Relix 44: Col. Bruce Hampton
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
The North Star: Col. Bruce Hampton
Col. Bruce Hampton followed his own path throughout his long, cosmic journey, right up until the end when he collapsed onstage and passed away soon after his own 70th birthday celebration. Born in Knoxville, Tenn., the guitarist, songwriter and seeker first made waves as the visionary behind the Hampton Grease Band and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, serving as a musical patriarch. His roster of disciples reads like a who’s who of the jam world: Jimmy Herring, Oteil Burbridge, Derek Trucks and many more.
Brandon “Taz” Niederauer was his final student. According to the then-14-year old guitar prodigy, he first met the Colonel on Jam Cruise 2014. Taz was, remarkably, still in elementary school at the time, and he remained under The Colonel’s tutelage until the day he passed. “In such a short amount of time, he did so much for me,” Taz recalls. “He taught me that if at least one person is moved by your playing or if you make one person happy, that’s when you’ve done your job.” Taz’s final performance with The Colonel came on that fateful April evening in 2017, when Herring, Peter Buck, Dave Schools, Jon Fishman, John Popper, Susan Tedeschi, Warren Haynes and others gathered to celebrate his 70th birthday.
Thinking back, Taz knew there was something in the air that night at the Fox Theatre. “It was so magical,” he says. “The stage shook. Everyone in the audience was going crazy.” As the all-star collective launched into their final song of the night—the raucous “Turn on Your Lovelight”—The Colonel looked over his shoulder and signaled Taz to show the crowd his chops. As his final student took his solo, Col. Bruce Hampton collapsed. He was later taken to a local Atlanta hospital, where he officially passed away.
The unreal circumstances surrounding Col. Bruce Hampton’s death have since entered the realm of legend. “Once I got past the sad part, I told myself that if he were to write how his life would go, that was exactly how he would want to go out,” Taz affirms.
Today, Hampton lives on through those who have been touched by his music and his kindness. Musical tributes to his legacy are a regular occurrence, and his image is reproduced and revered to saint-like proportions. As for Taz, he still thinks of his mentor on a daily basis. Recently, he even got the visage of Col. Bruce etched into the front of his amplifier. “The Colonel has had more of an impact on me than anybody else in the music world,” Taz says. “I just want to convey that in my music.”
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.