Victor Wooten: Bass Camps, Hardships, and The Lesson

Few bassists have captured the continuous attention and admiration of musicians across the globe as Victor Lemonte Wooten. From starting out in his family act, the Wooten Brothers Band, to winning five Grammys, working with the best of the best, and sharing his knowledge at the best music schools in the world, Victor Wooten appears to have done it all. Or, at least a LOT. 

Wooten has expanded the grooving capacity of the bass even beyond the epic ideas that most players have already achieved. He’s been the backbone of many great bands and artists like The Flecktones, Mike Stern, and Greg Howe. And as a consummate solo artist, he’s released 10 solo albums, including his solo bass tour de force – A Show of Hands.  

Let’s take a peek at Victor Wooten’s career, where he’s going, and some interesting aspects of his life. But first, if you’re not one of the nearly 5 million people who have seen this by now, watch it.

Victor Wooten: A bit of backstory

In 1964, Victor Wooten came into the world with some of the best musical foundations a talent like his could ever ask for. The youngest of five brothers, Wooten was encouraged from a very early age to take up music.

After only a couple of years, Wooten, at age five, started gigging professionally. By age 6, he and his brothers toured as an opening act for the great soul artist Curtis Mayfield. As Wooten went through his school years, his playing grew to greater heights. By the time he finished high school, he already had Stephanie Mills, Ramsey Lewis, and The Temptations on his resumé.

Wooten meets Bela Fleck

Not long after high school, Wooten ventured to Nashville. Here, he met an artist who catapulted his music career and laid the foundation for his successful solo career.

Banjo extraordinaire Bela Fleck started working with Wooten on recording dates. And, by 1989 Fleck enlisted Wooten, his brother Roy, aka Future Man, and keyboardist Howard Levy.

The Flecktones burst onto the scene and produced three highly-rated albums. Wooten’s bass prowess became all-encompassing after the departure of Lev in 1993. It wasn’t long before Wooten achieved bass god status. By 1997, the Flecktones won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

Wooten’s solo career and embracing education

After several years of touring and making waves with the Flecktones, Wooten began to make strides in his solo career as well. Along with solo albums, Wooten made a name for himself as an educator as well. He began releasing instructional videos and collaborating with other legendary bass players like Steve Bailey.

In 1996, his highly acclaimed masterpiece, A Show of Hands, displayed his virtuosic bass playing and creative compositional ideas. Grammy nominations followed with his 1999 release Yin-Yang and Live in America in 2001. 

Wooten continues to collaborate with a wide range of creative people. He has worked with a slew of artists such as Dennis Chambers, J.D Blair, Greg Howe, and Scott Henderson.

Around 2000, Wooten added another dimension to his musical output by creating a music education program called the Bass/Nature Camp. Also, Wooten maintains his music education pursuits by collaborating with Steve Bailey in the bass department at Berklee College of Music in Boston. 

Victor Wooten’s gear

Wooten spends most of his time with the 4-string bass but occasionally uses the 5-string setup. His bass of choice is his signature model Fodera bass. His 1983 Monarch Deluxe consists of a Kahler Tremolo system, and his Yin-Yang bass he co-designed with Fodera. 

Aside from electric bass, Wooten also plays the double bass and the cello, while occasionally playing in the Flecktones. One interesting ax in Wooten’s arsenal is his Fodera tenor bass. It’s a standard Monarch model but with the strings tuned A-D-G-C, basically like the higher strings of a six-string bass without the low E and B. 

When it comes to amps and cabinets, Wooten has been an endorser of Hartke cabinets since 2008. The HyDrive 4×10 and 1×15 speaker cabinets are his current model choice. For preamps and power, he uses two LH 1000 heads, but also on occasion uses an Ampeg BXT-410HL amplifier head. 

For strings, Wooten is an endorser of DR’s Pure Blues bass strings. DR Strings is a US-based string manufacturing company running for over 25 years.

Victor Wooten: The Music Lesson

Published in 2008, The Music Lesson is a text designed to help musicians connect with music on a deeper level. Inspired by all the years teaching at his music camps, Wooten penned his music teaching ideas and philosophy that reads more like a novel than an instruction manual. 

The book’s caption “a spiritual search for growth through music” pretty well sums up the core idea. Wooten has for decades taught at workshops, colleges, and his camps. Many times, students and professional musicians alike have asked Wooten to put his teaching philosophy into a book.

Wooten was apparently surprised by how people reacted to the novel style of the book. The positive reviews of the book have made his teaching methods available to a wider audience. 

The story involves a struggling young musician who wanted his life to be great and to have music at the center of his life. An eccentric and genius music teacher enters his life and guides the young musician on a spiritual journey through music.

The core message of the story is that every chord and note has its own meaning and that our musical experience mirrors our life experiences. 

If you’re interested, you can find the book here on Amazon.

Victor Wooten and focal dystonia

Sometimes even the greatest have inescapable challenges. Victor Wooten has been diagnosed with focal dystonia for several years now, even though the symptoms first appeared a decade prior. 

Focal dystonia is a neurological condition involving the muscles in a body part. The muscles twitch and contract involuntarily and can cause people to not have complete control of the muscle spasms. 

Wooten mentions how for between 15 and 20 years he mentioned to fellow musicians that his fingers felt sluggish and attributed it to insufficient practice. For years, he didn’t know that there was an official diagnosis. However, after extensive research he finally had a name to attach to the experience. 

Early on in the diagnosis, dystonia affected the middle, ring, and pinkie fingers of his left hand. As he brought the left hand to the neck of the bass, those three fingers would curl up and be slightly sluggish. Occasionally his right hand would also not function normally. 

After seeing a specialist, Wooten has found a reduction in the symptoms where only his left-hand ring finger seems to give issues. Currently, his symptoms have reduced, and he has been mindful of stress and how a holistic view of his health makes dealing with focal dystonia much easier. 

Here’s the interview where Wooten discusses the issue with Ruth Chiles, who has helped him with getting some resolution to the problem.

The Victor Wooten bass camp

In the early 2000s, Victor Wooten founded his music education camp base outside of Only, Tennessee. Since then, Wooten Woods has become a pilgrimage for many artists, and it offers space to grow young musicians in a holistic approach to musical development. 

Wooten saw the connection between nature and music. Aside from giving musicians of all ages world-class instruction in music, Wooten wants his camps to be a place where he can improve people’s life skills and foster community. Being around nature and the sensory stimulus of the outdoors helps place attendees into an environment where they can experience the relationship of music to nature. 

The 150-acre property has been the home of Wooten’s music and nature camps for almost 15 years. But, it’s much more than just a retreat for musicians. Wooten Woods has become its own wildlife sanctuary and boasts an array of animals, trees, and wildlife, including the biodiversity sustained by the Duck River. 

There are several main buildings located at the retreat. The Dome, one of the larger structures at 1018 sq. ft. of space, is used for class activities and performances. While the Barn hosts concerts and group activities, and Dinah’s Woodshed and the Nature Pavilion are used for smaller classes, lectures, and even yoga sessions. 

Wooten’s camps are not always centered on the bass. Instead, he hosts camps for all instruments and musical abilities. The camps are run on a “break-even” system where all funds earned go directly to the operating costs of the camp. 

Wooten Woods Retreat has become somewhat of a musician’s bucket list. Why not when activities include interacting with and watching performances with some of the best musicians on the planet? Also, musicians are encouraged to develop a deeper appreciation of music and connect one’s musical experience to nature. 

Victor Wooten: Final thoughts

It’s one thing to be a virtuoso musician, a master educator, or a spiritual thinker. To be all three and then some is an even rarer occurrence. Victor Wooten has, throughout his career, been at the top of his game. And not only has he brought us incredible music, but he’s shown us how he got there as well. 

He lays the groundwork for many aspiring musicians to think deeper about their art form and the love needed to get through the challenges that come from a life in music. Wooten continues to inspire and promote a holistic approach to music and achieve the ultimate goal of being a good human. 

And, not to mention, he still works on new music and discovers what new sounds he can find from the vibrating strings of his bass guitar. 

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