Jesse Jarnow

“halifax” – hampton grease band

“Halifax” – Hampton Grease Band (download here)
released on Music To Eat (1971)
reissued by Columbia/Shotput (1996) (buy)

(file expires on June 13th.)

Since quitting the Aquarium Rescue Unit in 1994, Col. Bruce Hampton (ret.) has sort of lost himself in translation. While successfully elucidating his doctrine via Mike Gordon’s 2001 film, Outside Out, it’s been a while since Hampton’s music has been as weird as it’s often made out to be — which, in turn, makes a lotta people wonder what the big deal is. Smaller chunks of the Big Deal involve Hampton’s waaaaay-underground ’80s cassettes under band names like “The Late Bronze Age” ( reissued by Terminus in 2001).

But the main chunk of the Big Deal was, and remains, the Hampton Grease Band, whose 1971 Music To Eat was purportedly the second-worst selling double-LP in Columbia Records’ history. The two brilliant discs are a treasure trove of Southern avant-hippie wankery of the first order, somewhere between Frank Zappa and the Allman Brothers’ jazzier moments.

The occasion of this post was, initially, the 40th anniversary of the events described in the Grease Band’s “Six.” Frankly, though, the album opener, “Halifax,” is just much better: a “focused” 19-minute tour through Hampton’s inner Halifax (“six thousand six hundred and thirty eight miles of grated road! And a lot of gravel, too!”) while the band epically freaks out in multi-sectioned bliss. It is a blueprint for jam-prog strangeness that not even Phish ever matched.

In some ways, Hampton is only icing on his bandmates’ performances. He doesn’t play an instrument, he only sings (if one can call it that). And that’s basically what he’s done for his whole career. There is a temptation to call him a charlatan — which, of course, he is — but he is a charlatan who, for a very long period of time, seemed to consistently catalyze extraordinarily talented individuals to create something distinct and, well, Bruce-like. Hampton’s been brandishing the “retired” suffix for well over a decade. Appearing on only one cut on the forthcoming Codetalkers album, though, it looks like he actually might be. Maybe.