Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit
is an experimental jazz rock group originally founded by Col. Bruce Hampton
. The band gained popularity in the Atlanta club scene in the early 1990's and went on to tour with the first H.O.R.D.E.
Tour. The lineup during those years was Hampton, Oteil Burbridge
, Jimmy Herring
, Jeff Sipe
, Matt Mundy, and Count M'Butu. Jeff Mosier and Charlie Williams were both members of the band during the early years, but left to pursue other endeavors. Although the band was never commercially successful, their combination of bluegrass
, and impeccable chops became a template for future bands.
The band originated from a weekly Atlanta jam session hosted by Hampton (from the Hampton Grease Band
and The Late Bronze Age) and eventually toured around the Southeastern United States with Hampton, Herring, Burbridge, Sipe, Mundy, and The Count. This lineup produced two albums released on Capricorn Records
; Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit
, in 1992
, and Mirrors of Embarrassment
, in 1993
During the summer of 1992, the group helped start the H.O.R.D.E. tour with such like-minded bands as Phish, Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, and Widespread Panic. Members of these bands would frequently tour, perform, and record with one another. John Popper contributed on Mirrors of Embarrassment and The Benefit Concert Vol. 2, and Bela Fleck played on two songs on Mirrors of Embarrassment. Additionally, Chuck Leavell (formerly with the Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton and George Harrison and currently with the Rolling Stones) played on ARU's first two albums on Capricorn Records.
In 1993 ARU lost two key members when Matt Mundy retired from the band and Hampton soon followed. Oteil, Herring and Sipe continued to tour as simply "The Aquarium Rescue Unit." They had several members over the years, including Paul Henson and Sean O'Rourke. They also recorded additional studio albums as ARU: 1994's eeePee
and In A Perfect World
, and 1997's The Calling
The remaining original members started to leave as they received offers from other larger acts. Jeff Sipe joined with Jonas Hellborg and the late Shawn Lane in 1995, and over the years has played with Leftover Salmon, Susan Tedeschi, and Trey Anastasio. Currently Jeff Sipe is playing drums for Keller Williams's new band the WMDs. In 1997, Oteil Burbridge replaced Allen Woody in the Allman Brothers Band. Oteil also played in former Phish keyboardist Page McConnell's side project Vida Blue, as well as on Trey Anastasio's Surrender to the Air. Oteil is still playing with the ABB while writing, recording and touring with his own band Oteil and the Peacemakers. Jimmy Herring co-founded Jazz Is Dead in 1998, then toured and recorded with Frogwings, the Allman Brothers Band, Project Z, Phil Lesh and Friends, and the Dead. In 2006 Jimmy was asked to join Widespread Panic with whom he has recorded and toured extensively.
In 2005 Hampton, Herring, Sipe, Burbridge and Count M'Butu reunited for several shows as the original Col. Bruce Hampton and Aquarium Rescue Unit
. The new tradition was continued with eight shows in Colorado and the Southeast between January 2006 and May 2007. Bobby Lee Rodgers of The Codetalkers was asked to sit in on banjo and vocals, taking the place of Matt Mundy who is doing well but has retired from performing.
By 2007 each member of the original lineup was an accomplished artist in their own right. Jimmy Herring with Widespread Panic, Oteil Burbridge with The Allman Brothers Band and Oteil and The Peacemakers, Jeff Sipe with Trey Anastasio and Leftover Salmon, Count M'Butu with The Derek Trucks Band, and Bruce Hampton with Col. Bruce & The Quark Alliance.
All indications are the original ARU will play more dates but the busy schedule of each member makes the next show difficult to predict.
There is a documentary about Bruce Hampton that is currently in production entitled Basically Frightened: The Musical Madness of Col. Bruce Hampton
. It features previously unreleased live footage and interviews with the original ARU.
- Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit (1992) – Live album – Capricorn Records
- Mirrors of Embarrassment (1993) – Studio album – Capricorn Records
- Warren Haynes Presents: The Benefit Concert, Vol. 2 (2007) – Live album – Evil Teen Records
ARU without Col. Bruce
- In a Perfect World (1994) – Studio album – Velvet Dwarf Records
- eeePee (1994) (This was a limited edition release)
- The Calling (1997) - Studio album - Inio Music