a little bit of baseball talk for good measure.
To start off, can you tell me what you have going on now?
I just made a movie [ Here Comes Rusty ] with Fred Willard. It was really thrilling to do that. We’re doing another one right now. And I work in Atlanta every Thursday night at a place called The Vista. We’re gonna do that for two years so I don’t have to travel everywhere and I can keep the band going.
What kind of band do you have going for that?
It’s about an eight-piece band. Only band with trombone and accordion [laughs]. And sacred steel [lap steel guitar]—we got the reverend who sort of invented it, Dante Harmon. Just amaz-ing. He’s the guy. He’s not famous, but they all know he’s the boss.
What’s the film you’re working on now?
It’s called Focus on Poultry. It has nothing to do with poultry [laughs]. It’s about anxiety, about people who sweat a lot—this guy is 18 years old and going through the anxiety of growing up. You know how at 18, you’re fucked. You’re a walking, eating, human-machine. He has anxiety attacks all the time, especially—you know, he’s about to have sex and has to go bathe because he’s sweating so bad [laughs].
What’s your part in it?
I’m not sure yet. We haven’t started filming. We’re still in the writing stage, and gathering ac-tors, and it’s so hard to get an A-list person right now, because everybody’s busy as hell. And Atlanta is the film capital of the world now. We got the money, we just can’t get anybody. We had Danny McBride, and then all of a sudden he took off with the Bill Murray TV show [McBride’s Vice Principals ]. He’s a good friend, but he wants—you know—too much bread now. And he can get it. He’s huge now. And he’s got a movie coming out, Alien: Covenant, which is supposed to put him over the top. We’ve probably asked twenty people. But you know, you’ve got to have a star now to put out a movie, which is horrible. We got a great script, we got a great crew—we’ve got the House of Cards crew—and we’ve got a great director. We’re ready to roll, but just getting all the part—I mean, God, I thought music was hard! This is our third film, and we’ve got our fingers crossed.
What is your job in this whole thing? Are you a producer?
I just do it. I organize. I’m AD, actually—assistant director. And actually, I’ll be directing half of it, I guess. Yeah, just producing, organizing—whatever it takes. There’s three of us putting it together, and we’re on the phone getting it done.
Did you have those roles in past movies you’ve been in?
No, no. I mean, usually with Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Duvall—they have their stuff together [laughs]. I’m a minor-leaguer here. When I was 19 years old, I started writing scripts, and I al-ways wanted to be in the movie business. But, how lucky can I be to have it as a hobby? I found out, man, those guys—it’s hard. It’s not easy. I guess it is after you do 20 or 30 years, it gets easier. You learn what not to do, more than anything. You put in 10,000 hours in anything, you become a master—or at least you can fool people [laughs].
So what’s Here Comes Rusty about?
I’m sort of Elvis’s drunken Memphis dog-track owner. You know, just southern scum. I’m Jerry Lawler, the wrestler, that’s who I am [laughs]. That’s who I tried to be. Like, “Get outta my way, you shit ass!” And Fred Willard is a car owner. So we have a bet that my dog will beat his. The whole story is pretty silly. There’s some good moments.
You and Derek Trucks go way back, and you’ve collaborated with Tedeschi Trucks before. Can you talk about watching Derek grow up and into the success he’s enjoying with that group now?
I’ve known the family since the ‘50s, so I know all the members. His uncle, Virgil Trucks, threw two no-hitters; one against Ted Williams, who went 0 for 8, so you know he was a hell of a baseball player. Then I met Butch in the ‘60s, and we toured with the Allman Brothers. I went to military school, and his father stayed above me and we never met. He would go to high school to the left and I’d go to college to the right, and we were ten feet away for a year. But he was a whole other world. Isn’t that amazing? And then I toured with Butch a lot, so I’ve known the Trucks forever—all the kids, everybody. When I first heard him play, me and Oteil [Burbridge] were in North Carolina. They were opening for us, Derek just by himself—he didn’t have a band.
How old was he then?
Nine. And the guitar was about a foot taller than he was. He started playing, and me and Oteil just—we couldn’t breathe. We just went, “What the f- is that?” It was about the second time I’d ever cried hearing somebody play. And it was just hypnotizing; it was other-worldly. He was as good then as he is now, I think. And Sue I’ve known about 30 years, and the first time I saw her I went, “Who is this ?” She was maybe 22; she was playing Atlanta. She was dating a guy named Sean Costello, who was five years younger—she goes for the younger guys. She started singing, and I went, “My god!” Then started playing and I went, “Jesus!” It blew me away! Nobody plays rhythm anymore, and when she started playing rhythm guitar, I went, “Who the hell is this?” And it was so funny, when [Derek and Susan] met, I was with him in Tallahas-see, and you could see it coming. I mean, any woman who comes up to you and goes, “I love John Coltrane and Howlin’ Wolf,” you marry. Those are the code words, that’s what I figure, you know? You better marry her! There’re not many that say that, you know? So Derek did. And they have two incredible children.
I can’t imagine how talented those children are going to be—or already are.
They’re amazing. The girl is—I mean, she’ll be president. She’s ten years old and just starts talking about microeconomics and you just sit there and go, “My God, man.” And the band is as good as any band in the world right now. They’re smokin’. They’ve got 12 people—that’s a lot of mouths to feed. I’m sure they’ll change and evolve. I would love her to do country music from the ‘50s. She won’t, but I’m trying to push her—just to do those old, incredible Faron Young, Don Gibson tunes. She would rip it up. And no one is doing ‘em. They’re the best tunes written. Ray Charles’s [Modern Sounds in] Country and Western [Music] —one of the greatest albums ever recorded. That flipped everybody up, ‘cause it was a black man—a blind black man—doing country and western better than anybody who ever lived. That record still sells like crazy.