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This way to the Wooten family reunion

by Ryan Snyder

 ryan@yesweekly.com | @YESRyan

Bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten and his brother, Roy “Future Man” Wooten share five Grammys as the rhythmic force that drives the virtuosic jazz fusion unit, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, but neither might be where they are without a certain teacher, or “Teacha,” as Regi Wooten is known. Regi put a bass in his baby brother Victor’s hands when he was just 2 years old and a little over three years later, they were on the road with their brothers Joseph and Rudy, opening for Curtis Mayfield as the Wooten Brothers. Today, their immense individual talents — Joseph has played keys for the Steve Miller Band for 20 years, and Rudy found success touring before his passing in 2010 — diverged their paths. They reunited for a rare family tour, however, and the baseline is a revisitation of the brothers’ funk and soul origins.

YES! Weekly: How was it even decided that you and your brothers would be a band?

Regi Wooten: I really don’t remember. I was always really into it. I was always making instruments. My mom and dad were in the military and we couldn’t afford them. I was putting two soda straws together and making a trombone out of it. Then my aunt and relatives were into music. My mom played a lot of religious music around the house. I wanted to be a track star, a sprinter, at a really early age, but then I decided I wanted to do something that all the brothers could do, because I was worried that they couldn’t keep up.

Y!W: More than that, were you the tastemaker? Did you decide which records your brothers were listening to?

RW: In the very beginning, we’d play basketball and stuff like that, but we’d have to stay inside until my mom got home. After I’d get home from school — and I was thinking for my brother Joe, because I knew he would relate — I’d put on a lot of Sly & the Family Stone, and to this day he’s still really into that. They all grew up and moved in their own directions, but we still have a lot of that in common. I raised Joe and Victor and held them and washed their diapers.

Y!W: The operative musical theme based on your collective work, I’m assuming, is jazz and funk plus everything else. How can you even begin to build a set list?

RW: I think the main theme of our show is just “high quality” and then “fun.” I grew up in a time when there was a lot of high-quality music on the radio. Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin were on the radio at the same time as the Jackson 5. There was a lot of charisma and excitement in that music, and they made you want to play music. That’s exactly how we play. It’s just more of the real thing, and I hope that it inspires more people. That’s why I teach all the time, and Victor does bass camps all year-round.

Y!W: Victor’s bass book suggested that spirituality was a driving force in your and your brothers collective efforts to excel.

RW: With me being the oldest, I still practice the most because that’s just how it’s always been. I’ve just always been the most into music. “Everybody doesn’t like music like you, Regi,” is something I hear all the time. I’m the crazy music brother. Like I said, I wanted to be a track star, to be the fastest man in the world, but to keep evolving, I switched over to music. To me, the thing is that music is invisible, and the art is in manipulating the invisible.

Y!W: Victor is the one who’s always at the center of the “best bassist” debates today, but do you recall a time when he was the one still trying to get over?

RW: For so many years, Victor was on the bottom. I remember when we were with Arista Records, Roy and Joseph were the big names, because they both played on Whitney Houston’s first album. I always felt like Victor was just as good then as he is now and he should have been out there. It’s nice that he’s where he is, even if people know him and don’t know the others as well so he can get his just due. We got to Arista in 1983 and Whitney hadn’t come out yet, Clive Davis hadn’t approved it, because it was deemed a little too stiff. It had that New York beat that the producer Kashif knew. We made some suggestions based on our sound, which was music you close you eyes and feel and not something you make the video to. We got Roy to play drums on it and Joe to sing on it, then Clive approved it.

Y!W: One of your most well known pupils, Evan Brewer, performs in a genre so far removed from the one in which you work. Is it a challenge for you to translate concepts into voices you might not be familiar?

RW: The guitar theory that I teach works across any sound. I play metal, too. I just like to play lead guitar. I don’t even want to hear sing- ing sometimes. I just want to hear the guitar go crazy.

The Wooten Brothers will play Ziggy’s on Dec. 8.!

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