Ok, I’ve been outed.
But Knuck wasn’t always available for our every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night shows at different O’Charley’s. (Hey, it’s just like Shoney’s with a bar.) For months at a time, the Knucklehead would take off on various cruise ships to play show tunes and chase nubile young dancers and the occasional vacationing divorcee.
So we would have to find fill-in bass players to anchor the rhythm section. It got so bad that we proposed a bumper sticker that would have said “Honk if You’ve Played Bass for Conscious Pilot.” Of course these were the days before http://www.cafepress.com, so we would have actually had to produce a bunch of them. Another bad idea mercifully dead on the vine.
One particular Thursday night, we were slated to entertain the young frat holes from Western Kentucky at the O’Charley’s in Bowling Green. As of Wednesday night, we were still bass-less. Then our drummer had an idea. “I guess I could always ask Victor Wooten to play.”
That would be THE Vic Wooten, of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. World renowned as one of the top bass players on the planet. The guy who tied with Flea as Bass Player Magazine’s best bass player ever. I should mention that Vic was dating our drummer at the time.
No, he’s not gay. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Our drummer was a cute, perky, pneumatic aerobics instructor who was also a great drummer. And she had a van, which is always good for a band. And she had Vic Wooten’s phone number. So I said, “Yeah, I guess he’ll do.”
The other guitar player, the DogDoc, and I had met Vic a few times and were in awe of him. If you ever get a chance to spend time with Victor, you’ll quickly discover that he is one of the most grounded, humble, down to earth people you’ll ever meet. Like all of the Wootens, he is practically without sin. No drugs or alcohol has ever passed his lips. He has no ego, no attitude and is among the most talented musicians alive. Which is to say he had absolutely no reason playing with me and the DogDoc.
But play, he did. He and the drummer arrived just a few minutes before we were due to begin. While he helped her load in and set up, we were busy writing up the set list on a cocktail napkin. Keeping in mind that he had played Carnegie Hall and Letterman the week before, we searched our repertoire of cover tunes for a suitable opening song to introduce him to the wonderful world of Conscious Pilot. Yup, Alan Jackson’s “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” should do nicely.
Vic was a wonderful sport and actually seemed to enjoy playing with these two rubes in front of an audience of beer swilling college students who had no idea who he was. In retrospect, it might have had something to do with the fact that he was banging the other half of the rhythm section. Eventually, one enlightened artsy Western student figured out that the fellow playing the polyrhythmic, ultra-funky bottom end to Margaritaville was indeed the Grammy-winning master of the basso profundo. He walked up to the DogDoc in between songs and said in a loud whisper, “Dude, do you know that’s Victor Wooten?” He went to the pay phone and called all the musicians that he knew and then plopped himself on the floor directly in front of Vic’s mike stand. By the end of the set, there were about ten guys with scraggy hair all dressed in black staring adoringly up at Victor while sitting cross-legged on the carpet. Again, Vic was a great sport.
In between the first two sets, we traditionally ordered our free meal. If done properly, this could almost double the value of our pay. “I’m in kind of a hurry. Could I have two raw prime ribs to go?” While DogDoc and I split two baskets of hot wings and waited for our BCC sans (bacon, cheddar chicken in O’Charley’s short hand), Vic perused the menu looking for something vegetarian or at least slightly healthy. I think he had a lettuce wedge.
With hot wing sauce still dripping from our fingers, we grabbed one of the guitars to show Vic a new song we were going to attempt during the next set. Neither DogDoc or I ever played a song like the record, because we couldn’t. But we thought we could at least show Victor the structure as best we had figured it out.
Me: So Vic, we’re gonna try something new for the first time next set.
DogDoc: It’s a song called “Little Miss Can’t be Wrong.” It’s pretty straight forward but it’s got some weird stops in it.
Me: I think it’s in A on the record, but we play it in G because it’s easier that way.
DogDoc: The bass line kinda walks like this.
Vic: Oh yeah, that’s by the Spin Doctors, right?
Me: That’s right, they’re a pretty rockin’ new band out of Seattle.
Vic: Yeah, they opened for us on our last tour. I helped Mark White write that bass part.
DogDoc: Oh, so you know it then…
But as stupid as he could have made us feel, Vic always treated us with the respect we didn’t deserve. We played many more gigs with him and that’s something that I’ll always be proud of.
However, he never sat in a Brentwood O’Charley’s bar at 2:30 after everyone else had gone home knocking down shots of Rumpleminze and tipping $35 to the cute bartender, even though we’d only earned $50. The reason we saved the last $15 was because our bass player at the time knew that $15 was just enough to cover the entry fee and one lap dance at Deja Vu, “and those late shift strippers try harder.” And I’ll take that kind of bass player over virtuosity any day!
That would be the Knucklehead.