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Atlanta's original avant guardians: Hampton Grease Band

Staff Pick

In the beginning, there was the Hampton Grease Band — a gang of oddball Southern blues rockers with one wiry frontman, Bruce Hampton, who stepped beyond the idioms of country and rock 'n' roll into surrealist territory. In hindsight, HGB's one-and-only LP, Music to Eat, doesn't seem all that strange, but consider the context: These guys were weaned in the Deep South of the 1960s — not exactly a mecca for free expression. Hampton's Southern yowl came to be viewed as a cousin to that of fellow outsider Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart). When coupled with his blue-eyed James Brown-like stage antics, it further underscored his eccentricities. Onstage splits were his calling card, while the rest of the band plowed through bouts of improvised rock, noise, and freak-out. HGB was the first band to step outside the norm around these parts, and while the group's tenure came to an end in 1973 — when Hampton moved to California to try out for a gig with Frank Zappa — Col. Bruce's musical legend only mushroomed in its wake. Music to Eat is said to be the second worst-selling LP in the history of Columbia Records, trumped only by a yoga instructional album. Still, their legacy persists, and Atlanta's underground rock scene pretty much owes everything to the Hampton Grease Band.

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