At first, guitarist Glenn Phillips laughs when he's asked why the Hampton Grease Band -- a legendary group that helped create the Atlanta rock music scene in the late '60s -- is reuniting 33 years after breaking up. "I don't really know exactly," he says. "With this band, I've always thought that when the stars fall into alignment, things just happen."
One thing that "just happened" was the day in 1969 when the band members were walking around in Piedmont Park, saw an electrical outlet by the bandstand and came up with the bright idea of showing up and playing there the next Sunday afternoon. A new underground newspaper, the Great Speckled Bird, wrote about them and decided to sponsor weekend "be-ins" at the park as Atlanta entered into its own version of the Summer of Love, with our Haight-Ashbury at the corner of 10th and Spring streets.
The Hampton Grease Band's intricate 20-minute songs were perfect for kids floating on pot or flying on psychedelics. Not long after that, a new band from Macon led by two brothers showed up, and Sunday afternoons at Piedmont became a hippie event. "An entire scene at the park just grew out of this thing," says Phillips. "It was an era when things like that could happen. If you did that today, you'd either be arrested or else everybody would walk by and ignore you."
The Piedmont Park shows were critical to both the Hampton Grease Band and the Allman Brothers Band. There were no clubs in Atlanta that hired rock bands, and it created an audience for both groups. In fact, the Hampton Grease Band had struggled to find places to play ever since it had formed in 1968 with Phillips and Harold Kelling on guitar, Mike Holbrook on bass, Jerry Fields on drums and Bruce Hampton handling vocals. Just as the Allman Brothers broke out of Piedmont Park and found a national audience, the Hampton Grease Band played the Fillmore East in New York and released a double album, Music to Eat, for Columbia Records. There was just one problem: Only one track was shorter than 18 minutes and the record company had no idea how to promote the band. Phillips likes to joke that it was the worst-selling record in the history of the label.
When Hampton left the band in 1973 to try out as Frank Zappa's lead singer (he failed the audition), it marked the end of the Hampton Grease Band and closed a chapter in Atlanta's musical history.
The impetus for a reunion was the death of Harold Kelling last year. Hampton was out of town, but the rest of the surviving band members put together a private tribute show for Kelling. "That loss made the guys from the band reach out and connect with each other," says Phillips. "I wanted to emotionally connect with Harold, and my way was going back and working up our old songs. These guys all love hanging out together and playing music together. And none of us are getting any younger."
The four surviving members will be joined by Bob Elsey, guitarist for the Swimming Pool Q's, for the reunion show, a performance they are not taking lightly. "We've been rehearsing for months," says Phillips. "Our material is very involved. We wrote 20-minute songs that have places for improv but our music is also very orchestrated and worked out and complex. I tell people it was songs written by very neurotic, anal-retentive teens."
The group's first and only album, Music to Eat, is long out of print and the Hampton Grease Band is now but a small (though significant) footnote in the city's music history. Is there a chance this one-shot reunion will lead to something more? "I don't know," says Phillips. "I'm open to it, but I'm aware that I'm not controlling this. It would be great. On the other hand, if you do want to see us, I probably wouldn't wait because it took 33 years for this show to happen."
notice the name of the photographers brand .. "I Shoot My Friends"
Spot on Irony
Aren't those AK-47s aka "Choppers" on his tee-shirt in the photo?
When I hear that lyric it makes me think that he’s projecting…