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Oteil Burbridge: Long Live the Dead

Alan Bryson By

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"I didn't really understand Joe Zambi, Joe Zambi is an actual person, and in jest Bruce made him into a Deity, and that's his religion—Zambiism. And he was explaining it to me in a very roundabout metaphorical Merlin way, and I was just totally confused. And as I finally started to get it, I said, 'You know, I think I made a movie of what you're talking about.' And he's like, 'You were in a movie?' And I said, 'Yeah, it's called "Being There."' His eyes got so wide, he's like, 'God Oteil, that's totally it!' And he had gone to see that movie with Joe Zambi and the bassist Ricky Keller, and I said, 'You know Bruce what's really crazy Bruce, the actor who played the gang leader in the movie—his name was Ricky Keller!' We still laugh about how crazy that is. So if people want to really understand Bruce's philosophy, they should watch "Being There." (Laughing) And find somebody named Ricky Keller to go see it with!"

Deodato's jazz version of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"

[ See video below for scene with Peter Sellers, Oteil and a group of teenagers ]

"You know I forgot about that! My dad's got a bunch of Deodato albums. I gotta check that out. Oh my God that's crazy. Man there's no coincidences."

I asked him what his life might have been like if his path had never crossed Brue Hampton's, he might be in New York with an entirely different life.

"I can (laughing) because I see people doing it! Like, that was gonna be me you know. And in another sense that was never gonna be me, because I'm a round peg that can't fit into a square hole. So I do think that at some point I would have taken a complete left, I mean if I hadn't met Col. Bruce, I would have met Sun Ra at some point and ended up in his band. (Laughing) Like something was gonna happen totally left, you know."

Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit

"It was really thanks to Jeff Sipe, I was just frustrated, and I literally thought, maybe I did make a mistake becoming a musician. Playing music, and doing it for a career are two completely different things. I would advise more people to just do it for fun. But on the other hand, if you embrace the wine-press and you're ready to get crushed and take it, then go for it as a career."

"So I was really frustrated, and Jeff Sipe told me that guys who are frustrated go play with this guy Col Bruce, so you should come and meet him. And all the top cats in Atlanta, the best musicians, the top studio musicians, the top touring guys, they all played with the Col. I was like, alright, but I was warned that he was really crazy. I even had someone take me out to lunch, and I was really poor, so a free lunch I said sure. He was musician who had hired me for something, and the whole purpose of the lunch was that he wanted to talk me out of working with Col. Bruce. He was like, 'Oh dude, it's gonna kill your career if you do that.'"

"By that point I was already too far out, too far gone, to go back. But when I met the Col. it was just what I needed. I can't even say it was just what I needed, because what I thought I needed was something totally different from what Col. Bruce was. It was a great gift, and I could never have see that one coming in a million—in ten million lifetimes I couldn't have seen that one coming."

"It was like Saturday Night Live if SNL were a band. We weren't just coming to play music. Music was just skeleton for all the muscle, skin and everything else that was Col. Bruce. Music was something, I don't know how else to put it, it was just something we were hanging our coats on. But the coat was Col. Bruce and his vision of life and music, which I totally understood just on an emotional level. And then I began to understand on an intellectual level. It's difficult to get it on an intellectual level, it's better to come to it on an emotional level. Actually it's emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. If you try to come at it from just your left brain, it's going to seem like nonsense—like most religions do. If you come at it emotionally, then your spirit grabs a hold of it, and then somehow your intellectual somehow understands it."

"It's really about life. People think he's crazy, and they think I'm crazy, but it's actually the world that's crazy. This is our response to how absolutely friggin' crazy this planet is, or some of the people in it. We just wake up here in the situation we find ourselves in, and this insanity that's just super dark. But there are these amazing lights that are given to you along the way as you're getting crushed, like BB King and Col. Bruce Hampton. Thank God Col. Bruce was a light to Duane Allman, and Duane got him his first record deal. If that hadn't happened, I don't know, how many of us would even have ever known about the Col.? He's been a light to a lot of people over the years."

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