Yesterday after work (yes I worked on 4th of July) I went to Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park for a few hours to hang out with some friends before going to the rooftop of the Google building to watch the fireworks. Afterwords, my girlfriend and I had to stop off at an ATM and get some food before we went downtown. We ended up hitting up an ATM on 53rd st. and Broadway, right across from the Ed Sullivan Theatre where David Letterman films his shows. As I exited the vestibule I saw a short black guy with dreadlocks walking northbound. I immediately know that this guy looked familiar but I began to scan my brain for where I know him from. “THAT’S HIM!” I thought, “That’s Victor Wooten!”
“Victor?” I ask innocently.
The man turns to me and says “Yeah, how’s it going.”
I couldn’t believe it. There he was. My boyhood idol, in the flesh. Now, I’m not an advocate of approaching celebrities on the streets of New York City. New Yorkers pride themselves on not being easily star struck and typically grant them anonymity by letting them go about their business without calling out to them or asking them for autographs. I have seen several movie stars and athletes around town and never once have approached them or drawn any attention to them whatsoever. However, for Mr. Victor Wooten, I just couldn’t help myself!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Victor Wooten is arguably the most phenomenal electric bass player of all time. His technical abilities on the bass are unparalleled and his solos are always exciting. Victor has done a lot to change the common perception that the bass players are reserved for supporting roles only and are not capable of commanding an audience’s attention by their solos or personalities. Not since Jaco Pastorius has an electric bass player done more to spread the popularity of the instrument. If you haven’t seen him in action, check out this video for further explanation of what I’m talking about:
Check this one out as well:
We walked and talked for about half a block. Our conversation was a bit rushed as it seemed as if he was on his way to some 4th of July celebration I didn’t know about, but he wasn’t at all dismissive or rude. I asked him if he was playing anywhere in the city and he let me know that he had just recorded a new record with “Bela Fleck and the Flecktones” and that he would be playing a promo show at the Apple Store on 5th avenue this week followed by a U.S. tour. I told him that I loved his playing and that he had always been an enourmous influence on me. He thanked me and I told him it was nice to meet him and let him go on his merry way.
What I didn’t get to tell him, and what I have been regretting ever since, was that I was a bass player myself and that when I started playing at 12 years old, I was given a VHS cassette tape entitled “Victor Wooten: Super Solo Bass technique.” I probably watched that tape about 50 times from the age of 12 to 15. I loved that video and while I never really perfected his “down, up, pluck” thumb technique nor did I ever really master the art of “two hand tapping”, I learned more from that video than any bass lesson ever taught me. Though I have never had the balls to claim that my style of playing is similar to Victor’s, I know that he has always been a major influence on my playing.
I didn’t get to show him the tattoo of a bass clef I have on my right shoulder nor did I get to tell him about how I broke away from a group of my friends at a musical festival called Bumbershoot in 1995, so I could go see my hero play with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones while they all left to go see a local punk band called Gas Huffer at a different stage. I definitely forget to simply say thank you for all the music he has made over the years and for being such a profound influence on me and my pursuit of music. I also forgot to tell him Happy Independence day! What I really wish I had remembered to ask Victor about was about the Victor Wooten Bass/nature camp.
Much like MMW, Victor Wooten has been involved with his own nature/music camps in the woods of Tennessee. Victor’s camps now take place in his own property called “Wooten Woods” and is currently in it’s 10th consecutive year. His staff of instructors consists of Steve Bailey, Chuck Rainey, and many others. Much like Camp MMW, Victor’s Camp tuition fees are very reasonable and do not focus on turning a profit, but more for enhancing the experience of the student.
So Victor, if you are reading this, Thank You!
Thank you for being a constant source of inspiration for me as a bass player for nearly two decades. Who knows, maybe next year I will come see you in the woods of Tennessee and get the opportunity to say all these things to your face. I hope you had a happy 4th of July.