July 15, 2011

The Bassic Flecktone

by Jim Newsom

Denbigh High School graduate Victor Wooten has been recognized as one of the most innovative bass players in the world for the last twenty years. He has won five Grammy awards playing with his brother Roy, aka Future Man, in Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. They will have a homecoming of sorts when the original Flecktones share the bill with Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers at Portsmouth’s nTelos Pavilion on Saturday, August 13th.

Because of his non-stop schedule, Victor and I caught up with each other via email over the 4th of July weekend:

Jim Newsom: You grew up in a military family.
Victor Wooten: We moved around a lot as kids. I was born in Idaho, but also lived in Hawaii and California before settling in Newport News. My parents would go to work everyday while they were also taking care of and supporting five young boys.

I remember living in Hawaii when I was really young. That was where we first started playing music. We would perform in our front yard for the rest of the neighborhood. People would come over and dance to our music. I was two or three years old at that time. I played on a plastic Mickey Mouse guitar. It was just a toy that didn't make any music unless you wound it up. I learned to play music before I actually learned to play an instrument.

JN: How did you become the family bass player?
VW: When I was around three or four years old, my oldest brother, Regi, took two strings off of his extra guitar, and that became my bass. That was my first real instrument. By the time I was five, we were doing gigs for money.

JN: Who was your main guy (or guys) on the bass?

VW: My brothers have always been my main influences, but later on I started to notice other people like Bootsy Collins when he was just a teenager playing with James Brown. Larry Graham was the guy who got me using my thumb the way I do. Jaco Pastorius introduced me to the world of harmonics and the fretless bass, but Stanley Clarke was probably my biggest bass influence. No one played with so much fire until he came along.

JN: Tell me about the Busch Gardens days.
VW: It was 1981 when I first got hired at Busch Gardens. I was just 15 years old and, technically, too young to be in their Live Entertainment Dept. A few of my brothers had already been hired, so when a last minute fiddle position opened up, my brother Roy told them that I could do it. The truth was I'd never played fiddle in my life! When Roy told me that he'd gotten me a job as a fiddler, I immediately borrowed a violin from my high school and started practicing. I ended up playing bass and fiddle in the Country/Bluegrass show and had a great time. I learned a whole lot. I worked there on and off until 1987. It's where I met my wife.

JN: What took you to Nashville?
VW: In the summer of 1987, I traveled with a few Busch Gardens bandmates to visit a friend in Nashville. During that four day visit, my friend introduced me to many of the great Nashville musicians, one of whom was Bela Fleck. Another was an amazing vocalist named Jonell Mosser. Jonell eventually asked me to come back to Nashville and sub in her band. I came back and have never left. That was 23 years ago.

JN: How did the Flecktones form?
VW: When I came back to Nashville to play with Jonell, I did a lot of hanging out with Bela. He had been asked to film a music special for TV called The Lonesome Pine Specials. He asked me if I'd play bass for the show. He recruited harmonica and keyboard man Howard Levy, and then started asking me who he should get on drums. I told him about the crazy new things my brother Roy was working on. After a phone call between the two, Future Man was born. That's how the band got together. Our first performance was for that show. It was supposed to be our only performance, but as you see, one was not enough.

JN: Tell me about your music camps.
VW: We've been running camps for the last twelve years now. We take sixty students from around the world and offer them a different view of Music. Many people make music harder to play than it actually is. We provide a natural process and combine it with a natural location so that you can access your natural abilities. It's the process that I wrote about in my novel The Music Lesson. Lots of schools and universities have begun using the book in their lesson plans and as mandatory reading. I think that's cool.

All of our camps are held at Wooten Woods, a 150 acre retreat center located just outside of Nashville [that] sits along the Duck River. The place is amazing. You can tell it was built with love.

JN: What do you see on your horizon?
VW: I'm in the middle of a Flecktones tour right now. We have a new CD that we are touring. I'll probably release another solo recording and tour around May of next year. The camps are really where my head is at right now. I enjoy them so much.

I'm also writing the sequel to The Music Lesson as we speak. I have about three books in my head that will eventually find their way out. I also hope that scoring movies and TV shows will be in my near future.

Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers /
Bela Fleck and The Flecktones - The Original Line-up

nTelos Pavilion, Portsmouth
Saturday, August 13 – 7:30 pm
Tickets: $20.00-43.75
www.pavilionconcerts.com; 757-393-8181

copyright © 2011 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.


"Passionate About the Banjo"
May 15, 2010
An interview with Bela Fleck.