"They Call Me Victor", sang Victor Lemonte Wooten the prodigal bass player, in town Friday night October 14, at the Berklee Performance Center. Touring with his brother Future Man, Wooten is by far one of the funkiest, most talented, bass players on the planet today.
Speaking with Wooten backstage reminded me of talking to an enlightened monk at a monastery. His knowledge of the importance of family and life transcends into his approach on playing the bass. "I was the youngest of five", Wooten says. "I got used to following my brothers and what they did". When asked how he got his start, he only answers, "my brothers," and repeatedly says how "smart" they were. Well tonight Elijah "Regi" Wooten on guitar/vocals, Joseph Wooten on keys/vocals, and Roy "Future Man" Wooten were wise enough to bring the family funk to Boston for a night of family-filled entertainment.
Bass in hand, dreadlocks, and a red jersey, sporting the number eleven with his name written across the back, Wooten took the stage promptly at 9:15. "I was born on 9/11, eleven has a lot of meaning to me", Wooten explains backstage. Standing on a stack of speakers, the legend stood alone plucking the strings to the "oohs" and "aahs" of the Berklee audience. The crowd ranged in age from students who went to the symposium earlier in the afternoon, to the ageless jazz/funksters who can never get enough love.
Following a ten-minute intro solo, leaving most mouths salivating in awe, Wooten's extended family entered the stage. Derico Watson on drums/vocals, Anthony Wellington on bass/vocals, Saundra Williams vocals, and Mc Divinity on bass and rap vocals. From 'Victa', to a tribute to bass legends, Stanley Clarke, Bootsy Collins and others, the Wootens put on a virtual clinic switching solos, breaking down rhythms, and destroying time. After going from 9 to 7 to 1 beat, they arrived at the 0, and Wooten said, "Now James Brown has never done zero!" to the screams of the crowd. The next song "Prayer" put the sold-out Berklee on their feet with standing ovations.
Songs flowed perfectly as every player had a chance to showcase their many talents. Most notably was Mc Divinity, who shook the crowd with a furious rap and bass track that would make Dre Dre and Chuck D shake in fear. Mc Divinity was apart of Wooten's first bass camp in Atlanta, where he gives students sixty seconds to show him exactly what they've got. Apparently after hearing Mc Divinity rap and bass simultaneously, as Future Man put it, "Victor said, 'We've got to have some of that'," and asked her to go on tour with them. Another notable talent was singer Saundra Williams who started singing in her church as a baby. At age 16, she sang her way from subways in the Bronx NY to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, eventually winning the Apollo TV show numerous times. "I was spotted by a Japanese agent in the crowd who took me to Japan," said Williams.
Elder brother Regi now took over the stage with a thundering Hendrix "Fire" rendition. Regi, who started a band at ten years old, is the pioneer behind the families' musical funk. He learned the ukulele from "watching the Hawaiians play," and got his brother Joseph to play the piano at five years old. "We needed a bass player so, at two, we got Victor," Regi says, beaming underneath a Tennessee hat and long locks. Brother Joseph Wooten, who also plays keys with the Steve Miller band, his picture of his children proudly displayed on top of the keyboards, was tonight giving off a wave of funk noises that left most in hysterics. "That was a Roland Phantom S" Joseph says smiling, while rapping in the basement of the Berklee. "The original Roland." He goes on to explain how it came from Journeys keyboard player Gregg Rolie, "It's by far my favorite, the very first one they made". What stories these cats have!
On stage, Victor and the crew gave lessons on hand clapping and timing with a chalkboard, as the crowd played its parts in keeping time. Let us not forget this is a music school! Drummer Derico Watson gave a blazing drum solo dedication to a friend who had just passed away. Wooten came back to perform an amazing Indian song played for his friend in the crowd, and finally rounded out the night, in the pitch dark, with his blue neck flashing bass. The group took a quick break to let the crowd unwind with screams and claps and returned for a three-song encore. This was really a family affair as friends of Victors made their way backstage to say hello after the show. Michael Brown, who was in town performing with the Barnum and Bailey Circus, said that Victors camp in Nashville "was the single most significant event in his life." He recalled sitting in the woods in cabins, while they listened to nature and music and learned about acoustics.
When asked about the yin yang symbol he wears on his shirt, Wooten, sitting calmly says, "Everything is balance you don't have black without white". He further explained, when asked how his message can be defined and of his goals: "By those who stand for life, not just your own physical and spiritual what you are on the inside making that the best." On his influences: "People like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Gandhi, people who lived for something bigger than music". "You sound like a very wise man do you feel it?" I asked. "No" says Wooten quickly and smiling. "There's so much I don't know" If I'm wise its for a short moment," he says laughing.
Sitting with Victor Wooten, it is obvious that not only does his instrument speak with authority, but so does he. He speaks with a wisdom and knowledge that only comes from years of training and dedication. With all that you've accomplished, I asked the Master of Bass, "What do you feel your still lacking or learning?" Wooten said, "Learning theory of music, especially B-Bop. I don't want to imitate it, I want to really play it".
Well, Friday night at the Berklee Performance Center, Victor Wooten and his entourage of family and friends played and shocked some souls into the mother ship of all funk. Speaking with the band after the show was a treat. When asked what has been their best gig to date, everyone agreed Dave Mathews. "All the Mathews band came out to catch the funk", said Future Man. This is Wooten's first leg of their tour that will bring them to Japan next month, and sounded as if they had been rehearsing for months. When asked for a funny story of the band coming up, it didn't take Joseph long to come up with, "Well we were doing sound checks in Stockton California in 1970, or 1972, with Sly and the Family Stone, and Cynthia's mom, [Cynthia is the singer with Family Stone] would say, 'Don't test just play'", everyone laughed, "That has stuck in my head, 'Don't test just play!'"