To say that Greg Hampson gets a great deal of satisfaction from bringing his gift of music to people would be an understatement. Though a musician and songwriter for much of his life, it is only in the last decade that he’s discovered his knack for bringing joy to seniors.
“Shortly after I started performing for seniors, a gentleman who worked at the Legion told me how much they appreciated me coming in and breaking up the monotony of institutional life,” says Greg. “Sooner or later, most of us lose mobility... so when dancers or musicians come in to perform, it is really a bright spot in their day.”
Greg came to this realization after many years of performing across the country and locally, mostly as a rock musician. The journey began on February 9, 1964 when an 11-year-old Greg watched, along with millions of others, as the Beatles were introduced to North America on the Ed Sullivan television show. He was transfixed and, from that moment, Greg had no doubt about what he wanted to do. “After seeing The Beatles, I decided this is the life for me,” he says. “There was no doubt about it.”
What followed was an internal debate as to whether he would like to play guitar or drums. Guitar won out and so he launched his attack, endlessly pestering his parents to buy him an electric guitar - an attack they resisted until 1965.
That year, while visiting a friend’s home, he started fooling around on a piano. “I was playing around on it for a while when I looked behind it and noticed a guitar case,” says Greg. “I pulled out this old, broken-down guitar that couldn’t have had more than three strings left on it, and just plunked away until it was time for us to leave. Shortly thereafter, my parents bought me my first guitar from the Sears catalogue for $29.95. My dad made me an amplifier out of an old 1940s stand-up radio.”
From there, Greg never looked back. Though he didn't take lessons, Greg studied the Mel Bay Method guitar book for a few months to learn how to play. “After that, it was time to get into an actual band with my friends and start playing the popular music of the day. Badly.” This continued through his high-school years in Chilliwack, until each of the band members graduated.
In 1967, the year he turned 15, Greg persuaded his parents to buy him a second guitar, an acoustic folk one this time. “I was into the folk scene and wanted to become Bob Dylan or Gordon Lightfoot,” he recalls. “They called me Bob Lightfoot. I played both folk and rock, playing guitar with some older guys on the weekend. I didn’t think they were all that good, but it allowed me to talk to the trumpet player's wife, Pernelia, who was extremely pretty and way nicer to me than girls my own age.”
Girls were another influence. Greg was an avid reader of both comics and novels. He clearly remembers an advertisement on the back cover of a comic showing a young man playing the guitar with pretty girls surrounding him. He credits a television show with being yet one more inspiration: “The Monkees were a huge influence on me and many other musicians,” he says. “We didn’t know it was a made-for-television band. I had their records along with the Beatles and many more.”
In addition to his bands, Greg learned to perform in front of people by singing in choirs and landing roles in his school’s musical plays. In 1968, his school's one-act play won first place at the BC Drama Festival. He was part of the last Grade 13 class in the province, and then started studying at Douglas College aiming to be a social worker or a psychologist. But something was not right.
“I decided, instead, I wanted to be a rock star. I knew I would get true fulfillment from playing music, and I needed to find a way to make a living doing it,” he says. From 1974 until 1981, Greg was part of full-time nightclub rock bands, going on the road across Canada playing gigs and gaining experience. In nightclubs and pubs, Greg served as lead guitarist, lead vocalist, rhythm guitar, roadie and truck driver.
Among many other adventures Greg recalls, “Our drummer had saved to buy a new shiny chrome snare drum. He didn't have a case for it yet and placed it on top of the other equipment in our van. We got a flat tire on the Hope-Princeton [Highway] and had to unload a lot of equipment to get the spare tire out.
The drum was placed on the gravel shoulder of the highway in a little depression, so it wouldn't move, but suddenly we noticed it rolling towards the edge of a cliff that dropped to the river below. Everyone jumped, but it flew over the edge. We all watched the snare drum roll and fly down the slope until it made one final leap and plunged into the river. You could see the chrome glinting beneath the water. I always imagined some hunter passing by and seeing a rusty Ludwig snare drum in the water and wondering how in heck it got there!”
By the early '80s, Greg was growing weary of being on the road all the time, so he found a job with a house band at the Wooden Barrel Cabaret in Burnaby. It was a rowdy place, at times, but the lifestyle suited him.
“I loved it,” he says. “I enjoyed being able to sleep in my own bed every night.” After having that gig for a couple of years, he teamed up with another musician and performed as a duet, mostly around the Lower Mainland.
The 1990s would see several significant changes in Greg’s life. In the very early part of the decade, he became involved in charity work, something he continues to this day, though with a smaller role. Throughout the decade, he was involved with musical events to benefit the food bank at Christmas, both performing and stage managing. In 1993, he was asked to volunteer his time as executive producer for a Christmas CD called *A Christmas Wish*, to benefit the Children’s Hospital. The CD featured all original music by various West Coast Canadian recording artists.
“I got to contribute one song to another Christmas CD for the BC Lions Society for Children with Disabilities - A Timmy's Christmas telethon special project,” he recalls. “I was asked to write a song for Bobbi Smith, which was the lead-off song on the album, and she did an incredible job. It was very exciting to be part of that. Knowing that you are helping people is a very good feeling, even though I never met one person I helped.”
Greg also started a family in the '90s, after successfully wooing a woman who told him she would not go out with a musician! His only son was born in 1995 and plays the clarinet in his school band.
In the middle of the decade, Greg started performing solo, and let his booking agent convince him to try playing for seniors, a move he is happy he made. “I was encouraged to sing for seniors, and I found I really enjoy it, especially hospitals and residential care homes, where the people cannot get out as much as they used to,” he says. “It is very rewarding. I find I am very appreciated and it is a joyous felling seeing them smile.”
In addition to songs he has recorded for himself, Greg has written songs for several artists including Marcus Mosely and Lori Paull.
“I’m quite a prolific composer,” he confesses, “though I am so busy with live performances that I don’t have time to write much now. I won’t just sit down and write a song. I hear it in my head first until pieces of it start coming together. When it’s there, I sit down with my guitar and plenty of paper. It usually takes me about 20 minutes, then I go back and edit and tighten it up. I think if you open yourself up, the songs almost write themselves. When I do the song in the fashion of an artist, I try to let their spirit come through and influence me. It never hurts to have them on your side. If your intent is good, then I believe good things will happen.”
Greg’s latest project is a song he wrote to honour the fallen Canadian soldiers returning home. He plans to release it shortly and donate all the royalties to the families who have been left behind by these brave men and women. The song is called “Highway of Heroes - Another Angel's Coming Home.”
Greg considers himself fortunate to be able to make a living by doing what he loves. He says, “No, I'm not famous, but it's a stellar achievement if you are an artist, ballerina or musician who can make a living from what you do. It’s not a job, but a calling... There is nothing I would rather do.
“I like to see people smile, dance and enjoy themselves. That is totally what I strive for - the warm feeling in the room. People forget about their troubles for a while or the music brings them in. An entertainer is interested in the whole experience, while a musician just likes to play music. There is a big difference between the two.”
Greg Hampson is a talented and creative singer, musician and songwriter, but first and foremost, he is an entertainer.
FEBRUARY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
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