Gene Wooten: 1952 to 2001
When he was spending long hours with Flatt & Scruggs records in college, Gene Wooten thought he was teaching himself banjo. It turned out he was laying the foundations of one of the celebrated Nashville dobro careers.
“There was always a good hot (Uncle Josh Graves) dobro break that I was unconsciously learning,” Wooten said in his last interview. “It seemed like when I finally got something with a resonator in it, every time I’d go to a jam session there was already 15 banjo players. And somebody would say, ‘Get that out man; I’ve never seen one of them!’ And that would be the end of my banjo playing that night.”
Wooten, who died of lung cancer at 49 on November 6, eventually adopted dobro full-time and became a favorite of audiences and fellow bluegrass musicians for his warm tone and musical, ensemble-oriented style. He was thrice named dobro player of the year by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America, contributed to the Station Inn’s famous house band the Sidemen for over 10 years, and played on a Grammy-winning dobro anthology.
Since 1991, he was a full-time member of the Osborne Brothers, and in one of the last of his many studio sessions, he played on Patty Loveless’ recent Mountain Soul album.
Wooten grew up in Franklinton, North Carolina, and got serious about bluegrass music while attending Appalachian State University. He joined several touring bands, landing a slot with Grand Ole Opry member Wilma Lee Cooper in 1977. His first gig in Nashville was on the Opry stage.
Wooten parlayed a degree in industrial arts into a second career in Music City repairing guitars and resonator instruments, including a long spell with Shot Jackson’s Sho-Bud Guitars. He could, friends reported, fix anything.
His style evolved out of Graves’s playing and never got as much attention as the dynamic, speedy playing of Jerry Douglas or Rob Ickes. But it earned enormous respect from fellow players, who sought him out for lessons, which generally came free of charge.
“I hated a bunch of just gimmicky licks,” Wooten said. ” I wanted to play the feel of the tune and enhance whatever that mood was.”
“He was like a teacher for everyone,” said friend and mandolinist Roland White. “He was like our guru. He just helped everybody in music. When he stepped up to mike, he was on. But there was no ego ever — ever — and that’s hard to find.”