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INTERVIEW: Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten
Victor Wooten
Courtesy Photo

When five-time Grammy Award winner Victor Wooten first arrived on the scene, he did more than play bass guitar with blinding speed dexterity. He jacked the metabolism of the instrument. That’s what his 1996 album A Show of Hands was all about. Thereafter, the bass guitar was no longer to be thought of as a thing limited by its reach and its four (and sometimes five) strings thick as telephone wires. “Bass players were seeing the instrument as being more complete, not just an instrument that has to play one note at a time,” Wooten says. Like Stanley Clark and Larry Graham before him and rock contemporaries Billy Sheehan and Les Claypool, Wooten helped move bass guitar from the back of the rhythm section to the front of the stage through the complexity of his ideas. Perhaps best known as a founding member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Wooten recently spoke with SanDiego.com about his Bass Nature music camp, upcoming tour and what it means to be natural.

What was behind the re-release of A Show of Hands earlier this year?
Victor Wooten: When I recorded that record and released it, I thought I had something special. I thought I had completed an idea that I wasn’t sure if I could complete. Once I did it, even before it was released, I knew that musicians were gonna like it, because it was a musical idea I had never seen accomplished on this instrument.

Meaning your thumbing technique?
VW: No, not the technique so much but the fact that I was able to record a whole record on one bass guitar with no other instruments and no overdubs.

But later in the recording process you added vocals.
VW: After I finished the record and I was listening to it, I realized that there were little pieces that could use, ahh, some vocals. Like, hearing a child’s laugh. Or hearing a child singing la la la, like that. In some places I added my mother’s voice, or Martin Luther King’s voice. It helped make things more powerful. But the instrumentation is just one bass guitar.

So 15 years later you re-released it and this time on your own label.
VW: I felt that it was a good time to revisit that record. And I had been thinking about doing my own record label. Not in a huge way, but in a way that I could just put out my own records and be in more control of my musical creations. It seemed like a great way to test it out. And technology is at a better place now, so we could make it sound better. The younger kids are still buying A Show of Hands. It’s still my biggest seller.

What is the message of Victor Wooten?

VW: My message, I guess, if I have one, is more about people finding themselves rather than finding out about me. That’s what our camp’s about, and that’s what the record’s about.

You hold seminars, have the Bass Nature camps, and wrote a book called The Music Lesson. Is this all a natural progression from starting to play music at a young age and learning from your older brother Regi? Do all roads lead back to him?
VW: In a big sense, yes. For music, that’s where I started. And that’s where I still refer back to. A lot of my ideas come from Regi in the same way that you learned to talk, by listening to your parents, your siblings. But you also learn from friends and TV. Lots of other places. Well, music’s the same way. It started with Regi, and all my brothers. I never had formal teachers, the say way you never had formal teachers in English. But everybody was your teacher. Life was your teacher. I’ve had many teachers, but the core one was Regi.

You also spent time learning about music from, of all people, a nature survivalist named Tom Brown.
VW: This is what I realized. First of all, nature connects to everything we do. And whatever we want to be good at, we want to be a natural at it. You don’t want to have to focus, and struggle, and work real hard. Once you’re good, you wanna be natural. When somebody is really good at something, we call him a natural. So the word natural means being like nature, having the characteristics of nature. So in our quest to become natural, we’re really trying to be like nature. But most of us never realize it.

Is this how the Bass Nature camps came to be?
VW: Absolutely. We not only have an incredible music staff, we have an unbelievably amazing nature staff. And so every day, part of your classes are with our nature staff, and they have ways of tricking you into being more natural. And a lot of it comes through awareness. If you think about it no one has to teach a bird how to sing. They don’t have to go to a musical conservatory. A squirrel just knows how to build a nest. Humans have those same natural abilities and instincts, but most of us don’t use them. Our nature staff helps reawaken some of these abilities in our students. And when they come back to their instruments, our students can play a whole lot more than they thought because now, they’re natural. They’re not trying so hard. It sounds phony, it sounds fake, but if you ask any of our students, they’ll say it’s true.

Victor Wooten performs April 18 at The Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

Details »
  • City: Solana Beach
  • Venue: Belly Up Tavern, 143 S Cedros Ave, Solana Beach, CA 92075
  • Dates: Monday, April 18, 2011