Charlie Wooton: Southern Fried Funk

Royal Southern Brotherhood may get lots of attention for its blue-chip frontmen—Cyril Neville (Neville Brothers, Meters) and Devon Allman (Gregg’s son)—but the Brotherhood’s backline is also of regal caliber.
By Jimmy Leslie ,

Royal Southern Brotherhood may get lots of attention for its blue-chip frontmen—Cyril Neville (Neville Brothers, Meters) and Devon Allman (Gregg’s son)—but the Brotherhood’s backline is also of regal caliber. Explosive drummer Yonrico Scott (Derek Trucks Band) and 5-string badass Charlie Wooton provide groovy groundwork for the globetrotting ensemble, which is currently supporting its super-solid sophomore release. Wooton sinks his teeth fathoms-deep into RSB’s fusion of greasy New Orleans funk and guitar-heavy Southern rock, two seemingly disparate styles that Wooton and RSB combine seamlessly into a satisfying signature sound.

Is there a common denominator that underlies Southern rock and NOLA funk?

Both styles are full of choice riff-based grooves. The bass and guitar often play unison lines, or sometimes the bass just hints at the riff. It’s interesting to pay close attention when George Porter Jr. chooses to follow or not follow the guitar on the Meters’ “Look-Ka Py Py,” “Love Slip Up on Ya,” and “Cissy Strut,” which is a Cm7 arpeggio flowing from the top down. The main “Fire on the Bayou” riff is simply the first three notes of a 3:2 son clave rhythm, and the unison riff in the middle is purely pentatonic. I love the way the Neville Brothers played that song over the years, as well. [New Orleans bassists] Nick Daniels and Tony Hall were most influential on me; I really dig Tony’s playing on “Junk Man” from the Neville Brothers’ Live on Planet Earth. The Allman Brothers Band’s “One Way Out” and “Whipping Post” have iconic Southern rock riffs, but don’t overlook the signature riffs on “Stand Back,” “Trouble No More,” “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,’ “You Don’t Love Me,” and “Black Hearted Women.” Good examples of RSB’s riff-based grooves are “Here It Is” and “Callous” from HeartSoulBlood, and “Fired Up!” and “Moonlight Over the Mississippi” from the first disc.

What’s the main difference you notice when approaching the two styles?

The main difference is the backbeat’s placement, and that comes from the drums. Jaco Pastorius played drums, too, and like he said, it’s all about the two and four. A good drummer versed in New Orleans style can put a backbeat way behind the beat, and incorporate a lot of syncopation. An Allman Brothers style backbeat is more dead center, or even in front at times; it’s very straightahead. Having grown up in Lafayette, I had to adjust when I moved to Atlanta and played with Southern rock drummers. Twenty years later when I moved back to Louisiana, I had to readjust.

Can you get a bit more inside the groove and explain the adjustment?

Even though it stems from the drummer, it’s just as important for bass players to understand how to deal with playing a backbeat placed so far behind without dragging. The key is that only the backbeat stays behind. The kick drum on beats one and three should line up dead-center in the groove. If you place the kick and the snare behind the beat, then you’re dragging. “Let’s Ride” from HeartBloodSoul is a solid example of how Yonrico and I create a behind backbeat without dragging, as compared to, say, “Rock and Roll,” which has a more forward feel.

INFO

LISTEN

Royal Southern Brotherhood, HeartSoulBlood [Ruf, 2014], Royal Southern Brotherhood [Ruf, 2012]; Solo, Charlie Wooton Project [Indpt, 2010]

EQUIP

Bass Custom 5-string (Warmoth body), Custom Delaney 5-string, vintage Ibanez Roadstar (frets ripped out)
Strings DR Strings Nickel Lo-Riders (.045–.130)
Rig Hartke LH100 head, Hartke 410XL 4x10 & 115XL 1x15 cabinets
Effects (All Mad Professor) Silver Spring Reverb, Forest Green Compression, Snow White AutoWah, Electric Blue Chorus, Blueberry Bass Overdrive