Victor Wooten

Bass players are often described as playing with terms such as ‘style’, ‘skill’ or ‘energy’, and although all of these things can certainly be said of Victor Wooten, a more apt description would be that he plays with heart.  A five-time Grammy award winner, bassist, producer, record company owner, author and teacher, Wooten is best known as bassist in Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.  However, he also possesses a drive to make the world better by exploring the spiritual side of music via his Bass/Nature camps programme.  Don’t let this distract you from the fact that Wooten is a master of his art though; in addition to his Grammy awards, he’s also won Bass Player Magazine’s Bass Player of the Year three times (the only person to win it more than once) and Rolling Stone ranked him number 10 in the Top 10 Bassists of All Time.

So where did it all begin?  Born into a musical family on 11th September 1964, and the youngest of five brothers, Victor Lemonte Wooten was introduced to bass at an extremely early age.  Keen for him to be part of their Wooten Brothers Band, his eldest brother Regi began teaching Victor to play bass guitar at just two years old.  So by the time he was six, he was a fixed member of the band, regularly performing with his older brothers as they toured around the country opening shows for soul legend Curtis Mayfield.  His skills continued to develop as he got older, and two years later he was fondly known as the ‘Eight-Year-Old Bass Ace’, and the Wooten Brothers Band were supporting the likes of The Temptations, Stephanie Mills and Frankie Beverly.  The Wootens were a military family, so they moved around a lot in Victor’s early years, however in 1972 they finally settled in Virginia.  The brothers continued to perform from their new base – with one such performance taking place at the Busch Gardens country music venue in Williamsburg.  Here, Victor and his brothers met a group of friends, and it was one of these friends who later introduced him to banjo player Béla Fleck during a visit to Nashville.  This meeting eventually led to a long and successful collaborative relationship between the two musicians, which is still going strong.

Wooten joined Béla Fleck and the Flecktones when it was formed in 1988 alongside founder Fleck, Howard Levy and Victor’s brother Roy ‘Future Man’ Wooten.  Initially only put together by Fleck for a one-off performance for a programme called Lonesome Pine Special on PBS, the band decided to continue working together, and they became known for producing a fresh, unique style of music which combined bluegrass with jazz.  Despite music stores struggling to know how to categorise this new sound of genre-defying music, success soon followed for the band; with their first two albums receiving Grammy nominations.  Wooten has remained a consistent member of the band ever since; being part of all 13 of their albums, however, alongside this he also successfully released solo material, with his debut album A Show of Hands (released in 1996) being lauded as one of the most important bass records of all time.  This album ultimately showcased Wooten’s unique talent – not least because the entire album was recorded with just a 4-string bass.  Unsurprisingly, nine other solo albums followed, with the latest (Trypnotyx) being released in 2017.  Wooten’s spectacular skills meant he became a man in demand; collaborating with all kinds of musicians across his extensive career – including the likes of The Dave Matthews Band, Bootsy Collins, Jaco Pastorious and Prince.  A particular highlight was in 2008, when he became part of super group, SMV which brought three outstanding jazz artists together: Wooten, Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller.  The group were only active for a year, but released an album called Thunder, which was produced by Miller and co-produced by Wooten and Clarke.

Wooten plays both fretted and fretless bass models but is commonly seen playing a Fodera bass, with his ‘number 1’ favourite being a 1983 Monarch Deluxe model, which includes a Kahler Tremolo System model 2400 bridge.  Fans will know that all Fodera basses have a butterfly motif inlaid into the headstock, but Fodera took things a step further when designing their Victor Wooten Signature Bass (co-designed by Wooten himself) by incorporating the Yin Yang symbol within the body of the guitar.  This was created from two separate pieces of natural finished wood, which then fitted together to form the symbol, making an eye-catching and clever design.

In his more recent years, Wooten has invested a substantial amount of his time into establishing and teaching at his Bass/Nature camps – now known as the Victor Wooten’s Center for Music and Nature, which combine his two loves: music and nature.  He not only teaches here, so that musicians can learn his unique style and techniques, but these intensive camps also aim to help people enhance their personal lives too.  This approach was inspired by something his mother once said, which was that “the world needs more than just good musicians…we need good people”.   These camps have been running for over 10 years and continue to be popular, showing that Wooten’s impact continues to be felt across the generations.  As well as being a hugely influential figure in the world of music, Wooten is one of the good people his mother talked about, and long may he continue.