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Twelve-stepping to a higher level: Your Painter and Our Neighbor Brian Hampton

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

“I am beyond blessed,” declared Brian Hampton. “I should be dead. I should not be in the land of the living.”

Brian Hampton first came into my acquaintance at a board meeting of the Fine Arts Center for the New River Valley. Brian was there pitching something called the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) to the FAC’s board. He explained that the JAM organization teaches children how to play traditional Appalachian music using traditional acoustic instruments. The kids learn to play their instruments by ear and also learn about dance and other Appalachian forms of expression.

Brian Hampton sold us on the idea and right then and there, we decided to form our own chapter of the Junior Appalachian Musicians. We called it the Greater Pulaski Junior Appalachian Musicians (GRAPeJAM) and Brian has been deeply involved in the organization ever since. GRAPeJAM is set to start music lessons again this coming fall for Pulaski County kids from 10 to 15 years of age.

But how did Brian end up coming to the FAC’s door in the first place?

Brian Hampton spent the first decade of his life in rural Illinois, where his father delivered milk from the various farms to a processing plant.

“I was on farms a lot,” said Hampton of his early life experience.

At 11, he moved to Rural Retreat Virginia with his mother.

“I played basketball, football and track the first couple years in high school until I fell prey to my ease of addiction,” he recounted.

By 19, Hampton had moved to Napa Valley California to live with his dad, who had since moved there himself.

“When you make your reputation so bad as to want to run, you make a geographical move,” he recalled. “I worked at a state hospital. I went to college and I worked at the college and I did a lot of other jobs here and there, trying to see where my life fit.”

Brian paused momentarily, then added.

“I felt misunderstood. I wasn’t, I just felt that way. I was very low in emotional and spiritual places.”

In California, Hampton found himself struggling with substance abuse, just as had happened as a teenager back east in Virginia.

“My drug of choice was … more,” said Hampton. “I would use anything to escape my thoughts and feelings. I ended up finding a 12-step program and that changed my entire life.”

The twelve step program is used by several well-established “Anonymous” programs to help individuals who have been victims of their own destructive behavior.

“They offer universal spiritual principles, written so simply, that even I could understand them,” said Hampton of the 12-step program. “Steps six and seven will separate the men from the boys.”

Step six directs a person to remove all “defects of character” and step seven directs the adherent to ask God’s assistance in this endeavor.

“Willingness and humility are the principles behind those two steps,” said Hampton.

In the early 90’s, Brian Hampton was engaged to be married and brought his fiancé back to Virginia to visit his mother for Christmas. They so liked their visit to the Old Dominion that they decided to stay. The couple got married and bought a home. Brian earned an income doing factory work and doing jobs for temp agencies, but the marriage didn’t last.

“I wasn’t ready for a relationship,” said Hampton. “I don’t know about her but I was not ready to understand what it takes to make a relationship last.”

After doing gig work for several years, in 2006 Hampton started his own business called, Brian Your Painter.

“It seemed like a change needed to happen and I was not suited to work for someone every day,” said Hampton. “So with painting, I can work for someone for three or four days and then move on to the next job. Because of my understanding about life has grown through the 12-step program, I stopped working for money and I started working to make the customer happy. Hence, when the customer is happy, they write checks.”

Today, Brian Hampton owns guitars, a dulcimer, a banjo ukulele and a fiddle and with the exception of the fiddle, can play these instrument with some proficiency (mastering the fiddle is in his future plans).

“When I had enough recovery … spiritual and emotional recovery, I chose to step into music because I had a desire, all my life, to be musical,” Brian recounted. “My barber, Jim Lloyd, became my music teacher and he’s been part of JAM for years.”

The JAM program is well established in many states as well as locally in Bland, Floyd and Montgomery Counties. A JAM program had also been recently established in Wythe County and Brian suggested that Pulaski County have its own program.

Jim Lloyd explained to Brian that in order to start a JAM program, one needed a Program Director to help organize a lesson plan, hire teachers and make sure operations run smoothly.

“I had a hard time finding a Program Director and one day Jim looked at me and said, ‘Well, why don’t you do it?’” Hampton recounted. “This is where the 12-steps and my lifestyle came together with my past and my present.”

“When Jim said why don’t you do it, I absolutely felt doubt wash over me because of my past. I left the barber shop quickly because I knew I was going to cry. I had a decision to make and I cried on the way home. I asked myself, ‘Why do you feel like you’re not good enough to do this for a community that you live in?’”

At this point, Hampton had already begun calling Pulaski County his home. His great aunt, having seen a positive change in his behavior as a result of his involvement in the 12-step program, left him her   property in the Little Wytheville area of Claytor Lake back in 2003.

“The more I thought about it, the more the 12 traditions of the 12-step program came into my head and into my heart and my doubts, began to wane,” said Brian. “I can do this! The doubt left me and I reached out for help in starting a junior Appalachian musicians in Pulaski County.”

At this point, Brian set about finding people to help him make a Pulaski based JAM organization possible. His friend Sally French led him to the Fine Arts Center for the NRV.

“I know people that know people and Sally French helped me to find the best that are available in Pulaski County,” Hampton continued. “Along came a newspaper man to give us publicity and love. Along came an IT guy from New River Valley Community College to bring us technology and love. Along came a treasurer in Becky Cox. These were the best people to grow this project for our community, so we can make our community stronger.”

So, as of 2019, GRAPeJAM began teaching middle school students how to play fiddle, banjo, and guitar. In addition to music lessons, GRAPeJAM students learned about traditional Appalachian dance and were treated to musical performances. The program met Wednesday afternoons at Dublin Middle School and held classes there for several months until the Spring of 2020, when all schools in Virginia were closed for COVID.

Lessons will begin again in the fall and this year GRAPeJAM has added mandolin lessons in addition to guitar, banjo and fiddle instruction. GRAPeJAM students are loaned these instruments for the duration of their stay in the program.

Whether the classes will be held within the Pulaski County Public School system is still being determined, but wherever GRAPeJAM happens this fall, rest assured Brian will be involved.

Brian also remains deeply involved in the 12-step program but at this point, it’s not so much out of a fear of regressing but more of a lifestyle choice. Though he doesn’t often attend meetings in person these days, he’s been attending 12-step teleconferences from 6 till 8 every morning for well over a year now.

“I’ve stayed clean and practice these principles to the best of my ability, since 1987,” said Brian. “I haven’t chosen to use drugs for an escape since.”

When he does want to escape, Brian is likely to take his pontoon boat out of Claytor Lake and drop a fishing line in the water. He might even break out his banjo ukulele and strum a little.

Through his travails, Brian has developed a sense of stability, a centeredness that, along with his appreciation of music, he desires to pass on.

“So you see the past led me into a process that gives me spiritual principles by which I can live,” Hampton explained. “It allows me to stop being so selfish with the principles and share them with the community in which I live.”

“Maybe … maybe just one of those children that I can work with doesn’t have to go down the same path that I went down in order to get what I’ve got now,” Brian continued. “Because I can offer them the spiritual guidance, along with the love and the understanding that comes with learning how to play music in a community.”

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