Col. Bruce Hampton was a charismatic musical figure who launched and continued to influence the jam band genre over his fifty-plus years performing. Part bandleader, soul singer, storyteller, conjuror, poet, preacher, comedian, philosopher, and trickster, Col. Bruce actively sought out and dealt in the weird, wild underbelly of the American South. The Music and Mythocracy of Col. Bruce Hampton is neither a true biography in the Boswellian sense nor a work of cultural studies, although it combines elements of both. Even as biographer Jerry Grillo has investigated and pursued the facts, this life history of Col. Bruce reads like a novel—one full of amazing tales of a musical life lived on and off the road.
Grillo’s interviews with Hampton and his bandmates, family, friends, and fans paint a fascinating portrait of an artist who fostered some of the best music ever played in America. Grillo aims not so much to document and demystify the self-mythologizing performer as to explain why his fans and friends loved him so dearly. Hampton’s family history, his place in Atlanta and southeastern musical history, his significant friendships and musical relationships, and the controversies over personnel in his Hampton Grease Band over the years are all discussed. What emerges is a portrait of a P. T. Barnum of the musical world, but one who included his audience and invited them through the tent door to share his inside joke, with plenty of joy to go around.