Victor Wooten: Mystery solved

wooten-press1.jpg Born into a family filled with musicians, it seemed obvious at an early age that Victor Wooten was destined for a career in music. 

By age five, he was playing bass with The Wooten Brothers (with Regi, Rudy, Roy and Joseph) and touring constantly throughout his native Virginia, as well as on national tours opening for Curtis Mayfield and War.  Later, after playing bass in the country show at Busch Gardens, Victor headed south, landing in Nashville.

Before moving to Nashville, Victor was introduced by a mutual friend to Bela Fleck, a meeting that would eventually lead to the formation of the one-of-a-kind jazz/bluegrass fusion group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

Victor recalls the meeting fondly.  “When I first visited Nashville in the summer of ’87, I stayed with Kurt for four days and he introduced me to most of my connections in Nashville. I met Bela on the phone while recording a demo for someone else he was working with.  I ended up playing bass for him over the phone, and it was totally different that anything he had heard.

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“When I got back to Nashville, I met with Bela and had a two hour jam session, just the two of us, in his kitchen.  We hung out quite a bit that month, went out to see music together, and became good friends.  He told me about a television show he’d been asked to do about him and his music, and he asked me to be a part of it.  That wound up being the birth of the Flecktones.”

wooten1.jpg For nearly 20 years the Flecktones (which also features Victor’s brother Roy, aka Futureman) have defied categorization and earned legions of fans across the globe.  They’ve won a Grammy award ("Best Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year"), participated on the Southern leg of the original HORDE tour, and generally taken their music to places few others could conceive, let alone achieve.

In the mid-‘90s, Victor decided to launch a solo career, first forming, along with Steve Bailey, Bass Extremes, a project featuring multiple masters of the bottom end all performing in unison.  The most frequent co-contributor to the project has been Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers, Aquarium Rescue Unit), whom Victor has known since childhood in Virginia. 

His solo career has earned Victor a slew of honors, including being a two-time winner of the Nashville Music Awards Bassist of the Year and the only three-time winner of Bass Player’s magazine Bassist of the Year award.

{mospagebreak}Victor says that he feels his solo career is “the natural evolution of any musician, especially a musician that is in a band.  Music is bigger than any one entity.  If you are in a band you will want to express yourself further.  With the Flecktones I am always growing as a musician, but I want to do other things, I want to write all the tunes.”

wooten-press2.jpg His latest release, Palmystery is an eclectic mixture of Victor’s many influences, touching on jazz, funk, pop, rock, soul, world music, even gospel.  The spiritual elements found on “I Saw Good” and “The Gospel” make for two of the album’s best tracks.

 Victor agrees, “‘The Gospel’ is a special song based on something my mom and her brothers and sisters used to sing to my grandmother.  I wanted to write a song with that feel so I called my mom. She started singing, so I got a recorder and taped her over the telephone.  This is the same song, but sung in a real old-southern Baptist style.

"Her baby brother sings lead vocals and he just recently passed away, so it’s really nice having his voice, singing with his brothers and sisters and my mom.  I love songs like that cause it really takes you back into this old style of singing.  But then it lifts up into the next section with all these kids singing.  The yin and the yang are combined in the song, so I love it.”

Palmystery features appearances by brothers Joseph (keyboards), Regi (guitar), Roy (Box), as well as former Flecktone Howard Levy (harmonica), Jeff Coffin (sax), Alvin Lee (guitar), Keb Mo (slide guitar), and more.  While each track can be deemed a highlight, none stand out more than “Flex,” featuring Anthony “Flex” Wellington, who also plays in Victor’s touring band.

wooten2.jpg Another song, “Left, Right and Center” features Mike Stern on guitar along with three drummers, Dennis Chambers, Will Kennedy, and JD Blair.  Victor says, “That song was born out of a thought that I’d love to write a song with three drummers playing together.  So I booked a session, and then had to write a song. Mike Stern was in the studio and he recorded a solo that was so incredible that I learned it later, and ended up playing, doubling his solo. 

"So when you hear this burning solo, it’s guitar and bass together.  It’s a real tribute to Mike, as he took only one turn in playing that solo, where I had to go back and work hard to learn how to reproduce it the way he plays it.  I know I am going to get a lot of credit for it, but that’s the way he played it.  I had to learn it.”

{mospagebreak} The songs on Palmystery are filled with themes of spirituality and mysticism, concepts that Victor expounds upon in his book "The Music Lesson," a compelling fictional journey based on a series of real life events.  The tales in "The Music Lesson" are more than mere words of wisdom; instead teaching life lessons that one can use to further themselves not just musically, but in all walks of life.  In the story, Victor, the student, encounters an array of colorful characters that teach him the importance of each of the ten elements of music, and eventually encounters Music herself.

wooten4.jpg While many of the characters in "The Music Lesson" are real, Victor is clear that “even though there’s a lot of truth in the book and I put a lot of real stories in there, nothing’s really told in order.  The book is a bunch of ideas, a lot of life lessons portrayed in a fictional story, which does take place in Nashville.  It’s not really important if the events really happened or not, it’s the lessons the events portray that are important.  That’s what Michael (the teacher in ‘The Music Lesson’) would say.”

For years, students at Victor’s bass/nature camps had asked for a book so Victor’s words of wisdom could be taken home.  Not wanting to give anyone something to argue about, he decided to share his thoughts in the form of fictional tale and not a strict “How To” guide.

“I knew people wanted an instruction book,” he says. “And that was exactly what I didn’t want to write.  I didn’t want a rigid approach, and I didn’t want an approach or a method that was attributed to me, ‘Victor’s method.’ I wanted people to look at the information, not me, and to find their own approach.  Just look at what I am doing as a guide, to point you in the right direction, the same way we all learn to speak. This allows us to have our own voice, nobody sounds like anyone else.  To me, that’s cool.

“But for whatever reason, this language we call music takes us many years to get good at it, and then you have to take many more years to develop our own voice again.  In my opinion there’s something wrong with that.  People kept asking me to write this down, because I’ve been talking about this stuff for years.  Not wanting to write an instruction booklet, I refrained from writing anything.

“Then, I reconnected with a book by Richard Bach that I’d read as a child called ‘Illusions.’ That made me realize that I should write ‘The Music Lesson.’ I put the book out myself two years ago in October, and took it on the road with me to sell at shows.  After I’d copied it for the second time, Penguin contacted me about publishing the book which was very exciting for me.”

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"The Music Lesson" was released in book stores nationwide on April 1, and thus far has been met with universal praise.  The project is going so well that Victor is already working on an audio version put to music and read by different characters.  He is currently writing the sequel to "The Music Lesson" that begins with Music actually dying, and the student and others on a quest to save her.

Victor remains as busy as ever. He recently recorded a Christmas CD with The Flecktones that will be released this holiday season, followed by a tour, and has been in the studio recording a bass trio CD with his hero Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller.  “I Saw God” will be featured in "The Moses Code," an upcoming James Twyman film that finds Victor making a cameo appearance.

Fans can stay in touch with Victor online at thebassvault.com , an innovative new web site where Victor and Steve Bailey collaborate to field questions, offers bass listens, interview clips, a forum for musicians to play along online and even streaming video from Victor’s sound checks.

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