By Wayne Bledsoe, email@example.com
1 October 2004
The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Ace bassist Oteil Burbridge was prepared when he joined the Allman Brothers seven years ago. He had been tutored by Georgia music icon Col. Bruce Hampton.
In the early 1980s, Burbridge had been gigging around Atlanta when he encountered Hampton — a musician who was legendary for his guitar work, odd sense of humor and good-natured philosophy.
Burbridge said he “fell on hard times, playing music I really didn’t want to play, just doing it for the money and, really, not even making any money.” Jeff Sipe, who was playing drums with Hampton in the band the Aquarium Rescue Unit, introduced the unhappy bassist to Hampton.
“(Hampton) said, ‘If you’re not making money, you might as well be having fun,’ ” Burbridge said.
And fun it was. Under Hampton’s guidance, the Aquarium Rescue Unit toured the country (Knoxville was a regular stop) and made three acclaimed albums.
“He’s my mentor, really,” says Burbridge of Hampton. “I came up with jazz, funk and Latin music, and he turned me on to blues and bluegrass. They (the Aquarium Rescue Unit) were mixing up all the elements.”
Of all that Burbridge learned from Hampton, though, the most important thing was musical honesty.
“The only music I really like now is when I hear people revealing their emotional history,” says Burbridge. “A lot of people come up through music school and are great technically, but they can’t open up. If you strip yourself naked and allow who you really are to come out, it will surpass everything else you’ve done.”
Although no one knew it at the time, Hampton’s tutelage was preparing Burbridge for his gig with the Allmans.
Burbridge was invited to join the group after guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allan Woody left the ABB to concentrate on their own group, Gov’t. Mule.
Burbridge had already been in contact with Allman drummer Butch Trucks, who wanted to start a side-project band, but Burbridge didn’t expect to get an offer to join the Allmans.
“I wasn’t really even that familiar with them,” says Burbridge from his hotel room. “It wasn’t until I started listening to those first five albums that I thought, ‘Wait, this is really good (expletive)!’ ”
He realized that the Allmans had been trying to do what Hampton had encouraged him to do. They had drawn from jazz, blues, bluegrass, country and made their own sound.
In the end, though, Burbridge says the most important element in a band is chemistry. The Allman Brothers now include founding members Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, along with Burbridge, Marc Quinones, returning guitarist Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks — who is the nephew of Butch Trucks.
And the Aquarium Rescue Unit is planning a series of reunion shows (check www.oteilburbridge.com for details).
“It’s become sort of a cult thing,” says Burbridge. “We used to play for one-tenth of what we’re being offered now!”
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