Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
Gustav Valentine Berglund III, born April 30, 1947 in Knoxville, Tennessee, was a surrealist musician, an actor on television and in movies, a stand-up comedian, and a philosopher—in short, an American treasure.
By the late Sixties, Mr. Berglund III was a member of the Atlanta-based blues-rock group, the Hampton Grease Band, and would, from that point on, be known to the world as Bruce Hampton—and later, Colonel Bruce.
My old songwriting and musical buddy, Billy Ray Herrin, recalled being in a handful of attendees at a 1971 Grease Band concert at the Aquarama on Jekyll Island. “We were sittin' on the floor with about seven other folks with our jaws dropped, listening to this great band. They took a break and told us, 'We'll be right back'. It was only when we went back into the Aquarama fifteen minutes later that we realized they had packed up and left!”
More bands followed with Col. Bruce guiding the way—Late Bronze Age, New Ice Age, Aquarium Rescue Unit, Fiji Mariners, Quark Alliance, Codetalkers, Pharaoh Gummitt, and Madrid Express—all in the experimental, improvisational, blues-rock-jazz idiom.
The highlight of his acting career would have to be the role of Morris, band manager and songwriter, in Billy Bob Thornton's Academy Award-winning movie, Sling Blade. Second to that would've been as the voice of Warren, a talking potted shrub, in the TV show, Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
Col. Bruce was honored by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal with the Governor's Award in the Arts and Humanities in 2012, the first year he played the Swamptown Getdown Music and Arts Festival in Waycross, Georgia, an annual hoopla hosted by me, along with several other music-loving enthusiasts. He returned for a second time in 2015 and was loved and admired by all in attendance.
On May 1, 2017, Colonel Bruce Hampton was honored and celebrated by a stageful of his former bandmates, fellow musicians, and protégés, in front of a roomful of dedicated fans in Atlanta's Fox Theatre for his 70th birthday bash.
During the final song of the evening, “Turn on Your Love Light”, the Colonel had just called for the youngest guitar player on the stage, 14-year-old Brandon "Taz" Niederauer, to step up and take a solo, when he collapsed, his left arm cradling a floor monitor.
At precisely the age of 70 years and one day, the Granddaddy of the Jam Scene headed off to planets unknown, after symbolically passing the musical torch on in true surrealist fashion.
That's the best that I can do as an attempt to honor a true poet. Now, I would like to share with you the words of an authentic true poet, Mr. Jason Chancey of Waycross, Georgia, as he delivers his most thoughtful and eloquent elegy to the Colonel.
We are jaded and we love it. We take comfort somehow in the surety that we have seen and heard it all, that we can quantify and classify everything. We feed and water our cynicism with the greatest care. We have it all figured out. Then along comes someone like Col. Bruce Hampton to let us know that we know nothing. Beyond the music, he showed us that our notions of “how things are” are little more than badly constructed boxes that hold our fear of true freedom.
Part band leader, part southern gentleman, and part moon-howling lunatic, Col. Bruce destroyed our juvenile constructs one by one. He never took credence in anyone saying that something shouldn't be done. He took no pause at the idea that someone might think him weird or downright insane, and in doing so, became the elder statesman for thousands of musicians and fans.
Jazz / Country / Rock / Jam? Sure. Zany lyrics and stage shows? Sure. He single-handedly stopped the pens of a generation of writers and musicians who were learning to limit them- selves to genre and style. He promoted one genre—music. He loved one type of art—art.
He knocked down the walls we had built, set fire to subcategories, and rained hellfire on anything middle of the road. He led army after army of banner men flying different colors, surveying the land from on high, proclaiming “Do not take what you see—make your own roads and build your own villages.” The only wrong one could do would be to settle for anything less than their absolute, unfiltered truth. Now he is gone; but he has left indelible guidestones that we can follow to find our bliss and fellowship wherever we may be. I can't speak for him; but I feel like if I had to say one thing to pass along what he was trying to say, not just with his words, but with his life, it would be this: The dots go where YOU say they go. Rest in peace, good sir.”
20th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival Advance Weekend Passes:
Billy Ray Herrin, Gram Parsons historian and owner of Hickory Wind Music
Jason Chancey, Waycross musician, songwriter, and producer of upcoming documentary on Waycross music, Something in the Water
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin