For Bass Player Vic Wooten, It's Magic That Just Keeps Happening
by Lee Abraham
"I never thought it would last this long," says Victor Wooten, bass player extraordinare of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. "It's been nearly ten years now. Our original idea was to get together for -one- television show and then we were going to go our separate ways, but it went so well, we ended up getting back together and here we are ten years later."
Not only are the Flecktones still ~here~, their popularity is at an all time high. From that fateful, short notice gig on the "Lonesome Pine Special" television show in 1989, the Fleckmeisters have released six critically acclaimed albums, played over 200 shows a year at venues around the world, and in the process created a unique, genre-bending sound. Bela Fleck has transformed the banjo from its very limited, traditional bluegrass role into a dynamic and intriguing five-string voice that speaks eloquently in any musical language. Jazz, rock, pop, funk, folk, blues and new age included.
Fleck's virtuosity is reflected in the range of Grammy Award categories he's been nominated for: pop, jazz, bluegrass, spoken word and country. Dave Grisman, widely regarded as the world's premier mandolin player, puts it this way," Bela Fleck is a fantastic innovator and a very important musician. There are very few of those."
While Fleck is clearly a musical superstar, the other Flecktones are all brilliant players in their own right and each brings something special to the band. Jeff Coffin on tenor and soprano sax is the newest addition to the Flecktones, having toured with the band for the past year or so. He's included on the new release and first Flecktone studio album in five years, -Left Of Cool-.
He also brings the band back to its original size as a quartet. When the Flecktones started out almost a decade ago, the band included Howard Levy on keyboards and harmonica, however after he left the group, the Flecktones carried on as a trio. By bringing another lead instrument back into the mix, the Flecktone's current sound has become more polymelodic and richly textured than was possible as a three-piece band.
"Future Man" is the Flecktone's drummer. Well, sort of. Future, as the other Flecktones call him, plays the "Synthaxe Drumitar," an exotic looking, electronic drum synthesizer that hangs around his neck, and like a guitar, is played with his fingers. Having ten digits to work with instead of just four limbs like most drummers, gives Future Man that many more options to create his unique brand of percussion.
On bass, Future Man's brother, Victor Wooten, is an absolute monster! Nobody plays the bass the way he does and Wooten has the awards to prove it. He was voted Bass Player of the Year by the Bass Player's Magazine Reader's Poll (he's the only person to ever win the award twice), as well as "Most Inspirational Bassist of the Year" in 1993, among countless other industry awards. As the youngest of five brothers in a musical family, little Vic was thrust into the role of bass player at age five.
"My hands were so small, my older bother Regi took the two high strings off a guitar and that was my bass," remembers Wooten. His first real bass was as tall as he was. "I don't know if there was ever a point in my life where I decided, OK, I'm going to be a bass player as my profession. I've just been doing it so long."
"The Wootens" had some success during its run, highlighted by concert tours with War and Curtis Mayfield. However after recording an album for Arista Records in 1985, the band lost momentum and each of the Wooten brothers moved on to new projects. For Victor, not all of those projects included music. "Because there are so many things to life, and I'm interested in all of it, it's a never ending story." Says Wooten. "Somebody once said that 'boredom is the quintessential unawareness of life,' and that makes sense to me."
As a kid, Victor was fascinated by the circus. He taught himself to juggle, ride a unicycle, do gymnastics and countless other skills that require coordination, timing and mental discipline. "I just incorporate it all. Even with the music I'll do some acrobatics with the bass or I'll spin it around, I'll do some hat tricks if I'm wearing a hat, or whatever, because to me they're not all separate things." In between circus tricks and playing with the Flecktones, Wooten also found time to record his second solo album, -What Did He Say-. It was the first time the Wooten family, all five brothers, as well as their father, have been reunited for a musical project. The album recently won the "Rhythm and Blues Album of the Year," at the Annual Nashville Music Awards.
The recognition and awards Wooten has received are as much a result of natural talent as a conscious effort to grow not only as a musician, but as a person. "Staying open minded is the main thing," says Wooten. "Not getting too settled where you are. I mean I always accept where I am, but I always know there's room to grow. But also, music is not all of my life. I do all sorts of things."
"I love being outdoors and camping," continues the 31 year-old bass player. "I've been learning survival techniques the past few years, you know, how to survive with nothing, like the animals do. Us humans are supposed to be the smart ones, but as soon as the grocery stores close we don't know what to do."
Although he digs nature, Wooten is also hip to technology. -What Did He Say- was recorded on a portable, multi-track digital recorder about the size of a typewriter. "I did all the bass parts and then brought the machine to the players I wanted on the record. Most of it was done in people's living rooms." He's also online (www.vicwooten.com) and loves to hang out in his chat room after concerts. "People tell me what they like, what they didn't like, you know, it's fun."
Wooten has come to accept that although individual skills can be mastered, life itself unfolds in unforeseen ways. He's fascinated by the spontaneity of the creative process and like the other Flecktones, doesn't try to push the music or the band in any particular direction.
"I think alot of times that's how some of the best things happen," says Wooten. "Because we weren't -trying- to make the new record this or that, we just kind of let it happen and so it was real natural." "We weren't saying this is the road we want to go down, or whatever. It all just happened. And it's still just happening. We not saying, "OK, lets do something different, let's put vocals on this record now. It just happened that way. That's the thing I like most about the band. That it's ~not~ preconceived. It's totally like evolution."