By Jimmy Rae / skopemag.com
Joseph Wooten is a man of many talents juggling between being a keyboardist, writer, arranger, producer, educator and motivational speaker. Wooten is a 3-time Grammy Nominated artist, longtime keyboardist for The Steve Miller Band and also has played with his siblings The Wooten Brothers who are 5 Time Grammy Award Winners. He may have Hands of Soul but also seems to have a Voice of Reason for Today inspiring others through music while also providing personal & insightful speeches to middle school, high school and college students across the nation. Mr. Joseph Wooten is a Beacon of Light & Hope for this world spreading his wealth of knowledge, love and music to anyone who will just stop and listen. He sees it simply as “music to the rescue”.
J Rae: I see that you come from a very big and musical family with four other brothers who are all musicians as well. That must have been one loud house! ? But what was the personal feeling for you growing up in this large household? Any special or fond memories of your childhood you’d care to share with the Skope readers?
Joseph Wooten: Our house was a loud house! We were a close family, so the feelings were typical to any happy family, I would imagine. We could share music, so that added an extra layer. Fond memories: There were lots of them! I can remember the five of us kids sitting on the floor in semi-circle listening to my mother give us pearls of wisdom to live by. I also remember opening for War in 1970 and Victor signing autographs, having just learned to write his name.
J Rae: I have to think that family is a very important part of your life and so how much of this aspect plays into your own music that you create? Are your upbringing and family roots/values key components into the whole music-making process?
Joseph Wooten: Unequivocally, family is a very important part of my life. All of my life plays into my music and family is a huge part of my life. My brothers inspire me in so many ways, musically, with their character, with their ability and willingness to push the envelope. I think the biggest part of my family is humility and a willingness to help others. That is what my mother and father instilled in us, and that may be the Wooten common denominator, humility, positivity, and a willingness and eagerness to make the world better.
As my mother would often say, “What good is it to be good at something if it doesn’t make the world better?”
J Rae: I have to say that your latest project titled ‘The Campaign of Love’ along with a video for “Soul of Freedom,” offer a powerful message and perfect timing with a world that desperately needs plenty of love and soul cleansing. What was the inspiration behind the new songs and what do you hope listeners will take from the new tunes?
Joseph Wooten: The song, “Soul of Freedom”, was written in an attempt to inspire and uplift. The theme of the song is Freedom, the “soul” of freedom, spreading around the world in a peaceful way with peaceful spiritual revolution and music, “on an eagle’s wings, on these guitar strings”. It is about personal responsibility too. “Every man and woman, every boy and girl…When we change ourselves, then we change the world.”
J Rae: Please tell us more about your experience with The Wooten Brothers and what’s the best part about playing with your siblings?
Joseph Wooten: The answer is in the question, ha ha. The best part is playing with my siblings! The main experience is just the joy of being with family…with the bonus of making music! We inspired each other and still do. We did not compete and still don’t. It helps that we are five brothers on 5 different instruments instead of all playing the same instrument. All five of my brothers are very inspiring. Watching them get better on their respective instruments inspires you to practice. No one wanted to be the kid holding the band back.
J Rae: I read that you’re part of a group called Freedom Sings, and so would you mind delving more into the concept and meaning behind this project telling US what Freedom Sings is ALL about?
Joseph Wooten: “Freedom Sings” is a multi-media show that uses an Emmy winning moderator, Ken Paulson, and world class musicians to help teach Americans, especially young Americans, about the beauty, power, and value of the First Amendment. It mostly uses music that has either been censored, banned, or helps to tell the story of the five freedoms guaranteed by this Amendment, freedoms of the speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition. I am proud to be born on the 170th birthday of this Amendment and the Bill of Rights.
J Rae: You’ve been the keyboardist for The Steve Miller Band since 1993 and would love to know exactly how that came about? What has the experience been like playing/touring with such a premier rock and roll band? Do you and The Steve Miller Band have more years ahead of touring/playing together that we can look forward to as fans?
Joseph Wooten: In 1993 I was doing a recording session in Nashville for a songwriter named Chris McCarty. I did not know that he was a co-writer on the Steve Miller Band hit, “Swingtown” at the time. Chris told me about the opening in the band and gave me Steve’s mailing address. I sent an audition cassette tape and got the gig.
J Rae: Along with your brothers, Victor, Roy & Regi and The Steve Miller Band, you’ve also had the pleasure to perform and record with many other talented artists. Would you care to tell the Skope Universe some of your most memorable encounters and why? Also, any funny, wild and/or emotional stories working with these artists that nobody else knows yet, so in other words you’d be spilling the beans right here for the first time exclusively on Skope!
Joseph Wooten: I sang on Whitney Houston’s first album on a song called, “Thinking About You”. Whitney was a new young artist on Arista. She was very nice and VERY talented. We knew that we were seeing something special.
We saw James Brown when we were kids and learned a ton about excitement and high energy. We opened for Curtis Mayfield a couple of times in ’72 and learned about how to play softly with intensity. James Brown and Curtis Mayfield gave us a nice dichotomy of approaches.
I did a couple of recording sessions with George Clinton and he was a brilliant manager of chaos!
Chaka Khan was SO nice and easy to work with. Ronnie Isley was the most soulful voice I have every played behind.
Kenny G is a better sax player than he gets credit for. (Listen to those old Jeff Lorber records!) When the WB’s were recording our album “The Wootens” we shared a duplex with Kenny. He has an incredible practice and work ethic!
The Wooten Brothers used to open for Stephanie Mills back in the 80s and Peabo Bryson’s “Feel The Fire” was part of our set. Stephanie told me that I had a good voice, and a few years later she did the same song as a duet with Teddy Pendergrass. I enjoy thinking that I had some to do with that song choice by two vocal legends.
J Rae: I see that besides being a skilled keyboard player, you also play accordion. This is such a unique instrument and doesn’t get enough credit in my opinion just like the bagpipes. What sparked your interest in picking up this instrument? Do you happen to play any other instruments or have any hidden talents we may not be aware of?
Joseph Wooten: I learned to play the accordion so that I could join the Italian Show at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia back in the early 80s. It is such a crude, unique, self air-powered instrument. The tone is unmistakable! It is a keyboard, so I love them all!
I play a little bit of drums and a little bass. I have one “thump” on bass that will make you THINK I can play, ha ha.
J Rae: Do you plan on doing any extensive touring to help promote your latest album ‘The Campaign of Love’ and where can readers/listeners find your music online?
Joseph Wooten: ‘The Campaign of Love’ is a compilation of music, not just my music…many artists. As far as extensive touring, I extensively tour with The Steve Miller Band, so it does not give me much of a chance to extensively tour otherwise. You can find my music mainly on CD Baby and iTunes.
J Rae: Something really stood out about you that I admire and that is that you go around to different schools talking about character development, self-esteem, self-respect and personal growth using your own life experiences as examples. What a noble thing to do but wondering how this all started and what are some of these personal “life experiences” you would cover and touch on? Any particular students you’d care to talk about that have had a huge impact on you and left a lasting impression?
Joseph Wooten: I love to talk to young people. One of the life experiences that I always touch on is about my brothers and I concentrating mainly on being talented, thinking that our talent would be enough. I remind them to be equally as smart as you are talented, especially business smart. We were more than talented enough but got taken advantage of in a business sense.
I remind them what my mother used to say, “We have enough good musicians. We need more good people.” I speak about the value of character and how it is more important than talent. Being on time, listening, looking the part, being dependable, etc…none of them require talent but they all are necessary for your talent to get a chance with others.
One particular student used to sell some weed on the side to support her sibling, cousins, grandma, etc. She has since gotten her degree in nursing. It always makes you feel good when you see a student you have talked to and he/she tells you that your talk helped them.
More gratifying than any award anyone could give you.
J Rae: Lastly, with the recent tragedy in Florida and all of the senseless school shootings that have happened over time, what do you think the best plan is to stop this horrible violence from happening again? Is this a topic of discussion when you’re speaking with students and if so what points are being discussed and are any solid solutions brought up that can be used and incorporated in schools right now?
Joseph Wooten: THAT is a huge question. The answer is multi layered. In my opinion, guns are too easy to get. Once you get them, it makes killing easier. We need guns for defense too, so it would seem to me that we should do ALL we can to make sure that anyone who gets a gun has a thorough, deep background check. That is the main thing. Do all we can to make sure that one who can get a gun legally is not dangerous.
Of course, metal detectors, single entry points into a school, security, all of that. We should do all we can to make sure that the kids do not fall through the cracks with mental illness too.
More than all of that we need to change the way we relate to each other. We need to do what we can to stop people from wanting to kill others. Some will say, “people will always kill…even if it’s just a knife or a rock”. But you cannot kill 17 in a few minutes with a knife or a rock. So, we do have to do something with guns. SOMETHING. Guns both protect us and make killing easier. SO, we gotta come together first, and then do what we can to be responsible with these tools that make killing easier.
We also need to know that when the 2nd Amendment was written, certain states were slave holding states, very concerned with controlling the uprisings and defections of their “property”, the slaves. Many places were outnumbered by slaves so the “militia” was absolutely necessary to keep the slave uprisings down and to keep them from escaping. George Mason, Patrick Henry, James Madison and others were NOT going to sign on without the 2nd Amendment being ratified in the Amendments to the Constitution.
The controlling of slaves via the militia were essential, as they saw it, to the sovereignty of the states from the federal government.
Fortunately, our Country has grown and we don’t have the slave issue anymore. So, we do need to evaluate our 2nd Amendment and see how it applies to today’s society. “A well-regulated militia” in the same sentence with “shall not be infringed upon” needs a mature discussion so that our ability to have weapons is not to our detriment.
The country is like a patient who is heavily bleeding. FIRST you stop the bleeding, then you get to why the patient is bleeding, because if you bleed too much, eventually, the “why” won’t matter.
I do not talk with kids about gun control or the 2nd Amendment, but I do talk to them about speaking their mind.
As I see it…music to the rescue!