Bruce Hampton and his various groups, particularly the Aquarium Rescue Unit, played a key role in the jam band scene that began sweeping through America beginning in the early '90s. The Atlanta-born Hampton had been an eccentric figure on the Southern music circuit beginning in the early '60s; as the Hampton Grease Band, he released Music to Eat on Columbia Records in 1969. After the Grease Band folded, Hampton released a solo effort (One Ruined Life of a Bronze Tourist in 1978) and then founded New Ice Age, which soon evolved into the Late Bronze Age. The Late Bronze Age released two albums, Outside Looking Out (1980) and Isles of Langerhan (1982). The Colonel recorded a second solo album, Arkansas, in 1984 and by 1987 the group had broken up.
Hampton then formed the Aquarium Rescue Unit, an eclectic congregation adept at everything from country-swing jazz to meltdown Southern boogie and over-amped gospel bluegrass. By the time of 1992's Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit, the band featured Oteil Burbridge on bass and vocals, guitarist Jimmy Herring, Matt Mundy on electric mandolin and vocals, and drummer Apt. Q258; the record documented a live date from the previous September. The band's first studio album, Mirrors of Embarrassment, was released in mid-1993, concurrent with an appearance on the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) tour. Shortly after the release of Mirrors of Embarrassment, Hampton left the group, but the Aquarium Rescue Unit continued touring and recording without him, releasing In a Perfect World in 1996.
Hampton released the career retrospect Strange Voices: A History 1977-1987 in 1994 and soon formed a new band, Fiji Mariners, releasing an LP under that name in 1996. Also in 1996, Hampton was given his first motion picture role -- playing Morris in Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade. His new Fiji outfit spent most of the next few years on the road and the inevitable (for Hampton anyway) live album, Live, was released in 1998. The group continued to tour extensively up to May 1999, when they disbanded. During the ensuing hiatus, Hampton performed live with various ensembles and appeared in PhishmanMike Gordon's 1999 film, Outside Out. In 2006, Hampton formed yet another jam supergroup, the Quark Alliance, and released Give Thanks to Chank in 2007. Two albums credited to the Colonel followed: Songs of the Solar Ping in 2008 and the Ropeadope label release Pharoah's Kitchen in 2015. On May 1, 2017, at an all-star tribute at Atlanta's Fox Theatre to celebrate the Colonel's 70th birthday, he collapsed on-stage during the show's encore of "Turn on Your Love Light," was rushed to a local hospital, and died shortly thereafter. ~ John Floyd & John Bush, Rovi