Monday, September 10, 2012

Reggie's Ukulele Moment

One of the most exciting and fun times of my musical career was touring with Victor Wooten.
For those of you who are unfamiliar Victor Wooten is a revolutionary musician. He is a bassist who has literally changed the face of music. He is an innovator. He is a 5 time Grammy award winner. And he just so happens to be a friend.

My band, The Ugli Stick has had the honor of performing with Victor at his Bass/Nature Camps many times and we have been fortunate enough to have him jam with us at our NAMM shows in Anaheim, CA multiple times. (Here are some clips: , )

Although it still feels very strange for me to say, I can now say Victor is a friend of mine. (As a matter of fact he has agreed to an interview, which I will soon be posting here for you all to read).

But when Victor hit the road in 2010 he asked us to open the south east shows. This was a huge honor for us of course.

Victor's band was incredible. It consisted of : Derico Watson on Drums, Steve Weingart on keys, Reggie Wooten on Guitar and of course Victor on bass.

Watching them perform was like going to the circus and church all at once.
They play with fire and brimstone intensity but with childlike uplifting creativity. They jam in complex time signatures and odd progressions, but they do so in such an accessible way. It is so much fun to see a bunch of people dancing and smiling to a tune that is in 4 keys and has bars of 5 amid 7/4 time.

The band made complex stuff cotton candy simple. And they were having a great time doing it.

It was complex music without the slide rule. They were partying.

Anyway, getting to be a prat of all that was exciting to me. I was grinning from the beginning of the shows til the end.

But the one show in particular I wanna tell you about was at the HandleBar in Greenville, South Carolina.

We played our show to a very responsive crowd. I was beaming as I went out to meet and sell CDs. I danced and smiled along with all the rest of the audience as Victor and the boys took us all on a musical adventure.

When they finished their "last song" and walked off stage the crowd erupted. There was no doubt that the crowd wanted more. After a few moments, Victor and the band came back on stage. Of course the crowd went wild.

Victor got on the mic and called us back on stage.

Then both bands proceeded to jam together for a few minutes. The entire crowd was moving to the music. Then Victor looked at me and kinda nodded towards the mic. I had been so caught up listening and dancing I hadn't even thought about getting close to a mic. I was an audience member. I just happened to have been invited on stage.

But when Victor asks.....well he won't have to ask twice. I was walking to the microphone and time seemed to stand still. I can still see the packed out club. I will always feel the intense groove being produced partially by my band and partially by a group of my heroes. It was very surreal.

I sang a little , I rapped a little then I turned it back over to the remarkable instrumentalists. But that was the most comfortable I've ever been while singing/rapping. The groove those guys were laying down was monstrous and the crowd was so into it too. It was a ton of fun.

After I did my few minutes, Dale sang some then we went into Sly & The Family Stone's "I wanna thank you for letting be myself again". That was probably the most fun I've had during a song. Everybody in the building was smiling.

We finished and the crowd again went wild.

At this point Dale and I adjourned to our dressing room. We were still in there smiling and laughing and letting the moment soak in.

For some reason we had brought Dale's Ukulele into the dressing room earlier, so we picked up the Uke and passed it back and forth (I think we still had some happy excited energy from that amazing encore we had just been a part of).

As we were laughing and playing songs on the Ukulele we heard a knock at the door. It was Reggie Wooten.

He said , "Can I come in?". We said of course. He told us he LOVES playing the Uke and as a matter of fact Ukulele was the first instrument they had. He played ukelele before learning guitar.

It was so cool to be hanging with one of our heroes and have him obviously feeling the same excitement as we were. He was beaming and didn't wanna stop playing for the night either.

Of course we handed him the ukulele and asked him to play. He was playing and singing and laughing. We were having a great time.

After a while there was another knock on the door. This time it was the tour manager. He said, "Reggie! Where have you been, man? They are waiting on you! Come On!"

Apparently there was a second encore about to commence but they were waiting on Reggie. We had accidentally confiscated his attention with our Uke.

Reggie just looked up and said, "Just a minute".

I'll never forget that moment. There was a thronging crowd awaiting an encore, there were 3/4 of a world class all star band on stage about to play and yet this musical master wanted to finish his Ukulele song before entertaining the idea of returning to the stage.

To see the look on his face and the enthusiasm with which he was playing that Uke, the tour manager had to concede.

Reggie finished his song (Which was "Mary, Mary" by the Monkees)...THEN he agreed to go play the final encore.

It was a beautiful moment to me. He wasn't by any means being a diva. Or saying "I will return to the stage when I'm good and ready". He was excited by the encore we had all played together and he was genuinely playing that Ukulele with excitement he had when he was a small child. He had been transported back to that time when he was first getting his hands around this magical stuff called music....and the power of that moment lit up his face. I could see it, Dale could see it and the tour manager could see it. That was more important than rushing back to the stage. He needed that extra minute and thirty seconds. And I did too.

Dale and I went back to side stage and watched Reggie join the band and then we watched them bring the house down one final time for the evening. They bowed. The crowd gave them a huge ovation. And the show was over.

But after seeing Reggie's Ukulele moment back stage I've been more aware of those magical musical moments. Reggie had been transported back to his childhood for a few moments and it made him as happy as I have ever seen a person. When he went back out on stage to perform some severely non-childlike music , this happiness brought the music an innocent simplicity.

It is from this that I noticed the entire band was playing with this attitude. That was how they made deeply mathematical music seem light and fun. They were all playing with the fearlessness and happiness of children.

Seeing my heroes approach complex music this way altered how I have approached music ever since. When I am fortunate enough to bump into moments, I cherish them. I love being transported back to the time I was just learning to play or just learning to sing or write. It fills my current writing and performing with so much passion and fire.

Of course technique and study are very very integral to making great music. However after seeing the excitement with which Reggie played that Ukulele spill over onto his jazz fusion playing I am more convinced than ever that all the technique in the world will not rival finding your own  "Reggie's Ukulele Moment".

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