And if you ever come to my house,
I'll tell you what you see:
A house full of nothing,
Just my four strings and me.
Victor Wooten, "Me & My Bass Guitar".
The Early Years
Victor Lemonte Wooten
was born on September 11, 1964, to a military family. He was born in Idaho
, but his family travelled a lot in his early years, and then settled in Newport Hews
. Victor was the youngest of 5 brothers. His brothers were are all musicians, and quite accomplished ones at that. Regi
plays the saxophone
) plays percussion
plays the keyboards
When Victor was 3, his brother Regi taught him how to play the bass. At first, Victor was too young to actually handle a bass, so Regi had him play along on a Mickey Mouse windup guitar while his brothers played. Then, Regi removed the top two (B and E) strings from an electric guitar, and taught Victor bass lines on that. About a year later, Victor got his first bass - a Univox.
Victor made his stage debut at the age of five, playing with The Wooten Brothers Band. The played covers, and later opened for Curtis Mayfield. They played a lot at Busch Gardens theme park in Virginia. They also performed in night clubs. Victor says:
"By the time I was 8 we considered ourselves seasoned professionals. The routine was: Get up, go to school, go home and do homework, take a nap, then go play a gig from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. At a lot of places we couldn't even leave the stage because the place served alcohol and we were minors."
The Wooten brothers got their first recording contract in 1985, when they recorded The Wootens
under Arista Records
. This would be their only record as a band. Later they would continue to collaborate extensively. Roy plays with Victor in Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
, and all the others joined Victor on What Did He Say?
, as well as other collaborations.
In 1988, Victor moved to Nashville, and was recruited by blues and soul singer Jonell Mosser. The following year he would make his big breakthrough, after joining Bela Fleck, who hired Victor and Roy to play for a Lonesome Pine Special TV show. Victor, his brother Roy (Futureman), Bela and Howard Levy on harmonica and keyboards formed Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. In 1990, they released their debut album.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
The Flecktones had immediate success, much due to The Sinister Minister
, which is a showcase for Victor's incredible technique. They recorded 3 discs up to 1992 (Their self titled album, Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo
and Ufo Tofu
). In 1992, Howard Levy left them, and they based themselves as a trio, with many guest performances. The guests included Dave Matthews
(who did a lot to promote their success), Chick Corea
, Branford Marsalis
, John Medeski
, Bruce Hornsby
and Sam Bush
In 1996, they released Live Art, a collection of their live performances from 1992 to 1996, with many special guests. The amazing live version of The Sinister Minister featured here earned them a Grammy award for "Best Pop Instrumental Performance" in 1997. After touring for several years, they joined Jeff Coffin, a saxophonist, and recorded Left Of Cool and Outbound with him. Lately, they released another CD of their live performances, Live at The Quick.
Other musical directions
In 1996, Victor released his much anticipated first solo album
, A Show Of Hands
. It features only bass and vocals, and includes his incredible Classical Thump
and other copositions. Since then, he has released two more studio solo albums: What Did He Say?
and Yin Yang
. He has also released a disc of his live performances: Live In America
Other than The Flecktones and as a solo artist, Victor is involved in two other major projects: he formed Bass Extremes with fellow bassist Steve Bailey and Vital Tech tones with Scott Henderson and Steve Smith.
It is hard for Victor himself to separate anything he does from anything else (and that is part of the focus of his Bass/Nature awareness camp). Victor was fascinated with the circus as a kid, and he taught himself to juggle
, ride a unicycle
, and do hat tricks
, which he sometimes does when he plays.
Also, he enjoys the outdoors and camping and survival.
Victor Wooten is married. He and his wife, Holly, have a daughter, Kaila, who was born in 1997. Kaila stars on two tracks in "Yin Yang".
Victor mentions many bassists as influencing him. Most notable are James Jamerson
, Larry Graham
, Stanley Clarke
and Jaco Pastorius
. Interesting, though, is the fact that Victor's influences are not all bass players. He got a lot of inspiration
from other instruments, including from his brothers. He often tries to imitate other instruments on his bass, which leads to his unique techniques. He would often try to play like a drum set
or a guitar
, and this lead him to find new ways to apprach his instrument.
Victor is noted for his exceptional
technique. His finger playing is good, but not unique. However, his command of two handed tapping
is amazing. For an example, listen to Latin Groove
. He plays a bass line with his left hand and comps
with his right.
Victor is most famous, technique-wise, for his slapping technique, especially his double thumping. What he does was pretty unique when he started doing it, but now many bass player attempt to emulate him. The thumping idea came to him when he tried to emulate the action of the guitar pick with his thumb. When he slaps, instead of bouncing off the string, he slaps 'through' the string, so that, if he slaps the A string, the thumb comes to rest on the D string. Then he can bring the thumb back up through the A string again. In this way, he is a ble to play twice as fast, with less effort.
Every year, since 1990, Victor Wooten hosts a Bass/Nature Awareness Camp in Tenessee. It is 6 days long and is for young bassists. The camp is focused around awareness
and the bass, and how the bass and music are linked to nature and everything.The camp thus focuses on bass playing - including theory
, playing the upright bass
, and other aspects of bass, along with nature-oriented activities: fire-making techniques
, finding food and water
, etc. All the time, the focus is on awareness
Instructors at the camp (apart from Victor) are mostly friends of Victor - Steve Bailey, Victor's brothers, some nature instructors, and guest appearances by various celebrities.
Opinions About Victor
One of my bass teachers claimed that Victor Wooten is Marcus Miller
played at double speed.
I think the fact that he was voted Bass Player's Bassist Of The year 3 times speaks for itself (he is the only bassist to have received this award more than once).
Bass Player magazine also says:
"Victor is really the epitome of what a bassist should be able to do, lay down the funk and blow the baddest solo. His lines were always deep in the pocket, never missing a beat, and he was blowing over solos with double thumbing/plucking and tapping techniques like no other. You really have to see Victor play in person to believe the sheer mastery he commands over his instruments because it can't be described with mere words."
However, there are other opinions. From a review of Live In America
The thumb-popping "Me And My Bass Guitar" is a fetishistic ode to his own prowess-yikes! In my book, this makes Wooten the bandleader a master of the obvious. Most of the music on Live In America isn't any more meaningful than the funk bass interludes punctuating those old Seinfeld episodes.
I personally think he is amazing
, especially technique-wise. And he is definitely one of my favourite bassists. In fact, at the moment, I would have to say he is my favourite. However, there are too many times when he lets his technique get in the way of the beauty of the music. You can hear this in some of his solos, where it sounds like he is just showing off. He can
play melodically, and IMHO, should do so more. We all know he is one of the most technically gifted players out there; we don't have to hear it in every solo.
I have decided that as Victor has far too many albums, I will only list the album names, and not the track
s themselves. I will try to give a brief commentary
on each album, to give an idea of the general feel
of the album, and stuff to listen to. Albums I don't have / haven't heard I have left comment-less.
Victor Wooten has three solo studio
albums, and has lately released a live
album. The three studio albums are interesting in that the first is only bass (mostly), the second has drums too, and the thirs has more instruments, and sound more like a 'real' album than a 'bass album'.
- A Show Of Hands (1996)
Victor's first studio release was Record of the Year in Bass Player Magazine. Check out U Can't Hold No Groove. It's the opening track, and Victor holds and unbelievable groove alone, with no accompaniment. I am often still astounded at the grooviness of this song, considering he is alone, with no drums.Another incredible track is Classical Thump, an explosion of technique on the bass. The main theme is a little sparse harmonically (I - IV - V - I), but other than that, well, just listen. This is one of Victor's best known solo tracks, and many bass player (including myself), wish they could play this. It is a great track to hear his thumping technique on. Still, my favourite number on this album has to be More Love. I think it is his best composition.
- What Did He Say? (1997)
Norweigan Wood is, without a doubt, the track to listen to. Victor plays around with many, many techniques, and the resulting sound is amazing. Norweigan Wood was recorded on a single track, but many songs here have as many as 8! bass tracks.
- Yin Yang (1999)
A 2-CD set. The first CD is titled "Yin", and has only instrumental songs. The second is titled "Yang", and has songs with lyrics. Listen to Hip Bop on disc one. My favourite composition is Yinnin' and Yangin', especially the vocal version.
- Live In America (2001)
- Bela Fleck And The Flecktones (1990)
You should definitely listen to Sinister Minister, a Flecktones classic, and also Victor really struts his stuff, and shows off his technique.
- Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo (1991)
Listen to Michelle, a really interesting version of The Beatles song. Victor's solo is, as usual, pyrotechnical. I think this is a good example of Victor preferring technique to beauty. The solo is impressive technically, but is, IMHO, detached from the rest of the song.
- Ufo Tofu (1992)
I don't know this album too well, but listen to Sex In A Pan, a Victor Wooten composition. He lays down the groove and plays the lead, and it is a great example of how you can do both, keeping a rock-solid groove.
- Three Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1993)
- Live Art (1996)
At the risk of repeating myself, listen to Vic's solo on The Sinister Minister, although there are several displays of virtuosity of this double album. Improv/Amazing Grace shows Victor's ability at playing alone on stage. And one of my favourites is definitely Stomping Grounds.
- Left Of Cool (1998)
Big Country is lovely, and shows Victor on his fretless. Listen to the bit when he and Bela solo together - he plays Jaco's Continuum.
- Outbound (2000)
Earth Jam is pretty cool, but Victor's solo is absolutely absurd, and I would personally swear it is not physically possible to play!
- Live at The Quick (2002)
3 great and diverse musicians come together to form a new type of fusion
. Sometimes it just sounds like they are each doing his own thing, and some pieces stretch out a lot. And some pieces sound great and original. I think that this is not any of the 3's best work. Especially Scott Henderson
, which has recorded much better material, and played better solos. I think that this material is a bit experimental, and sounds it, although there some very rewarding pieces
- Vital Tech Tones (1998)
Check out Two For One, for a great dialogue between Victor and Steve Smith. I think that Giant Steps is a bit too technical on Victor's part, though. I was disappointed by the solo (don't get me wrong, I wish I could play like that). His solo is a lot of showing off, and not much melodic substance, in my opinion. Listen to Coltrane improvise on Giant Steps, for comparison.
- Vital Tech Tones 2 (2000)
The two songs most worth listening to here, IMHO, are The Litigants and Catch Me If U Can. In "Catch Me If U Can", the head is terrific, and his solo is mostly finger-picked (with some tapping), and absolutely great. In 'The Litigants', the solo is very impresive slapping, plus I like these tracks anyway.
An incredible interplay
between two amazing and very different musicians. Steve Bailey plays the 6-string fretless bass, and is known for his chordal playing
, and three finger technique
. Quite different from Victor.
Videos and DVDs
- Victor's CDs and Videos