This week on the Tribut Blog we’ve been discussing child prodigies, including Mr. Joe Bonamassa. Joe, as you probably know, was opening up for B.B. King when he was 12 years old. When I was 12, I think I was playing Super Mario Brothers 3 on Super Nintendo. And I wouldn’t say I was particularly gifted at it. The idea of a child prodigy, a musically gifted kid, is pretty stunning. Where does all of that innate talent come from? Perhaps the most classic example of the child musical prodigy is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was able to listen to symphonies and write them down note for note afterwards when he was a very young boy. You can’t teach that. Another child prodigy that has blown my mind in the past, besides Joe, is a bass player by the name Victor Wooten.
You may know Victor Wooten through his solo work. More likely, you’ve heard of him through his membership in the virtuosic jazz band – with bluesgrass, funk, rock, and plenty of other influences to boot – Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The Flecktones introduced this unbelievable bassist to the world, but since then Victor Wooten has gone on to establish himself as one of the premiere bassists in the jazz world; indeed in any genre, with an eclectic and quite successful solo career. The first time I saw Wooten play, he was with the Flecktones as an opening act for a major rock band. I didn’t really know what to expect – what’s a Flecktone anyway? – but as soon as the four men took the stage, it was obvious how much insane talent was there, and much of that talent came from the bass player. He didn’t just play bass – he dominated the instrument the way Barry Bonds dominated a meatball down the middle. And while he was far and away the best bass player I’d ever personally seen live at that point, what was even more stunning was his ability to perform tricks with his bass while he was doing it, throwing it around his body and launching it up in the air without missing a beat. It was incredible!
Here’s Mr. Wooten performing with the Flecktones at Bonnaroo, 2011:
Here are some cool facts you might not have known about the master of the low end, Mr. Wooten!
- Victor Lemonte Wooten was just three years old when, with the help of his four older brothers, all musicians themselves, he started playing the bass. The older brothers had a band and needed a bass player, so they began teaching their youngest brother Victor the four stringed low-end instrument. Because Wooten had already been exposed to music due to his family, he began playing songs he knew right away which made learning easier for him, and more fun.
- As a young kid, Wooten was exposed to what he calls a “smorgasbord” of music. He didn’t even really consider them to be different genres of music – it was all just music. Growing up in the 1960s, the radio would play rock, soul and jazz music. Motown became a big influence on him, as did seeing James Brown play live. On Sundays, Wooten’s mother would listen to gospel music and his father would tune into The Grand Ole Opry. This array of influences would all go into making up Wooten’s musical personality.
- Wooten would first meet future bandmate Bela Fleck in Nashville in 1987. A mutual friend has been telling Fleck about the bass prodigy and Fleck was interested in hearing the young man play. Wooten called Fleck up on the phone and Fleck requested that Wooten play something for him right then. Wooten played some riffs, and Fleck, a gifted banjo player, commented that he thought it sounded like a “bass banjo.” Sufficiently impressed, the two got together soon to jam in Bela Fleck’s kitchen. Soon after, Fleck was going to be playing on a television program called The Lonesome Pine Specials. Fleck, wanting to put a band together for the show, asked Victor if he’d be the bass player. Soon after, pianist and harmonica player Howard Levy and Wooten’s brother, known as “Futureman” would join the band as the percussionist – and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones was born.
- When Wooten plays bass, he uses his thumb as a “pick” and quickly pummels the strings with up and down strokes, just as one would generally do with a pick.
- Wooten runs a series of summer camps to teach music to people of all ages on any instrument. Oftentimes amazing musical guests show up to the camps, such as fellow basissts like Marcus Miller, Christian McBride, Stanley Clarke and a variety of others. The camps also feature studies in nature in addition to music.
- Wooten’s very first bass guitar was a copy of a Paul McCartney Hofner violin bass, manufactured by Univox and still owned by Wooten. His second bass was an Alembic Series 1.
- Wooten’s biggest bass influences include Stanley Clarke, Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius, Chuck Rainey, Louis Johnson, James Jamerson and Willie Weeks. But perhaps his biggest influence of them all was the boy who introduced Wooten to bass playing to begin with, his brother Regi Wooten.
- Some of the important gear that Wooten has used includes:
- – Basses: Fodera 4-string fretted Monarch basses
- – Amps: Hartke HyDrive LH Series, Hartke HyDrive 410, HyDrive 115
- – Effects: Rodenberg Distortion pedal, Boss GT-6B Multi-effects pedal, Zoom B3 Multi-effects
- – Strings: D’Addario nickels strings (.040, .055, .075, .095)
- Given the choice, Victor Wooten prefers playing live versus recording in the studio because he feeds off of the energy of the crowd, an energy which is obviously not present in the studio.
- When Wooten was in high school. He and his brothers played in the country music revue at the Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, VA. During this time he made quite a few friends at these theme park gigs. One of those friends happened to be the same friend that would later introduce Victor to Bela Fleck.
– Brian R.
Who do you think is the most unbelievable child musical prodigy? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me at @