On Col. Bruce Hampton’s website, you can watch an interview of the late James Brown joking that he’s “out on love” after his 2004 arrest. There’s a link to an audio file of the Prophet Omega sermonizing, and weekly trivia questions like “What was Al Sharpton’s first job?” (Answer: James Brown’s roadie).
What’s more difficult to track down is information on his current band, The Quark Alliance, or a contact with their management. I emailed the only address I could find, a booking contact, with an info request. When my phone rang last Thursday morning, I wasn’t expecting the voice on the end of the “Blocked caller ID” call to be Bruce Hampton himself.
“I’m in Florida, on the way to beautiful Montgomery, Alabama,” Hampton answered to the first question I could come up with on the spot. His band is playing “all the big cities this week,” hitting Starkville and Hattiesburg, MS before heading to Charleston.
The new group, The Quark Alliance, consists of Jeff Caldwell (guitar), Mark Letalian (drums), and Kris Dale (bass), in addition to the Colonel’s smooth lead guitar. Hampton met Caldwell in 1988 when he (Caldwell) was teaching with Jimmy Herring at the California Guitar Institute. They’d talked about starting a band for years, and the right time finally came. “We play rock, blues, and country music. I don’t know which country,” says Hampton. “We’ll cover about anything.”
Col. Bruce caught me off guard, so he ended up asking a lot of the questions in our “interview.” Highlights...
Hampton talks about his dream band and rags on my name
Hampton shares about getting healthy
On Pensacola and Charleston
Col. Bruce: Who’s playing at the Pour House this weekend?
City Paper: Porter-Batiste-Stoltz on Saturday.
Col: You don’t get any better than George Porter, man. I played with him and the New Orleans Social Club last year at the Warren Haynes Christmas bash. They were just unbelievable.
CP: I saw some photos of you playing saxophone with the Hampton Grease Band (Col. Bruce’s first band in the ‘70s.) Do you still play?
Col: I use them as sound systems to my home planet. I don’t know if I have the academia to say “I play sax.” That was many thousands of years ago. You weren’t even born.
CP: I’m 25.
Col: Are you 25? You sound much older. You sound like you ought to be president, man. Your name dictates governership.
CP: I’m working on it.
Col: You better man, I’m voting for you. You might be the cat I vote for forever now. I’m just going to write you in. You got at least a senatorial name. (Heavy Charleston-drawl) Senatoooor Stratton Lawrence from the state of South Carolina.
CP: A lot of people were worried about your health last year, but it sounds like you’re making a good recovery. (Hampton suffered a mild heart attack and took a break from touring.)
Col: I’m getting better every day. I was doing about 18 drugs a day was the main thing. I couldn’t even see or talk. I just had to lay back. It’s just getting old and falling apart. Attitude is gratitude, I’ll tell you that. Everyday is wonderful. It takes a minute to get back there, for sure, and get that second energy going. I’m sixty in a month, so I guess when you’re that age, you fall apart. Everybody I know is. It’s funny, I want to be 25 forever, man.
Col. Bruce called from Pensacola, FL, and we made the connection that my old house there was just down the street from his. “I’ve been everywhere, man, and Charleston and Pensacola are the two best cities in the south,” says Hampton. “Charleston is Pensacola with a little more pizzaz.”
Chatting with Col. Bruce about my hometowns and upcoming senatorial run, it was hard to believe this down-to-earth, amiable guy has jammed with nearly every notable name from the Woodstock generation. His Aquarium Rescue Unit, an original H.O.R.D.E. tour staple, included Jimmy Herring, Jeff Sipe, and the amazing Oteil Burbridge. With buddies like the Allman Brothers, Derek Trucks, and Widespread Panic, his cell phone must be a who’s-who of Southern rock.
Attitude is gratitude, indeed, and with a little help from his friends, Col. Bruce Hampton continues to churn out quality cosmic soundwaves. Friday’s show with the Quark Alliance should be an otherworldly trip with a genuine legend.