By Bruce Van Dyke
One of the great cool cats of jammin’ jazz-rock, Col. Bruce Hampton, died on May 1. Not many folks out West knew Hampton or his music, which is a shame because his band, the Aquarium Rescue Unit, was nothing less than extraordinary. Still, Hampton’s swan song on May Day is what deserves a mention here, because it’s a superb example of that great rarity – death as performance art.
Hampton was a fixture in Georgia, so it was all good that his 70th birthday bash took place at the hallowed Fox Theater in Atlanta. It was to be an evening of good times and great music, with members of Widespread Panic, Colorado’s own Leftover Salmon, the Allman Brothers, REM and Phish among the many luminaries and pals who showed up to play and party with Bruce.
Predictably enough, the encore for this event was a superstar mega-jam of “Turn On Your Lovelight,” guaranteed to send everybody home with a happy face.
So “Lovelight” was blazing away with Hampton on vocals, and he introduced a young guitar prodigy named Brandon Niederauer to step up for a solo, and then, Bruce just sort of gently collapsed on stage, face down next to Brandon’s feet.
Everybody there, knowing Hampton was an incurable joker, assumed that he was just kind of screwing around as he lay there while Brandon rocked out. And, of course, he wasn’t. A couple of minutes passed until someone finally figured it out – uh-oh!
By the time the ambulance got to the hospital, Hampton was DOA. But dayam, what a way to go – singing “Turn On Your Lovelight” until, as if on cue, his own lovelight… faded to black!
Kuh-razy! And let’s give the man some credit. I mean, his heart didn’t blow up during the third song of the concert. No, Bruce coolly enough waited until the encore to depart his mortal vessel. Now that’s a pro and how to really check out for good!
This month’s guest blogger is Bruce Van Dyke, a legendary radio personality for Denver station KAZY in the late ‘80s. He’s been a columnist for the Reno News & Review since 1993.