Harlem Roots

Harlem Roots

There is a legendary musician among us and his humbleness has kept him relatively behind the scenes here in the once sleepy town of Clayton, NC.  If we started listing every musician that has performed or collaborated with him over his storied career your head would begin to swim and spin somewhere between the names of Luther Vandross, Beyonce Knowles, Stevie Wonder and Jennifer Lopez.  The fact is, Ivan Hampden Jr. has been working in the town of Clayton to further music of his students and the community alike for over fifteen years now. Recently, we had the great opportunity to sit down with the producer, collaborator, musician and artist himself to find out where it all started, and what Mondo Roots coming to his now Clayton home means to the town and for him personally.

MR – Ivan, Thanks for taking the time to do this.  How old were you when you first sat down and picked up an instrument, was it always the drums?

IH – Oh gosh I was probably 6 or 7, and it was the piano first.

MR – You are known for drums; do you still play the piano?

IH – Oh yeah man, I play a lot, I compose…that’s how I got songs with Luther Vandross and Nick Ashford.  I studied for 3 years, and then I got turned off by the teacher so I convinced my dad to let me switch instruments and I found a church in the neighborhood and started playing the drums.

MR – So, if you could play only one for the rest of your life, which one would it be?

IH – There is equal love. If it had to be one it would be the piano to build the proficiency, my career is on the drum set but the piano is what I would choose if I had to choose one.

MR – We know that the music industry is hard to break in to, even harder to get to the pinnacle of playing behind the stars that you have and continue to play behind. What do you think lead you to this success, especially playing behind bigger stars?

IH – A combination of things; being prepared as a musician is one thing, good work ethic, people skills, and learning to network. Also, I was in the center of the NY scene in that era, so being there helped as well. Striving to be the best that I could, the competition was thick, in fact it is thicker now than it has ever been. So learning my instrument and advancing lead to my success.

MR – You have taught music in the Clayton area for years, what is one piece of advice that you give to all aspiring young musicians?

IH – If this is something that they want to do as a career, stay a student, keep learning and practice your craft, find out as much as you can about what you do, and have an understanding of music.  I think some musicians get stuck in their genre; “I am a Rock guy, I am a Jazz guy, I am Blues guy,” play all of them! I have been in Orchestras, Jazz bands, Steel Drum bands, R&B bands, Rock, Country, and Reggae. There is a connection, there is a link to ALL music…

MR – When you heard that Mondo Roots was coming to Clayton, what was your first thought?

IH – Man, I was so excited because it was in line where I was in that moment.  I had just opened my studio in downtown and was asked to be on a few committees, you know, to hire talent in the town.  I was looking for more diversity because the community was more diverse. There was resistance, you know, so when Mondo Came along I was like “Damn where have you been?!”.  You know?

MR – You have had your students perform on the Mondo stage in the past, is there anyone that you are excited to see this year?

IH – I am really curious in seeing New Kingston, I have heard a lot of great stuff about them…Reggae holds a little bit of closeness for me, my dad’s side is out of the Caribbean so as a kid that music was in my house and the next generation of the calypso is what I grew up on.  Those sounds, and a connection to those sounds means a lot to me as a musician and as a person.

MR – Your experience with festivals and performing arts is immense. From your personal experience what does it mean to have a festival in a small town and what kind of impact does it make for the local aspiring artists and musicians?

IH – Oh man, I think for the artist and musicians it is access.  You get to see firsthand what it is like, it is not television, it isn’t YouTube.  I think with the social media now, maybe people don’t get out to see this first hand and see polished musicians and professional high-level musicians, it’s not just the music it is the act.  It is important for people to see these artists and hear these different sounds. As far as the community and the music coming, all types of people coming together and celebrating the music of this culture and area…I mean John Coltrane, and Roberta Flack are from NC, all of this music should be exposed and everyone should have access and see it and it will help people grow.

MR – Rumor has it that you are going to have a hand-drumming tent at this year’s festival?  Is that true? What can we expect to see?

IH – It is true!  We are going to do some hand-drumming and have a few instructors out to give people, adults and kids, an opportunity to touch instruments and learn something. There will be some opportunities for everyone to celebrate and learn!  Have the kids grab a drum, have grandma grab the cowbell and all celebrate.


If you are interested, you can find out more information about Ivan Hampden Jr. and his local school in Clayton NC Hamptown Music Institute and also follow him on Facebook at Hamptown Music Institute.