Bass logic

Victor Wooten explains it all

Steve Parke

When Victor Wooten, arguably the greatest electric bass player of his generation, rolls into town this week, he will uncharacteristically be playing without any of his brothers — his band instead will consist of some longtime friends and players, several of whom appear on his twin releases Sword and Stone and Words and Tones from 2012. Notables include vocalist Krystal Peterson, keyboardist Karlton Taylor and a “surprise guest” that Wooten coyly declined to identify when we caught to up with him.

The gig may also be the last chance for area fans to catch Wooten in action for awhile.

“My plan is actually to not tour that much in 2015 and 2016. … I’ve been touring a whole lot this year, just to prepare for it. Store up some income and all that, ’cause I don’t know what it’s gonna be like.”

This is a familiar refrain from road warriors like Wooten. High demand players frequently have to forge the discipline to avert burnout. And predictably, plenty of them will get a week’s worth of decent shuteye at home before they go halfway mental and feel the need to climb into a van and go find a gig someplace, anyplace.

“No,” he laughs, “I won’t be one of those types because I will be busy. For one thing, my kids keep me busy [Wooten has four, ranging from 9 to 16 years], and I’ll still be recording, still doing my music camp and doing a lot of teaching.”

Wooten’s astonishing bass pyrotechnics are probably best recognized as one quarter of the Flecktones, the rock-fusegrass outfit that former New Grass Revival banjoist Bela Fleck assembled in 1988. Fleck himself was the functional leader of the group, but onstage you couldn’t always tell, with Wooten’s charging and elastic basslines over his brother Roy’s electronic percussion, pianist Howard Levy’s dizzying excursions and Fleck’s banjo figures jostling each other for prominence, counter-intuitively unleashing a beast-by-committee that worked seamlessly.

“[The Flecktones] was one of those bands that worked from the start,” Wooten says. “From the very first show we did in 1987…or ’88 I think it was…it just worked perfectly, and which is why we stayed together as long as we did. And Bela, being the leader, he’s the kind of guy who allows everybody to be themselves. He understands that the more he gives freedom, the better the band will be.”

As for Wooten himself, music education has been a stanchion of the bassist’s career for decades. He has run summer music camps for 15 years, combining technical and compositional instruction with outdoor activities like trail building and hiking in the Tennessee woods, and he makes it a point to conduct music store clinics at his tour stops, including a bass clinic at Robb’s Music Friday afternoon from 3-5 p.m.

We wondered if Wooten thinks about improving as an educator as well. 

“Absolutely. Totally a growing process, because I’m still learning myself,” he says. “But I’ve always understood music theory very slowly. … So I’ve tried to speed up my knowledge of traditional theory, where I’ve always focused on other types of music theory. For example, there’s no theory of dynamics and tone and space. All ear training deals with is pitch, but where’s the rhythmic training and all that other stuff? So that’s where I’ve usually focused my attention.”

Wooten published a book several years ago called The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music, a kind of semi-fictionalized journey through the intangibles of musical growth. Almost a Castanedaish in its appeal to higher awareness and selfdiscovery, the book (for which Wooten says a sequel is in the works) gracefully merges profundity with bite-sized bits of wisdom, often in the form of dialogue that the protagonist exchanges with characters like the unidentified master Michael and the quirky, offbeat Uncle Clyde.

And just who was the Uncle Clyde, the elder statesman, patterned after?

Wooten laughs. “[All the characters] were based on real people.

And Uncle Clyde is based off a bass player friend of mine named Chuck Rainey [longtime and much storied studio player]. Every time I do a camp just for bass players, Chuck is there. He was just with me last week. Just an old, wise man with so much experience…”