Southern rock legend Col. Bruce Hampton collapsed on stage at the end of a 70th birthday concert in his honor on Monday night at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. He died several hours later in Crawford Long Hospital. Hampton turned 70 on April 30.
In a truly bizarre scene, during a lengthy version of “Turn on Your Lovelight,” Hampton toppled over. He laid prone on the stage for several minutes as John Popper played harmonica and Warren Haynes and others laughed at the apparent stunt. But it wasn’t a joke. Hampton had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Also on stage at the time were Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Chuck Leavell, Widespread Panic’s John Bell and Dave Schools, Jimmy Herring, Phish’s Jon Fishman, Jeff Sipe, Karl Denson, Duane Trucks, Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt, and guitar prodigy Brandon Niederauer.
“Bruce bent down to bow down to Brandon and then he went down face first,” reports photographer Michael Weintrob, whose new book, “Instumenthead,” features Hampton. “At first everyone thought he was messing around. But he was dying as everyone was playing.”
Revered as the godfather of the jamband scene, Hampton’s real name was Gustav Berglund III. Born in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1947, he changed his name to Col. Bruce Hampton as an adult and forged a music career that would span five decades, starting with Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention. He appeared on Zappa’s “We’re Only in It for the Money” in 1967 and “Lumpy Gravy” in 1968. Three years later, he formed the Hampton Grease Band. After only one album, Hampton went solo, recording several albums under his name before founding the Aquarium Rescue Unit in 1992. They recorded two albums on Capricorn, “Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit” (1992) and “Mirrors of Embarrassment” (1993). The group included Herring, Sipe, and Oteil Burbridge.
Hampton cemented his reputation as a leader of the nascent jamband movement when ARU was selected to be part of the inaugural “H.O.R.D.E.” tour, organized by Blues Traveler’s Popper, for the summer of 1992. Phish headlined, followed by Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Widespread Panic, and ARU. In the shows, ARU would open and then Widespread would join them until ARU left the stage. The same would happen with Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler.
In 1996, Hampton shuffled the deck and came back out as Fiji Mariners. They recorded two albums on Volcano. In 2000, he formed the Codetalkers, who released three albums. Hampton’s last solo album, “Pharaoh’s Kitchen,” came out in 2014.
In recent years, Hampton, who was overweight and had health issues, continued to perform with others, including Widespread Panic, Leavell, and Phish’s Mike Gordon. Many of them assembled for his birthday bash.
“It was an incredible show,” says Weintrob, who photographed Hampton’s last moments. “It’s the greatest encore to go out on. It was very poetic.”