Interview by Scott Preston
Most people don’t think a professional keyboard player was once a kid randomly tapping keys with an index finger. The assumption is worse if the player is from a musician family. Like legacy politicians they must only be part of the family machine. Their accomplishments can be discounted. They’ve gotten all the breaks.
Don’t worry about Ohio born Joseph Wooten, aka Hands of Soul. He once sat practicing scales. After nearly three decades as keyboardist / vocalist in Steve Miller’s touring band and contributor to brother Victor’s celebrated funk freak-out The Victor Wooten Band, years as Band-leader to famed producer and Arista artist Kashif, Joseph Wooten has his own thing.
Joseph Wooten and his band serve the two main functions any listener expects from great music: stimulation and amazement. One quick listen to “Mouth to Mouth” from his 2003 album Hands of Soul style, and your feet will involuntarily keep the beat. His showmanship wows concert-goers as his fingers slide from a Nord to a Yamaha to the Theremin during solos and immerse you right into smooth vocals.
Joseph’s writing and flexible playing will be on display Friday, February 12th at the Beachland Tavern. He’ll certainly bring the funk. But he’ll also show the Bill Evans style of “Heidi’s Waltz” and his vocal skills on the touring musician’s credo “When No One Noticed Me”, which could make sense as an outtake from Billy Joel’s The Stranger. The song is Joel’s “Everybody Has a Dream” narrated by the guy who has made it around the world numerous times(touring with Steve Miller Band, The Victor Wooten Band, and others), been nominated for multiple Grammy (co-writer 1984 Best Rhythm and Blues Instrumental Performance ; 2000 Contemporary Jazz Performance, co-writer on Victor Wooten’s Grammy nominated Yin Yang), can hang with chops heavy musicians like drummer and Steely Dan alum Dennis Chambers then comfortably transition into a session pro (keys on Whitney Houston’s “Thinking About You”).
Cincy Groove: What was it like growing up in a such a musical family?
Joseph Wooten: It really was a lot of fun. We all grew up very similar to the Jackson 5. It’s just exciting to have everyone in the family doing the same thing and it being successful at the same time. If you ever have had a good night on the stage, you get that warm feeling of accomplishment, achievement, fulfillment. Then add in the fact you are doing it all with your family it makes it all that more special.
Cincy Groove: I’m sure it was early on, but when did music become a serious thing for you?
Joseph Wooten: When I was 10 and Victor was 7 we opened for Curtis Mayfield in Sacramento, CA. We were really serious about music early on, in elementary school. We were very lucky and fortunate, we always had a place to practice, which is sometimes really hard for young musicians. Music also kept us out of trouble, and we tried to keep trouble away from us. People would recognize the fact we were musicians and leave us alone. Music is really unlike anything else, you have a chance to get a point across by bypassing the stage of discussion and pondering. With music you know right away whether you felt something or not, in that way it is a valuable teaching tool.
Cincy Groove: Who were some of your influences early on in your career?
Joseph Wooten: One of my biggest musical influences is Sly and The Family Stone. Sly was the first guy for me at such a young age who made the music look so cool up on stage. I remember saying after seeing him perform, “That’s what I want to do”. James Brown was another big influence. We had a chance to see James perform a couple times when we were younger. Back when Bootsy was still playing bass for him. We saw James in 1972 at the Memorial Auditorium. My mother even recognized the importance of the concert. She took Victor and I out of school and found out what hotel the band was staying in. When we knocked on their door and it opened, Bobby Byrd was there, Pee Wee Ellis (trumpet), and a few other members. They took the time to talk to us and sign autographs, which really meant a lot to Victor and I. A lot of my inspiration was non-musical also. Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Pele. I was influenced by the way they carried themselves and by their actions.
Cincy Groove: Do you have any of your own music that you plan on releasing or are you doing work with Victor or Steve Miller?
Joseph Wooten: Working with Steve is really nice because its consistent, we work every year. That gig has really taken care of me, it will be 17 years in a couple months. The downside is that it doesn’t give you much time to record and tour with your own music. So I’m able to do some shows here and there when I’m not on the road with Steve or Victor. I’m hoping to record another record of my own music sometime this year. I’m lucky to have a gig that takes care of me, so I don’t really have much to complain about.
I remember when I got the Steve Miller gig, he called me on the phone after listening to my audition tapes. He said this is a gig you could have for the next 10 years if you want it. I’m glad he thinks in the long term. I’m also influenced by the way Steve takes care of himself. He does his vocal warm ups on a treadmill. The man is 66 and looks great. He can hold a note on stage longer tha any of us. I want to be able to play for many more years, because I feel I still have a lot to say.
Cincy Groove: You have performed with so many great musicians, who are some of your favorites?
Joseph Wooten: Early on I was able to do some background vocals on Whitney Houston’s debut album. I was in the studio when she sang the vocals for “You Give Good Love”, which was amazing. The first album Victor and I put out had the same producer that Whitney had on her debut, R&B artist/producer Kashif. I was also able to see Kenny G work in the studio, his work ethic was incredible. He would practice all day long. Working with my brother has been wonderful. I was able to watch Victor leave Virginia, with a couple bucks in his pocket, a bass and some clothes. Now he is on the top and still has been able to retain his integrity and humility.
Cincy Groove: What do you think about how the internet has changed the business model of the music industry?
Joseph Wooten: Everyone is re-adjusting. When I started playing people were still spinning records. I remember back when people were saying how the cassette tape was going to ruin the record industry. Same argument about the cd. In my opinion the record industry shot themselves in the foot. Artists now are forced to find creative ways to get their music to their fans. The good thing is that the internet gives the band just starting out a somewhat better chance of being heard. It has leveled the playing field. Because people will get the music they want one way or another.
Jan 18 2010 w/Victor Wooten Band @ Catalina Jazz Club Hollywood, California
Jan 19 2010 w/Victor Wooten Band @ Catalina Jazz Club Hollywood, California
Jan 20 2010 w/Victor Wooten Band @ Catalina Jazz Club Hollywood, California
Jan 22 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Fox Theater ~ Norton Buffalo Tribute Oakland, California
Jan 23 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Fox Theater ~ Norton Buffalo Tribute Oakland, California
Feb 6 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Pre Superbowl Party (Private) Fort Lauderdale
Feb 12 2010 Joseph Wooten @ Beachland Ballroom Cleveland, Ohio Buy Tickets
Feb 20 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Honda Center (private) Anaheim, California
Feb 22 2010 Joseph Wooten @ Buffalo School System Buffalo, New York
Feb 23 2010 Joseph Wooten in Buffalo School System Buffalo, New York
Feb 24 2010 Joseph Wooten in Buffalo School System Buffalo, New York
Feb 25 2010 Joseph Wooten in Buffalo School System Buffalo, New York
Feb 26 2010 Joseph Wooten in Buffalo School System Buffalo, New York
Mar 2 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Ryman Auditorium ~ Crossroads with Kenny Chesney (tv) Nashville, Tennessee
May 26 2010 w/Buffalo Select Chorus @ Babeland Buffalo, New York
May 30 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Riverfest Little Rock, Arkansas
Jun 2 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Cumberland Civic Center Portland, Maine
Jun 4 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Credit Union Place Summerside, Prince Edward
Jun 5 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Halifax Metro Center Halifax, Nova Scotia
Jun 7 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Pepsi Center Cornor Brook, Newfoundland
Jun 8 2010 w/Steve Miller Band @ Mile One Center St. Johns, Newfoundland