A few years prior, a young bassist, banjo player, futuristic
drummer, and otherworldly harmonica player had
gotten together to start a band, getting widely recognized
for their unorthodox approaches to their instruments.
Formed in 1988, the Flecktones quickly demonstrated
to audiences that creative musicians need
not be confined by convention. In fact, many people’s
introduction to Victor Wooten’s impeccable groove and
mind-blowing techniques came as a result of his solo
segment at Flecktones concerts.
Such hard work has not been
without its rewards. Victor is the
recipient of five Grammys and
was voted Bassist of the Year by
BASS PLAYER readers three times
(the only person to have won the
award more than once). The Music
Lesson was recently named a
finalist for the Audio Publishers
Association Audie Award. In short,
over the last 15 years, Victor has
been very busy, and hardly ever
busy doing the same thing the
same way twice. Case in point: his
various solo albums.
A Show of Hands
was a huge success, and
while lesser artists might follow such initial
success with like-minded projects, Wooten
has continued to stretch the boundaries
of his art. In true “been there, done that”
fashion, Victor went on to produce five
more bass solo albums, each substantially
different from its predecessors. What Did
 offered multi-layered bass
compositions that featured the “Groove
Regulator,” Mr. JD Blair on drums. The
which featured two discs—one with vocals
and the other all instrumental—showcased
the two sides of Victor’s compositional mind,
while the double CD Live in America
gave audiences a taste of the dynamic energy
and improvisational skills of his band. Soul
 brought us back to the roots
of Motown and introduced us to the silky
smooth vocals of Saundra Williams, the bass
chops of Anthony Wellington, and
the rockin’ hip-hop of MC Divinity,
Victor’s jazz chops a bit more than
And that brings us to 2011, the
year that the original members of
the Flecktones got back together to
release a new album, Rocket Science,
and Victor decided to launch his
own record company, Vix Records,
and re-release A Show of Hands.
Thanks to Skype (something else
not available in 1996), BP recently
sat down face-to-face with Victor
as he was just hitting the road on a
tour with the reunited Flecktones to
talk about the past 15 years, where
he’s been, and where he’s going.
As usual, Victor proved thoughtful
and reflective as he pondered
his remarkable journey since the
release of that first solo bass record.
It’s been 15 years since you released
A Show of Hands. What was your
intention with that original release?
In 1996 I was ready to make
a statement as a solo artist. I had
been playing with the Flecktones
for quite a few years and had been
kind of making a name for myself—
being asked to do clinics and things
like that. I felt it was just time to
record something. I wanted to try
making a solo bass record, which
I knew would be different. So, I
set out to record something that
pleased myself, to see if I could
make a solo bass record with no
overdubs, no other instruments,
that you could listen to for 30 or
40 minutes. When I first started
recording, I didn’t know whether
it was going to be released or not.
I was just doing it to see whether
or not I could.
In the end, once I got the record done,
I was happy. I knew that bass players were
going to love it, and I also felt that other
instrumentalists would accept it, because
most musicians know what it takes to pull
off something like that. But I also wanted
to go beyond musicians. I wanted a nonmusician
to be able to listen to this record
and enjoy it and not have to know that it
was done with just a 4-string bass.
Is that one of the reasons that groove is
featured so strongly on the album?
Absolutely. I knew a display of technique
would only go so far. I didn’t want technique
to be the showcase, although that’s
what ended up being the focus for most
bass players who heard it. That’s not what
I wanted, so I took every record after that
in the opposite direction. After A Show of
Hands, I wanted to make bass players take
a step backwards—or, more accurately, take
a step forward.
What do you mean by that?
I mean that bass players focusing on
the technical aspect of my playing started
learning all my techniques and attributing
them to me. But anyone can claim techniques—
they are available for everyone. I
didn’t hear bassists becoming more musical
with the techniques. Players were displaying
more technique, but not more feel
or groove. I didn’t want to be to blame for
that, and I didn’t want people to look at
me in only that way.
When you really listen to A Show of
Hands and take the technique away, the
groove is still there. When you listen to the
songs, they feel good. It takes technique to
pull off a song like “More Love,” but that’s
a song that anybody can groove to. It feels
good—there’s a nice melody, and you don’t
have to pay attention to the technique. As
another example, take Michael Manring.
You can close your eyes and just listen to
his music; you don’t have to look up and see
that he’s flipping tuning pegs. You can close
your eyes and dig the song. When I listen
to A Show of Hands, I hear it in that way.
Bass solo albums were rare back then.
Did you think it was a good time to release
an album like A Show of Hands?
I didn’t know if it was a good time or
not—I just knew that this was the statement
I wanted to make. I didn’t know if anyone
would put it out, either. It wasn’t a time when
a lot of people were self-releasing records.
So, my first focus was to record a project
that I would be happy with, and once that
was done to shop it around. I didn’t know
whether it was really the time for the public,
but I knew it was the time for me.
How did you shop it around?
I was able to get a cassette tape to Marcus
Miller, Anthony Jackson, and Stanley Clarke.
Fodera was making a bass for Marcus, and I
happened to be in the shop when they were
just about to send it, so I stuck a cassette in
his bass case. At the same time—and I can’t
even remember how—I got a copy to Stanley,
and from there I was able to get one
to Anthony Jackson, as well. I heard back
from all three of them. I also sent one to
Chick Corea, because he had his label Mad
Hatter. He almost put it out, but in the end
it wound up being some friends of mine who
put it out—Garry West and Alison Brown,
two musicians in Nashville who were just
starting their own record label. I’ve always
thanked them for taking a chance on a solo
A Show of Hands kicked off your venture
into full-time touring as a solo bass artist,
something you continue to do today. What
was that initial adventure like?
It was a struggle, because there was no
money in it. I knew right away that I didn’t
want to tour with just a bass. I felt that a
good, grooving drummer would make a live
concert much better. So I brought JD Blair
along, and then I brought on my good friend
Kurt Storey as a soundman. We borrowed a
friend’s van one tour and operated on a low
budget. I think we might have made $25 or
something like that the first gig.
What was that like?
We drove from Nashville all the way
up to North Hampton, Massachusetts to a
club called the Iron Horse, where we were
to open up for Medeski Martin & Wood.
The Flecktones had played that club a lot,
so there were a lot of Flecktones fans there,
and when we got there they had two acts
going on that night. There was a whole other
show—a jazz piano player. That show went
long, which meant Medeski Martin & Wood
was going to start late. So the club owner
was going to cancel us, and I said, “Look,
we just drove all the way from Nashville,
and you’re not going to let us play? Most
of these people are Flecktones fans, and
they’re not going to be happy.” He says,
“Okay, I’ll give you 15 minutes.” JD and
I looked at each other and said, “Well,
for 15 minutes we’re going to rock this
place. We’re just going to tear this place
to pieces.” So I think we played “You
Can’t Hold No Groove…” and “Me
and My Bass Guitar.” That was when I
was young, man, when I was hanging a
cymbal from the ceiling and jumping up
like Bruce Lee to kick it.
After that gig I remember Kurt walking
up and handing me $25. I’m thinking,
“Okay, maybe this is for us to get food,
maybe this is gas money.” When I found
out that was the pay for the gig, man was
I upset. I was partially upset at myself for
not knowing what was going on, businesswise.
I was just happy to play a gig, but I
had not paid attention to any of the business,
and I realized that the manager I had
at the time had booked a gig for hardly any
money. It was a lesson I learned right away.
I remember calling him on the phone, ready
to cancel the tour, but JD said, “Look man,
I just want to play. Let’s just play.” That was
a wake-up call for me. I said, “Yeah, we’re
musicians—let’s play.” In the end, it wound
up being a great tour, and every tour after
that has gotten better.
What motivated you to re-release A
Show of Hands?
I had told myself when I released A
how of Hands in 1996 that I was going to
record another solo bass record ten years
later. But when 2006 came along, I knew
it wasn’t necessary, at least not for me. I
didn’t need to make that statement again.
There were other people making it, and I
was happy about that. So, 15 years later a
few things coincided at the same time. I was
getting tired of dealing with record labels
and started thinking of putting my music
out myself, which meant starting my own
label. I also realized, in looking at all of my
records, that A Show of Hands was still
the top seller. And so I thought, You know
what? I recorded that record on an ADAT
and I now have Pro Tools. I can re-master
this record, make it sound better, and then
maybe I can add a few tracks in the same
vein as my original recording.
JD Blair has always been a part of A Show
of Hands, mainly because we always toured
together. Re-releasing it with bonus tracks
was actually a chance for me to include
him—to have him come and add drums to a
couple of the tracks. Here was a chance for
me to re-release this record to my younger
fans, who are now used to hearing music
at a higher quality. It was also a great way
of starting my own record label without
having to sink a whole lot of money into
doing a whole new record.
What’s new on the album?
First of all, we re-mastered the whole
thing. We took it in the studio and added
more EQ, raised the volume, and made it
hit a little harder and bigger, and hopefully
better on both ends, top and bottom. We
also added three new tracks, performed
solo bass style with no overdubs, except
that the final track, “Bass Solo #2,” which is
performed with a looper. Also, we released
the album on CD, MP3, and LP.
Why an LP?
That was actually my manager Danette’s
idea. She realized that LPs are making a
resurgence. DJs are still spinning them—
LPs are huge in Japan. When it came out,
I put the vinyl and a CD on at the same
time at my house and kept switching
back and forth between them. The vinyl
sounded so much better, so I’m glad she
Since the release of A Show of Hands, a
lot has changed in terms of recording, listening,
and learning. In what ways has the
Internet and the digital revolution changed
your approach to music?
Everything comes with its good side and
its bad side. A lot of times we are reluctant to
the change, but I look at it more as growth.
The downside is that most young people
nowadays don’t expect to buy the music—
they expect to get it for free. And the people
who do buy it don’t buy entire albums; they
buy songs. But the upside is I have fans in
India, Morocco, and in faraway places that
I’ve never been. So you have to weigh these
factors, too. And I think the fact that I have
these fans all around the world that I can
reach, and talk to, and make happy, outweighs
the fact that maybe I’m not selling
as many records. But who knows—maybe
I’m selling more records because of the fact
that people around the world know about
me. But the cool thing about the Internet
is that now, at the touch of a button, I can
be in touch with the world.
You’re all over YouTube, as are hordes
of young players playing your tunes with
For the most part, I’m happy to see
that, because it’s like these younger players
are starting at a higher level. What I’m
not hearing most of the time, however, is
the feeling. For example, I hear people
who have learned “Amazing Grace” or
“You Can’t Hold No Groove…,” but what
they’ve focused on is the technical aspect.
It’s almost like they are playing it more
perfect technique-wise, but the song is not
in the technique. The song is in the title—
groove. That seems to be the part that is
missing from a lot of these young technical
players. But I’m an optimist, and I know
that it’s coming. The feeling, the groove,
is a part of maturity, whereas technique is
not. A kid can learn technique in a day,
but feel and groove, a lot to times, comes
How has the face of bass changed in the
last 15 years?
It’s become more recognizable to the
general public. Nowadays the bass is out
front. More and more, as Stanley Clarke
would say, the instrument has been liberated.
We have bandleaders that are bass
players, leading tours. There are bass players
all around the world doing solo concerts,
there are more albums out there by
bass players, and people are starting to
know bass players by name. Who doesn’t
know Marcus Miller’s name? Who doesn’t
know Stanley Clarke’s name? Everybody
knows Flea, and everybody knows Les
Claypool. It’s like a different day and age.
I think that people are starting to recognize
the bass as a comprehensive instrument
like the piano or the guitar, and I
think that’s a good thing.
Where do you think you’ll be in 15 years?
I think I’ll be doing more teaching,
focusing more on the camps and things
like that. Maybe I’ll be managing my
kids’ band and careers [laughs]. I’d love
to be in a place where I could be retired
if I wanted to be, but I love touring so
much that I hope that I can continue to
tour, just not as much. I plan on having
a few more books out, maybe doing more
movie scores and things like that. I really
like helping out other people. I feel like
I’ve already had a great musical career, so
if something happened and I didn’t get to
play again, I think I’d still be happy with
what I’ve been able to do and accomplish.
Of course, there’s more I want to do, but I
think that even if I couldn’t play anymore,
I could still help other people, and I’d be
perfectly happy with that.
What advice do you have for future
generations of bass players?
Groove! You don’t hear James Brown
sing and think about his technique or
his theory knowledge. It’s only wellstudied
musicians who pay attention to
that. The general public doesn’t. So what
do they care about? What makes a million
people want to listen to you? Is it your
technique? Is it your theory knowledge?
No. If you want to appeal to the masses,
you’ve got to touch them in their hearts—
you’ve got to make their heads bop and
their feet move. You gotta leave them feeling
something. You have to touch them
on the inside.
Basses Fodera Yin-Yang Deluxe, Fodera Monarch, Compito
Fretless 5, Fodera NYC 5
Strings Fodera Victor Wooten Signature Nickel
Rig Hartke LH1000 head, Hartke Hydrive HX410 and HX115
Effects Boss GT-6B, Rodenburg Distorition/Clean Boost Pedals,
Source Audio Soundblox Multiwave Bass Distortion
Solo A Show of Hands [Compass, 1996];
What Did He Say? [Compass, 1997]; Yin-
Yang [Compass, 1999]; Soul Circus [Vanguard,
2005]; Palmystery [Heads Up,
2008]; A Show of Hands—15 [Vix Records,
2011]. With Bass Extremes [Cookbook,
1998]. With SMV Thunder [Heads Up,
2008]. With Béla Fleck & the Flectones
[on Warner Bros., except where noted]
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones ;
Flight of the Cosmic Hippo ; UFO
Tofu ; Three Flew Over the Cuckoo’s
Nest ; Live Art ; Left of
Cool ; Outbound [Columbia, 2000];
Live at the Quick [Columbia, 2002]; Little
Worlds [Columbia, 2003]; The Hidden
Land [Sony, 2006]; Jingle All the Way,
[Rounder, 2008]; Rocket Science [eOne