Being one of the most celebrated electric bass guitarists of his day just wasn’t enough for Victor Wooten. So when it came to marketing his music, he also became something of a diplomat.
The Grammy winning instrumentalist and co-founding member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones had a dream when it came to his solo career. He wanted to release two albums simultaneously – as in the very same day. But that wasn’t all. Wooten, in the spirit of true musical community, also envisioned issuing the works on different record labels.
“I like doing things that bring people together and make people work together,” said Wooten, who will headline tonight’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio. “In most cases, if you take two different companies that are in the same field that produce the same product, they usually avoid each other. They look at each other as competition. They definitely don’t work together. So, I thought, ‘Man, if I could find two companies that could release a different record the same day, it would make a statement. It would be like, ‘Look, we’re working together to support music and to support an artist.’
“And I couldn’t do it. But the idea never left me.”
Undaunted by the perhaps idealistic notion that competing record labels might operate in harmony, Wooten found another way to realize his double record dream. But the opportunity came about almost by accident.
Now an independent artist recording for his own Vix label, Wooten set his sights last year on fashioning an album that touched on the shades of funk, fusion, pop and soul that made up the bulk of his catalogue outside of the Flecktones. But he wanted to give his then-new project a distinct air by adding a rotating lineup of female vocalists. The roster would be vast, running from the noted singer and bassist Me’shell Ndegeocello to his 15 year old daughter, Kaila Wooten.
During the album’s planning stages, father Wooten prepared demo-style recordings so the invited singers could plot their vocal performance and, if they so chose, pen their own lyrics. But the bassist wound up taking a liking to these instrumental tracks as they were. That’s when the idea of issuing two albums at once was reborn. And with Wooten working as his own label CEO, who was to say no?
So last September, Vix Records issued Words and Tones, the vocal-inspired album, alongside Sword and Stone, its instrumentally inclined counterpart.
“Since I’ve become my own record label, I figured I can release whatever I want when I want how I want,” Wooten said. “I had planned on only doing one record, which was going to be a really mellow, musical record with female vocalists. It didn’t totally turn out that way, but I still focused on the vocalists.
“As I was preparing the music to send to the vocalists, I would put melodies on these songs and realized, ‘Wow. I like these songs as instrumentals.’ That’s when I rekindled the idea and said, ‘Hey, how about doing two versions?’ And that’s how it came about, by taking some of those songs and finding two different expressions for them as they came out.”
With the Flecktones on hiatus for the foreseeable future, Wooten toured extensively behind his two new albums throughout the fall. But his WoodSongs outing will be different. The bassist will essentially use his family – wife Holly and their four children – as his backing ensemble.
The concept of family bands is nothing new to Wooten. He has regularly worked with his siblings on his solo recordings. In addition, brother/percussionist Roy “Futureman” Wooten has also served as a fellow Flecktone throughout the band’s 25 year history.
One of the vocal tunes on Words and Tones, titled Heaven, offers perhaps the ultimate family reunion with contributions from over a dozen different Wootens.
“I knew what I wanted Heaven to be about,” Wooten said. “I saw it, really, as a tribute to our relatives that have passed on before us. And I wanted to find a way of making that idea feel good instead of sad. My mom always said, ‘Ain’t none of us getting out of here alive,’ which leads to the awareness of, ‘Hey, we’re all going to die at some point, so let’s deal with it now.’ It’s not important about when or how we’re going to die. It’s more about when and how we choose to live. So I wanted to do a song that kind of talked about death but made it groove, made something you could dance to.’
“The idea was to have as many of my living relatives as possible sing the song. So I was able to get cousins, aunts and, of course, my brothers, my wife and my kids. Eventually, I ended up getting my father’s voice, my mother’s voice and my (saxophonist) brother Rudy. He just passed away. I was able to get him on there, too.
“It just turned into a fun, touching song for me and for all of my relatives.”
Victor Wooten performs at 7 tonight at the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets are $15. Call (859) 252-8888 or got to www.woodsongs.com.