Back in middle school, I would often spend the night at my friend’s house, and he and his older brother shared their own little upstairs nook with two bedrooms and a bathroom.
His brother was a bassist in a high school punk band, and his room looked the part: purple shag carpet, blacklight Frank Zappa posters, framed weed leafs, and so on.
In the bathroom was a D’Addario poster with a rendering of a badass lookin’ dude with a bejeweled peace sign bowler hat pickin’ a bass, and at the top was a quote: “It’s no secret, it’s the strings.” This person I would see on this poster for years growing up was legendary bassist Victor Wooten.
Fast-forward some twenty years later, and I would get the opportunity to chat with the man in the iconic-to-me poster.
Recognized by Rolling Stone as one of the Top 10 Bassists of All Time, Victor Wooten has captivated audiences for over four decades with his string-slapping sorcery and unparalleled technical chops. His eclectic repertoire includes collaborations with the likes of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (of which he is a founding member), Chick Corea, Dave Matthews Band, Keb’ Mo’, and more recently, Cory Wong among many others. The multidisciplinary artist has also authored two books, and has mentored thousands of students at his own Center for Music and Nature since 2000.
Today, he and his four older brothers — The Wooten Brothers — have reassembled as a unit for the first time in many years, embarking on an extensive tour, bringing their larger-than-life funk and soul driven sound to the masses. More than that, they are set to release a full-length album, Sweat, in early 2024. It will be the first album by the brothers since the 1980s.
The highly anticipated reunion tour commenced on September 28th in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the group debuted the titular single from their forthcoming studio album. They also put together a highly entertaining and comical music video which sees the brothers doing various exercises and sporting activities with instruments in hand, working hard and breakin’ a ‘sweat.’
The Wooten Brothers’ lineup features Victor alongside Joseph (keyboards/vocals), Roy aka “Futureman” (percussion/vocals) and Regi (guitars/vocals), all who have their own shining accolades and musical accomplishments. The fifth brother, Rudy Wooten, passed away in 2010.
Victor talked to us about what it’s like touring with his brothers again, a bad record deal in the 80s, rediscovering long lost cassette tapes from the 70s of he and his brothers, the new album, and much more in our latest interview.
So how does it feel to be back on the road with your brothers again?
It’s amazing, it’s really amazing. We haven’t done a tour like this since our brother Rudy passed in 2010.
How has the tour been so far?
It’s been so good. Right now we’re traveling with The Rebirth Brass Band, like a New Orleans horn band. And oh man, they’re so good. And we usually end the night together. They come back out with us, and there’s like eight or ten of them and four of us, so it’s a party at the end of the night.
Regarding the new album, I saw a quote where you stated, “In the mid 80s, we released an album for Arista Records under the name The Wootens; but that record sounded more like the producer than it did us. For the first time since then, we are releasing an album that is totally us brothers.” Can you divulge what you mean by that?
The thing we did back in the 80s was for Arista Records, with a big time producer named Kashif. And Kashif was producing Whitney Houston’s first record, at least a couple of the songs, and he also produced some early Kenny G records, which actually Roy and Joseph were on, as well as Whitney’s first album.
But the producer had a big name, and he did create a cool sound for R&B back then, but that sound wasn’t our sound. I’m barely on the record, it was all keyboard-based, and there were a bunch of other musicians. It wasn’t all us. So the record was his sound, but now, we’re doing exactly what we want to do.
What made now the right time to reconvene to pursue this album? Did one of you bring the idea to the rest of the brothers or was it kind of always on the back burner?
It’s always been on the back burner, but we always knew we wanted to do it. I don’t really know what made the timeline align for all of us. It probably started with the pandemic where everybody had time. We started thinking about it then, that we needed to do something because you know, we’re all getting older. We’ve devoted our time – happily – to other bands: Joseph with The Steve Miller Band, Roy and myself with Béla Fleck, but with the pandemic, we had a break from all of it.
Can you discuss why you chose the title Sweat, and how that coincides with the theme or motif of the collection of songs?
Well it started with a song that Joseph had written, or that he had started called “Sweat.” And it’s just a great funky song which felt like the brothers. The song is about hard work, perseverance, dedication, and that doesn’t just relate to athletes or musicians, but all walks of life. From the person working at McDonald’s, to the person picking up garbage, to the teacher, we all put in a lot of work. And we wanted to celebrate that through the song. Something that relates to everybody.
“Playing with my brothers feels the closest to what we were born to do.”
How does the songwriting process work between you and your brothers?
I think Joseph probably brings the most songs to the table, but everybody contributes. And sometimes, since we’re at my studio, when everybody leaves, I can keep working on some things and try some ideas. I’ll make a recording and send it to everybody to make sure everybody’s okay with it. Then Roy might say, “Hey I need something different with the drums,” so he’ll come back over. But it’s definitely a collective. We’ve always worked that way as brothers.
Do you have any special guest musicians on the album or is it strictly you guys?
It’ll strictly be us guys, but you’ll also hear our brother Rudy who played saxophone. But another thing we did, was over the pandemic we found some old music that we’d forgotten about. It was sparked by a guy who contacted me and told me that he had been to our house when we lived in Virginia in the 70s.
He was sent by a guy named Don Kirshner, who had a great television show in the 70s called Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. It was a rock television show that came on once a week and would spotlight different bands. He had heard about us five boys and sent some people to our house to scout us out. And this guy told me that he still had the cassette tape of the demo that my mom gave him.
That’s a priceless artifact if I’ve ever heard.
Priceless. Because we had forgotten all about it. That led to us digging through some storage. First we got the cassette, and we were like “Wow, I forgot all about this.” We found more than we remembered, and found greatly recorded stuff with Rudy on it, and all original music. So we will be putting out new music and old music.
When you’re on stage playing music with your brothers, locked into a groove and on the same plane, how would you describe that feeling?
Comfortable. I mean this is the way I grew up. I’m the youngest, so pretty much since birth they had me jammin’ with them. My earliest memory is being two, and living in Hawaii and jamming with them in the front yard, and Regi showing me things. But yeah it’s just comfortable. Playing with my brothers feels the closest to what we were born to do.
How did you all become so musically inclined? Was it something your parents instilled in you?
Our parents instilled how to be a good person, how to be a good human, and how to excel and succeed in whatever you put yourself into. They didn’t quite care what we did, they cared more about who we were as people. And they knew whatever we chose to do would be done from the right standpoint with the right purpose. It just so happened that my older brothers chose music. So once they chose it, our parents 100%, 1000% supported us.
Do you and your brothers have any pre-show rituals or things you do before taking the stage, or is it just business as usual?
No, it’s just what we do. There is no ritual, it’s just how we live our lives that we’re always ready to do it. For us, how we live our lives is how we play music. We work together, we listen to each other. Everybody has their role in life, no one does what I do, and it’s the same on stage. We travel together, we stay in touch off the road- we just get to be a family on stage in front of people. So for us it’s not really that different than life.
Ahead of a tour like this, do you meticulously map out each set list for each city? Do you alter set lists on the fly ever?
In many cases we’ll tailor the show to the audience. In other words, if we have a plan and the audience is saying ”no,” then we’ll change it. But in this instance so far, we’ve come up with an order, like a story to tell, that makes sense. And we’ve altered it a little bit, but we’ve come up with an order that seems to be working really well to tell our story that works up to the current song, “Sweat.” And for the first time we have a lighting director, and the next tour coming up we’ll have a guy doing video images and things like that. So it won’t be as easy for us to make changes in the spur of the moment like we normally would.
What are one or two pivotal moments for you as an artist?
It was the bad record deal in the 80s that caused us five brothers to not be playing together exclusively, so that was a pivotal point. But then, that caused me to have to learn how to play with other people. Most of us or all of us got a job at an amusement park playing music at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. On and off, we did that a little bit.
So I learned how to play with other people, my reading got really good, I eventually met my wife there, and that’s how I learned about Béla Fleck- so good things came out of it. And I think we all became better musicians. There’s a whole lot of pivotal points, and probably some we don’t even know happened.
11/01 – Saint Louis, MO – Delmar Hall
11/02 – Nashville, TN – Riverside Revival
11/03 – Germantown, TN – GPAC
11/04 – Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue
11/06 – Ann Arbor, MI – The Ark
11/07 – Cincinnati, OH – Hamilton Memorial Hall
11/08 – Madison, WI – Majestic Theatre
11/09 – Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line
11/10 – Evanston, IL – SPACE
11/11 – Elgin, IL – ECC Arts Center
01/11 – Denver, CO – Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
01/12 – Salt Lake City, UT – The State Room
01/13 – Hamilton, MT – Bitterroot Performing Arts Council
01/14 – Bozeman, MT – The Elm
01/16 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile
01/17 – Portland, OR – Revolution Hall
01/18 – Eugene, OR – The John G. Shedd Institute For The Arts
01/19 – Chico, CA – The Big Room at Sierra Nevada Brewery
01/20 – Berkeley, CA – The UC Theatre
01/21 – Santa Cruz, CA – Rio Theatre
01/23 – Solana Beach, CA – Belly Up Tavern
01/25 – West Hollywood, CA – Troubadour
^With Special Guests Rebirth Brass Band
Featured photo by Annie Gibson