At his 70th birthday celebration at the Fox Theatre Monday night, Col. Bruce Hampton was joined onstage by some of the top musical talent that this region has produced in the last 50 years. Chuck Leavell, Oliver Wood, Derek Trucks, John Popper, Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M., and many others wanted to make sure that they paid their respects.
And of course, as you probably know, Hampton collapsed on stage from a heart attack at the end of that concert and later died in a local hospital. The man knew how to make an exit.
I didn't know Bruce, but we do have friends in common. They talk of his humility and kindness, his ability to play a mean third base, his weird sense of humor. He was the epitome of a musician's musician, well-known and highly respected within the craft even if he never became famous outside it. And he didn't become famous because he pretty much chose not to do so, never making the compromises that would require.
(Here's a nicely done tribute to Bruce, by Chuck Reece of the Bitter Southerner, a website you should definitely visit often. In fact, on another topic, go there immediately and read this as well. You can and should thank me later.)
About a year ago, I did get a chance to watch, up close and personal, as Bruce played an extended set at a small festival. Then too, he had drawn a wide cross-section of top local musicians who wanted the chance to join and jam with the legend. It was one of the best musical experiences that I can remember, one of those shows where you walk away just marveling that you got the chance to be there.
Here's some vintage Bruce: