SALT LAKE CITY — At age 5, bassist Victor Wooten was about to score a major record deal.
He’d been performing with his four brothers along the West Coast as the opening act for soul singer Curtis Mayfield in the late ‘60s, and the Wooten Brothers were getting significant attention from audiences and producers — until the attention from the latter came to an abrupt halt.
Wooten learned the reason for this much later in life.
“I never knew why until my mom said one day that someone had canned it because they said there was only room for one group of five brothers in California,” Wooten told the Deseret News.
Unfortunately for the Wootens, that five-brother act happened to be the Jackson 5.
“We were so young that (it) didn’t affect us too much,” he said. “We just kept playing, kept doing our gigs.”
Steadfast in his belief that music is a language, Wooten has regularly communicated with his bass since childhood, and the five-time Grammy winner, now 53, brings the Victor Wooten Trio to Salt Lake City’s the State Room Monday, Jan. 22.
Being born into a family band, the only private lessons Wooten ever really had on bass was from his then-10-year-old brother Regi. Such a natural, uninhibited beginning prevented Wooten from being constrained by common perceptions of the bass as a supporting instrument, as he would pluck out the melodies his brothers played and create his own solos.
“It was like learning to talk,” he said. “You didn’t study privately, but you learned from everyone. … To me, that’s the best thing, the same way you learn to talk by talking to a lot of different people. … That has been my whole musical life, playing a lot. Playing more than I practice.”
Wooten’s natural approach to music further developed after reading “The Tracker,” by survivalist Tom Brown Jr. Impressed with Brown’s philosophies regarding nature, the bass player tracked the author down and took lessons from him for nearly a decade.
“I took classes just on how to live off the land — basically all the skills that our ancestors had to know for us to still be here,” Wooten said. “And I liked the way it was taught, and in my mind, I thought music should be taught this way — a more natural approach rather than the approach of ‘Lock yourself in a room and practice all day and you become natural.’ You know, you don’t learn a language in a room by yourself all day, and to me, music is a language.”
This inspired Wooten to launch his music and nature camps in 2000, where musicians come together to learn from each other and develop skills away from the distractions of daily life. Eventually, to expand his camps, Wooten ended up purchasing nearly 150 acres just outside of Nashville — he calls it Wooten Woods — where he now resides.
But for all the pioneering Wooten has done in the realm of bass music, he admits he has his critics.
“You can’t be popular at something and not have skeptics,” he said. “But I treat them the same way I treat any of it: Whether someone gives a compliment or a criticism it’s just their opinion — and I listen to all of it. To help know how I’m reaching people, I learn from both sides of it. But I don’t let either side of it affect me too much, and that takes practice, takes awareness of who I am. But there’s total skeptics and that just comes with it. That’s part of life.”
He might have his skeptics, but Wooten’s playing to a sold-out crowd at the State Room next week. Wooten was in Utah just last year, performing at Red Butte Garden alongside Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Chick Corea Elektric Band. But this time, he’s joined forces with drummer Dennis Chambers and saxophonist Bob Franceschini to perform music from the trio’s jazz album “Trypnotyx,” released last year.
“Be prepared to smile, laugh, think, question, and hopefully grow as people,” Wooten said of his Salt Lake audience. “Music is one thing that helps us all agree on something. … People come to a concert to listen to whatever it is we want to do …and I like to make the most of that moment. So I want people not only enjoying us … but knowing more about themselves and being better people once they leave.”
If you go …
What: Victor Wooten Trio
When: Monday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m.
Where: The State Room, 638 S. State Street
How much: The concert is sold out, but the State Room has partnered with Lyte, a fan-to-fan ticket exchange that offers the chance to purchase official tickets when made available.