The Victor Wooten Trio

Q&A: Legendary Bassist Victor Wooten

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Bassist extraordinaire and founding member of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Victor Wooten is set to play the Regency Ballroom this coming Friday, Jan. 12. The five-time Grammy award-winning bass player and producer is touring in support of his newly released, TRYPNOTYX, which is his 10th solo album and first in five years.

Produced by Wooten, the album features legendary drummer Dennis Chambers (Parlament Funkadelic, Santana, Steely Dan) and veteran saxophonist Bob Franceschini, who are on tour with him playing as a trio. Named “one of the Top 10 Bassists of All Time” by Rolling Stone magazine, he has been voted “Bassist of the Year” three times by Bass Player magazine reader’s poll, and in Feb. 2017 Huffington Post named him one of “50 Iconic Black Trailblazers.”

In anticipation of his San Francisco show, Wooten took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Music in SF™ about what inspired him to pick up the bass, what he thinks of the current state of the music industry, and what artists he’d stll like to collaborate with.

When did you first pick up the bass?

I’m the youngest of five brothers and was taught by my oldest brother, Regi, when I was around two years old. They were already playing music and needed a bassist. That became my role as soon as I was born.

How has that helped shape the musician and person you are today?

Every child looks up to their older siblings. In my case, I was lucky to have four older brothers. They have shaped every part of my life. Regi taught Joseph to play keyboards and me to play bass, but all of my brothers have taught me much more than that. The life lessons from them and our parents were the most important.

Victor Wooten
Victor Wooten

How do you think the music industry has changed since back in the days?

Good or bad, every generation brings new changes. How we learn music, how we access music, and in many cases, how we think about music has changed. All of these changes affect the music industry.

As a child born in the ’60s, we didn’t have access to our heroes like we do today. We would often have to wait years for a new record to be released or even longer to see them perform live. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, every release and every concert was a huge event. For my family, listening to a new record was a group event. We would read every word on the album cover. To learn a new song, we would have to listen to the vinyl or cassette, or we would have to wait (sometimes all day) for the song to be played on the radio.

With the invention of Cassettes, CDs, and now MP3s, accessing music has become easier and easier while the audible quality of the music has diminished. So, in a way, every advancement comes with a cost.

Currently, because of technology, the internet, and social media, we have more access to songs, musicians, our audience, and each other. Recording and releasing a record is much easier, and we can promote it ourselves around the world with very little costs. We can even make our own money doing this. Good or bad, this has helped level the playing field. It has also made record companies have to be more honest. Because of this, many record labels no longer exist.

Change is inevitable, but it seems that changes are being made faster than ever. How we use them is the key.

You’ve come out with a new solo album, can you tell us a little about it?

The new record, TRYPNOTYX, is a special record in many ways. I’m really happy to have recorded it with two of my musical heroes: Dennis Chambers on drums and Bob Franceschini on sax. I treated this record as a band record instead of a solo. Including all of their ideas have made it better than if I’d done it alone. We also used some new technology that has allowed us to make our instruments produce different sounds. This is really fun and cool to witness at our live shows. This record will cause you to listen, imagine, and think. And it’ll definitely make you groove.

We’ve also included a few special guests who’ve added their voices to the record, but not in ways you would expect. Michael Winslow, who became popular using his voice to make sound effects in movies like Police Academy, Space Balls, and others, starts and ends the record. He also takes a James Brown type role on the song “Funky D.” Also on the record is a woman from India who I found on the Internet. Her name is Varijashree Venugopal. She’s a unique vocalist who can sing in unison with anything I play. On the song “Liz & Opie,” she sings melodies but also sings along with a crazy bass solo I played. She’s amazing! The Internet is also amazing because we did her parts remotely on different sides of the earth. I haven’t even met her in person yet.

How do you feel that your sound and style has evolved over the years?

Like looking back at childhood pictures of myself, I can tell that I’ve grown. Hopefully, I’m better.

What’s one act or artist that you’d like to collaborate with that you haven’t already?

I’ve been very lucky to have collaborated with many of my heroes, but there are still some I look forward to making music with. I still hope to work with drummer Billy Cobham one day.

How did you first meet Bela Fleck? How did you guys come to be in a band together?

In 1987, I visited a friend in Nashville, TN who introduced me to Bela. Bela and I jammed (just the two of us) for an hour at his house. Soon after, he asked me to perform with him on a television show. Bela, assembled Howard Levy, my brother “Future Man,” and me for that show. We expected it to be a one-time performance. It went so well that we’re still performing together 30 years later.

You’re playing San Francisco on January 12, what do you like most about playing this city?

San Francisco has always been a city that has supported my musical adventures starting with The Flecktones. There’s a history of great musicians and great music in that city and the public continues to support. I love that. It’s always much fun every time we come back.

Through your career, you’ve gotten the chance to play with some big names like Stanley Clarke and Boosty Collins. Any valuable lessons you learned from playing with those cats?

Yes! First of all, after meeting and working with them, they continue to be my heroes. Of course, they make wonderful music, but in most cases, they are also wonderful people. It’s also good to get to know them and realize that they are humans who, work hard, struggle, and sometimes make mistakes. How they deal with them is what makes them so special.

What is one thing that most people would be surprised to find out about you?

There are many: One thing is that I’d love to take a few years off from playing music and lead people on nature hikes and camping trips. That would be awesome!

The Victor Wooten Trio featuring Dennis Chambers & Bob Franceschini plays the Regency Ballroom Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 // 8:00 PM – Doors 7:00 PM // $30.00 – $35.00

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An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for and, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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