Restlessly creative bassist Charlie Wooton keeps rows of candles burning. Along with former Neville Brothers drummer “Mean” Willie Green, Wooton lays the groove down for the New Orleans Suspects. He leads the free-ranging Charlie Wooton Project and funk-and zydeco-based Zydefunk. He’s a co-founder of ZabaDuo and Zabadodat, both of which feature Atlanta-based Brazilian percussionist Rafael Pereira. And in the past year, Wooton served as producer for three artists at Dockside Studio in Maurice.
A Lafayette native living in New Orleans since 2010, Wooton first worked with the New Orleans Suspects in late 2015. Originally a substitute for the ailing Reggie Scanlan, he’s become an official Suspect.
The New Orleans Suspects will play album-release shows at the Maple Leaf Bar on October 14 and 15. Later in October, Wooton will perform with ZabaDuo and Lafayette slide guitar master Sonny Landreth at the Live Magic! Festival in Japan.
The bassist’s fruitful 2016 followed his departure from the Cyril Neville–led rock-and-soul band Royal Southern Brotherhood. After four years with Royal Southern Brotherhood, Wooton knew it was time to move on. He’d never aspired to be more than a hired gun, he said.
“Because I have a hard time doing one thing,” said Wooton. “I don’t blame them for asking me to leave. But I’m grateful for the opportunities the Brotherhood brought me. I got to play with a Neville brother. Some of my best musical experiences were on stage with Cyril.”
Unlike his contract player status with Royal Southern Brotherhood, Wooton is a full member of the New Orleans Suspects. But no matter what the gig, making the music—whatever the circumstances—is his mission.
“Regardless of what my position in the band is, I’m going to groove as hard as I can,” he said.
Wooton’s transition from the Brotherhood to the Suspects began the day before Thanksgiving 2015. While Royal Southern Brotherhood was on a break, he posted a Facebook message announcing his availability for December gigs. Suspects guitarist Jake Eckert responded. Because health issues had sidelined Scanlan, the Suspects needed a substitute for their upcoming bookings.
Wooton followed a weekend gig with the Suspects in December. A trip to Australia followed in January. In the ensuing few months, he subbed with the Suspects as much as possible.
“We had a calendar full of dates,” Eckert said. “Bass players were stepping up to the plate for us, but we didn’t want to take a bass player from another New Orleans band. Charlie was going through his transition (from Royal Southern Brotherhood) and, musically speaking, he fit right in.”
Eckert and Wooton already shared some history together. In 2010, the Suspects’ guitarist gave Wooton his first gig in New Orleans after the bassist move to the city from Atlanta. Five years later, Wooton was the first of the six bass players to sub with the Suspects during Scanlan’s absence.
Scanlan returned to the Suspects in the spring to play the band’s Jazz Fest–season dates. After that, Scanlan bowed out and Wooton moved in.
“Charlie added something that didn’t exist in the Suspects before,” Eckert said. “He’s more of a funk bass player. Taking nothing away from Reggie. It’s apples and oranges. But we heard the other five bass players and then, when Charlie was available again, it was clear that he was the best fit. So Charlie is the bass player now and he’s sounding great. I’m excited about this chapter.”
“Reggie’s a New Orleans hero,” Wooton said. “He gave me his blessing. That made it easier to step in. These guys in the Suspects, on top of being in a band with them, are my friends. When I look at the New Orleans Suspects, there’s nothing but great players. I’m honored to be standing with them. It’s easy to go on the road with them. It’s easy to make music with them. It’s fun, something I’d gotten away from for a little while.”
Wooton isn’t featured on the Suspects’ latest album, Kaleidoscoped. Scanlan, despite being frail following cancer treatment, returned to the studio to finish the album early this year. That means Wooton’s newest recording is the self-titled ZabaDuo, his album with Pereira. A native of São Paulo, Pereira also plays percussion with Janelle Monáe.
“It’s something very close to me,” Wooton said of ZabaDuo. “The right guy playing pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) can make all kinds of sounds. Rafael knows how to play it.”
Wooton met Pereira during his 13 years in Atlanta. Living in the Georgia capital following seven years in Los Angeles, he worked with various groups, including the samba band Tropicus 22. But all the while, Louisiana kept calling him home.
“I was making a living in Atlanta, but I wasn’t making a career,” he said. “The 20 years I was out of Louisiana, I had these nagging questions in the back of my head: What are you doing? Where are you at? When I got back to Louisiana, that feeling went away. I found my way home.”