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  • Victor Wooten - The Bassist's Favorite Bassist

    TR has a lot more visitors and members since we first published our interview with the inimitable Victor Wooten. So, because Victor is a bass player every bass player should know, here's a little background before we repost the interview.*

    Victor Lemonte Wooten (born September 11, 1964 in Mountain Home, Idaho and live in Newport News, VA from 1972 through '88) is an American electric bass guitar player sometimes referred to as "the Michael Jordan of bass".

    The youngest of five brothers, he was taught by his older brother Regi to play bass at age three, and by age five Victor could hold simple bass lines and play gigs. The Wooten Brothers band (Regi, Rudy, Roy, Joseph and Victor) performed in California in the late 60's and early 70s, then moved to Virginia where they played in the 70s and 80s, toward the end of which they were a fixture at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. This was about the time they began to make a name for themselves, opening for Curtis Mayfield and War.

    After moving to Nashville, Tennessee in 1988 Victor was immediately recruited by blues and soul singer Jonell Mosser. A year later he was hired by banjo maestro Béla Fleck, along with keyboardist and harmonica player Howard Levy and Victor's brother Roy Wooten (a.k.a. Future Man). Their group, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, became famous first by playing a mixture of jazz, funk, and bluegrass, then later becoming one of the most stylistically free-swinging bands of the modern era. (Levy eventually left the group and was replaced by saxophonist and horn player Jeff Coffin.)

    Wooten has also been a member of several fusion and progressive supergroups, including Bass Extremes (with Steve Bailey and drummer Greg Bissonette), the Vital Tech Tones (with Scott Henderson and Steve Smith), the indian jazz fusion band PRASANNA, and the "Extraction" trio (with Greg Howe and Dennis Chambers). Victor has also been on tour with many other bands including the Dave Matthews Band. He currently tours with his solo group, and still with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.

    The evolution of a higher standard in electric bass guitar construction methods, such as a lower action (the distance from the string to the neck) more akin to that of a six-string electric guitar. Wooten developed many new fingering techniques that were essentially undiscovered before his time. As a child, his older brother Regi Wooten helped Victor develop his double-thumbing technique as a way to more accurately reproduce the basslines of such greats as Larry Graham. This technique, which has been independently utilized by other bassists (notably Marcus Miller) uses the thumb to strike both downwards and upwards on a string in a manner similar to a guitar pick. Victor is also famous for his Stanley Jordan-like two-handed tapping and trademark open-hammer-pluck technique.

    Wooten is most often seen playing Fodera basses, of which he has a signature model. His most famous Fodera, a 1983 Monarch Deluxe which he refers to as "number 1", sports a Kahler Tremolo System model 2400 bridge. Fodera's "Yin Yang" basses (designed/created for Wooten) incorporate the Yin Yang symbol - which Wooten often uses in various media - as a main focal point of the top's design and construction. It is often mistakenly thought that the Yin Yang symbol is painted onto the bass, but in reality, the symbol is created from two pieces of naturally finished wood (Ebony and Holly, for example), seamlessly fitted together to create the Yin-Yang pattern.

    Though Wooten's beautiful and impressive basses receive much attention, his most frequent and consistent response when asked by his fans about which bass is best, etc. ..., is that "the bass makes no music ... you do". He'll often go on to state that the most important feature to look for in a bass is comfort of playability. This seems closely related to another fundamental truth about Wooten's stated approach to, and experience of bass and music in general, which is that music is a language. According to Wooten, when speaking or listening, we don't focus on the mouth as it is forming words; similarly, when a musician is playing or performing, the focus shouldn't be on the instrument.

    Thunder Row: When and why did you start playing bass?

    Victor: I started playing when I was around 2 years old. I'm the youngest of 5 brothers. Regi - Guitar, Roy - Drums, Rudy - Sax, and Joesph - Keys. They started playing music before me and quickly realized that they needed a bass player to complete the family band. I was the lucky choice.

    Thunder Row: Lucky for all of us, I'd say. Is there a bassist or other musician you look to as a mentor?

    Victor: There are many, but Stanley Clarke probably stands out as one of the main ones. I first met him when I was around 9 years old. And even now, whenever I get around him, I revert back to that 9 year old kid.

    Thunder Row: Nine. I remember nine. (Was that this lifetime?) What is your most memorable gig?

    Victor: One of the main gigs I can remember was playing with the Flecktones in a remote village in Asia - (Thailand, i think.) They had never had a concert there before so nobody new how many people, if any, would show up. Surprisingly, the whole village came out. We had learned one of the songs from their village, and when we started playing it, the whole crowd jumped up and started singing and dancing. I can remember thinking, "This is what Music is about!"

    Thunder Row: That must have been an amazing experience. What would be the ideal gig, as far as you're concerned?

    Victor: I enjoy any gig that makes the audience happy. Really, I do. Also, a gig that pays one or two million each would do just fine. (I might even retire after that gig!)
    (We doubt it! Ed.)

    Thunder Row: Sounds like if you could have gotten the Mongolians to cough up a million or two, it would have been ideal! Tell us about your first bass.

    Victor: My first bass can be seen on the cover of my What Did He Say CD. It is a Univox version of the violin shaped bass made by Hofner. My parents bought it for me because it was probably the smallest one they could find. I was about 5 years old. After I got my second bass, a series one Alembic, I took the frets out of the Univox. That was during my Jaco phase. I still have that bass. My third bass is my Fodera.

    Thunder Row: I think most of us who've been around a while went through a Jaco phase at one time or other. I practiced by taking the frets of my brother's Silvertone! Tell us about your first paid gig.

    Victor: I don't remember it. I do remember my first tour. My brothers and I, The Wooten Brothers, were the opening act for the great soul singer Curtis Mayfield. I think I was 6 years old on that tour. I was born into the right family, I guess.

    Thunder Row: You make me feel like a mercenary. I remember my first paid gig and what I got to the penny! (It was $5.00. My band played for the Lion's Club dinner. I was 11). Was the bass your first choice as an instrument?

    Victor: The bass was chosen for me by my brother Regi. I was lucky. I think I got the best instrument!

    Thunder Row: Thanks, Regi! Let's talk about musicians; who do you admire most?

    Victor: I don't know that I have a favorite that I admire, but I love anyone who can express themselves "freely" through their instrument. That's not an easy task for most. Lots of people come to mind when I think about it.

    Thunder Row: I know what you mean. How about bassists? Who do you think is the greatest player ever?

    Victor: Hopefully, he or she hasn't been born yet. I'd hate to think that the best ever has already been.

    Thunder Row: Fair enough. If you could only play one kind of music, what would it be and why?

    Victor: "Truthful Music" - Music that speaks through me. That may not be what you meant, but I hope it makes sense.

    Thunder Row: What is the best professional advice anyone ever gave you?

    Victor: "You have two ears. One of them is for you. The other one is for the rest of the band." That was told to me by Wayne Jackson when I was new to Nashville. He's the trumpeter for the world famous Memphis Horns. That was his "very kind" way of telling me to listen better. Dizzy Gillespie gave my friend Steve Bailey a similar piece of advice, but Dizzy wasn't so nice about it. You'll have to ask Steve for that story.

    Thunder Row: I'll do that. (I'm still trying to wrangle an interview with him. Looks like I might have a chance with the Low Notes for Nashville concert later this month.)
    What's the best personal advice anyone ever gave you?

    Victor:"You boys are already successful. *The rest of the world just doesn't know it yet." That's what mom used to tell us when we were kids. It's great advice because it let us know that we didn't have to "become" anything. We just had to make who we already were better.*

    Thunder Row: Wise lady. If you couldn't be a musician, what would you be?

    Victor: At this time in my life, I'd like to be a Nature Guide. I'd love to lead people on nature hikes and camping trips, teaching along the way. That would be awesome!

    Thunder Row: I can see you know, walking through the woods with a bass strapped to your back...Which bassist do you think is the best vocalist?

    Victor: I don't know; I haven't heard them all yet. (I stole that answer from my mom.)

    Thunder Row: Maybe I should interview her! On a more technical bent, how about describing the perfect combination of equipment for:

    The studio
    The stage

    Victor: Hmmmm. I don't know that answer because every situation is different. Generally, In the studio, I like going direct and mic-ing the amp at the same time. That gives me more choices during the mix. In addition, if it's a solo bass piece, I also put a live mic right in front of my bass to record the clicking of the strings. Now-a-days, live on stage, I use a 1x10 and a 1x15 Hartke Hi-Drive cab with a LH1000 head. Two stacks of that sounds incredible. Rehearsal equipment depends on the type of rehearsal we are having and the size of the rehearsal space.*

    Thunder Row: Do you have a preference in strings?

    Victor: Yes! I prefer Fodera strings.*It's pretty cool that the bass manufacturer makes their own strings.*I use nickel wound strings because steel strings feel like they grip my hands too much. I use guages 40, 55, 75, and 95.*

    Thunder Row: I like nickel wound for their longevity. Nothing like a new set of strings! What's the most exotic or interesting place you've ever played, and why?

    Victor: One of the most interesting places I've played was Ulan bator, Mongolia*with the Flecktones*in the mid 90s. It was way cool because it was soooo different. That place was not Americanized at all. And, man, it was COLD. The horses had long hair all over their bodies. It was fascinating to see how differently from us the people people lived. They definitely would be considered poor by American standards but they all seemed very happy. It felt great being there. The music and culture was AMAZING!!! That's were I first heard Throat singing.

    Thunder Row: It'd be interesting to combine Mongolian Throat Singing with the Click singing of Southwestern Africa. If you could play with any drummer in the world (past or present), who would it be, and why?

    Victor: You didn't mention "future", but that is the first thing that comes to mind. I hope I get to play with my son Adam once he becomes an adult. Right now, he is nine years old and already has a solid groove. I can only imagine what a few years will do to him and his music.

    Thunder Row: Thunder Row featured the Wests, a family of young musicians, Nick on bass - he's eight. A late bloomer by your standards, but well on his way, we think. You can check them out at http://www.youtube.com/pickin7#p/a/u/1/McYE6OkNpl4. I'm sure it'll bring back memories.

    What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you were first starting out in music?

    Victor: I wish I'd known that Stanley Clarke was human.**Just kidding. I don't know. I learned in a wonderful way as a child and can't think of anything I would change.

    Thunder Row: Wouldn't it be great if every kid could say that? Do you have a favorite charity?

    Victor: My favorite charity is my family. I travel around playing music and end up spending a lot of time away from them so that they can have a comfortable life. Most of my income goes to that charity. Feel free to contribute.

    Thunder Row: And it doesn't stop when they leave home! Quickly on to happier topics; tell us about your worst gig.

    Victor: I almost knocked myself out doing silly acrobatics with my bass in front of a hometown Nashville audience. The Flecktones were doing an outdoor gig and I was really sweaty. So, during the song Sinister Minister, at the climax of my solo, I went to spin my bass around my neck. Because my shirt was so wet, the strap stuck to it causing*the bass to wind around my neck instead. The upper horn of the bass caught me right in the side of my neck causing me to black out for a moment. Eventually, I came to and finished the solo. Fortunately, I didn't fall flat on my back!

    Thunder Row: Sinister Minister. Catchy title. I'll have to check that out. Speaking of songs, which is your favorite?

    Victor: My favorite songs change quite often. Sly Stone's Everyday People is still a favorite because Larry Graham plays one note throughout the whole song. I don't know if anyone else has ever done that. I don't really have one favorite song, but I do have songs that I like playing a lot. One song I still enjoy playing is The Lesson.*

    Thunder Row: One note. I could do that! In fact, I could solo! What's the best bass tip anyone ever gave you?

    Victor: As I was struggling to learn my bass parts as a kid, Regi would often tell me that I would soon be looking back at that day laughing because it would then be so easy.

    Thunder Row: That's advice a lot of the learners on Thunder Row can take to heart. Thanks again, Regi! If you could relive one day of your life, what day would it be and why?

    Victor: It would be interesting to know what was going through my mind during my birth or even when I was in the womb. My guess is that the womb was peaceful, but the birth was painful. Now that I think about it, I may want to take back my answer.

    Thunder Row: Too late. On a scale of 1 - 10, where do you rate yourself as a bass player?

    Victor: I would put myself somewhere between 1 and 10 - I think.

    Thunder Row: (Sounds like Victor's contemplating a career in politics!) What do you hope to achieve in your life?

    Victor: Happiness for me and as many others as I can help achieve it. (Do I win the crown?)

    Thunder Row: If it's ours to bestow, you've got it! Continuing in the same cheery vein; if you could write your own epitaph, what would it be?

    Victor: Like the Terminator said: "I'll Be Back!"

    Thunder Row: Which he may be, now that his tenure as the Governator is coming to an end. What kind of music do you listen to when you're alone?

    Victor: I'm lucky enough to perform so much that I enjoy quite when I'm off the stage. When I do listen to something, I usually listen to what would be called "Easy Listening" music, something I don't have to pay attention to. It helps my mind relax.

    Thunder Row: Who do you regard as the greatest musician of all time?*

    Victor: Maybe my Aunt Ann Lois because she would drop a hot plate of grits in the middle of the floor if the Music hit her in the right way. She can hear Music better than most people I know. She really knows how to listen. Oh, but she doesn't play an instrument. Does that count?

    Thunder Row: It does in my book. Sounds like you were surrounded by very motivational ladies growing up. Who do you regard as the greatest composer of all time and why?

    Victor: One of my favorite composers is Stevie Wonder. He writes very complex songs, but does it in a way that still allows anyone to sing it - musician or not. That is amazing. Most of the time I don't realize how difficult his songs are to play until I try to learn them. They are just so musical. Maurice White from Earth Wind and Fire is another great one. Not only are his songs compositionally incredible, but his lyrics were ahead of his time. Sly Stone and James Brown were that way too, writing "deep" lyrics at a time when it wasn't safe to do so.

    Thunder Row: What teacher had the most positive impact on your life, and why?

    Victor: Probably my mom. I had a horrible temper as a child and would probably be in jail right now if it weren't for her. She would always talk to me causing me to see the consequences of my actions had my anger been allowed to play itself out. The spanking that always followed was the easy part.

    Thunder Row: I DO remember spankings! Somehow we survived, and somehow I emerged with nothing but respect for my folks. Amazing! What advice would you give someone who is just picking up bass for the first time?*

    Victor: Practice a little. Play a lot. You don't get good at a language by sitting in a room practicing. You must communicate with people - many people. And Keep it FUN.

    Thunder Row: That's the mantra around here. No doubt a lot of practice went in to your most recent project. Tell us about it.

    Victor: It's an audio version of my book The Music Lesson. It's really cool. Every character is read by a different person, and it features lots of musicians. This is the first project that I've ever scored, so there's tons of new music. The whole thing is 7 CDs long. You can find it on my website right now (www.victorwooten.com or www.themusiclesson.com.) you can even listen to a free chapter on the site. I'm planning on releasing a soundtrack CD from the audiobook - just the Music. I don't know if that's ever been done before. I'm really excited about it.

    Thunder Row: I look forward to hearing it. Entirely off the subject, what's your favorite bass joke?

    Victor: I like the one about the kid taking bass lessons. His dad asks him what he's learned. At his first lesson he learned the 1st four notes on the E string. At the 2nd lesson he learned the 1st four notes on the A string. He's tells his dad that he skipped his third lesson because he had a gig.

    Thunder Row: Tell us some of the musicians/singers you've performed with.

    Victor: The New Century Platters, The Good Time Country band at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA, The Denbigh High School Jazz Band and Orchestra, The Menchville High School Show Choir, Jonell Mosser,*Paul Brady,*India Arie, Kashif, Randy Brecker, SMV, Mike Stern, Chick Corea, Susan Tedeschi, Bill Evans,*Dave Matthews Band, Mike Stern (I like Mike Stern),*Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and a few more.

    Thunder Row: Jonell appears as the guest vocalist on Roy Vogt's Teach Me Bass Guitar! Talented lady! Thanks for your time, Victor.

    Victor: No problem. Give my regards to the folks on the Row!
    Take a few minutes to tour Victor's website www.victorwooten.com, and find out for yourself why he endorses the following products: Fodera Bass Guitars (www.fodera.com/), D'Addario strings (www.daddario.com), Hartke Systems (www.myspace.com/hartkesystems), Radial Engineering (www.radialeng.com) Mono Gig Bags (http://www.monocase.com/) Audix mics (www.audixusa.com/) PreSonus Audio Electronics (http://www.presonus.com/) and EMG Pickups (www.emginc.com/) and more!


    * Courtesy Wikipedia. Please contribute for the free and open exchange of information:
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Elmeaux's Avatar
      Elmeaux -
      Victor: It's an audio version of my book The Music Lesson. It's really cool. Every character is read by a different person, and it features lots of musicians. This is the first project that I've ever scored, so there's tons of new music. The whole thing is 7 CDs long. You can find it on my website right now (www.victorwooten.com or www.themusiclesson.com.) you can even listen to a free chapter on the site. I'm planning on releasing a soundtrack CD from the audiobook - just the Music. I don't know if that's ever been done before. I'm really excited about it.Now THAT sounds interesting. I'm there.
    1. Ralph's Avatar
      Ralph -
      THIS GUY is amazing! (And I count about forty fingers in that photo - which explains a lot!)
    1. thunderman's Avatar
      thunderman -
      Apart from Roy, of course, one of the greatest player/teachers on the planet!
    1. Greg Jewell's Avatar
      Greg Jewell -
      Just finished reading Victor's "The Music Lesson". If you do not own this book please do yourself a favor and order it on line. For the price of small pizza you have access to a lifetime of learning. "The Music Lesson" helps define Music by exposing her primary component parts. It will change the way you approach your instrument, how you practice, how you play. But most of all it will change how you listen. And knowing how to listen will keep Music alive forever.
    1. Elmeaux's Avatar
      Elmeaux -
      Now THAT is a recommendation!!!
    1. kimgee's Avatar
      kimgee -
      I agree, "the Music Lesson" is a great read. It is entertaining and insightful, and it really makes you think about what music really means to you and humanity. I also recommend the sound track. A sound track for a book had me confused for a bit. I kept thinking, "Ok, did they make the book into a movie?" When I could find no trace of the movie I realized it was the first, I ever heard of anyway, soundtrack for a book. Neato.
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