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Press, Reviews, Endorsements - Norm Stockton

Norm Stockton - Heavenly Master of Groove

BassSource: Hello Norm, it's a pleasure to have you with us!

Norm: Hello! Thanks for the invite!

BassSource: It was a pleasure hanging out with you at the 2004 Detroit Bass Fest. Can you fill us in on any news in your world since that time?

Norm: I really enjoyed meeting & hanging with you, as well.

Fall 2004 was rather hectic...but it’s certainly preferable to sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring, so I’m sincerely grateful. I was out of town steadily from September through late November with a combination of performing and/or teaching at events and clinics in Honolulu, Philadelphia, Seattle, northern California and that event in Detroit. I’m actually typing this in Alberta, Canada, where I just completed 2 days of clinics.

In addition, I just recently completed "Grooving for Heaven - The Charts", a 125-page book of transcriptions (standard notation and tablature) from the exercises and examples in all 4 volumes of the Grooving DVD’s. I’ve been working on it for the past 9 months or so...and it actually HAS been a bit like a birthing experience! (ha) I’m elated with how it turned out, and am excited that lots of people have been contacting me to say they’re finding it to be a really useful resource.

I’ve also been spending most spare moments cranking away on curriculum for an upcoming 3-level groove course at Music Dojo (www.musicdojo.com). Adam Nitti and Len Sitnick approached me several years ago about doing a few classes, but my schedule has been absolutely slammed. I’m optimistic that I’ll have the curriculum completed and the courses will be online in the coming year! It’s a really fantastic school, and I’m honored to be involved.

BassSource: How did you get your start into the world of music?  Did you come from a musical family?

Norm: My older brother and sister were amazing musicians as young kids (acoustic guitar and piano, respectively). They were virtuoso, child-prodigy types - I used to listen to them and be flabbergasted! I’m not sure if I was intimidated or just lazy, but I really never got seriously involved with music as a child. My parents forced me into piano lessons briefly, but I was infinitely more interested in my G.I. Joe’s! :^)

It wasn’t until I was 14 and listening to the Beatles (they were my favorite group at the time, which was a bit unusual for a teenager in the early 80's!). I’m STILL a big fan. Anyway, I ended up removing a couple of strings from an acoustic guitar that was laying around the house, and began learning Paul McCartney’s bass line from a tune called, "I Should Have Known Better". That was it. Within a couple of weeks, I’d bought a cheap bass, and have been playing ever since.

BassSource: Let's talk basses. The tone on your debut release "Pondering the Sushi" is incredible, and from what I have heard, a very accurate replication of your live tone as well. Can you tell us more on your MTD 535 and 735 basses? What other basses you use either live, or in the studio?

Norm: Thanks for the kinds words. I could not possibly be more enthusiastic about MTD (Michael Tobias Design) basses; they’re simply stellar. My blue MTD 535 has been my main bass since 1997, and I continue to be amazed with the playability, tone and craftsmanship. It has a wenge neck and fingerboard, tulipwood body and myrtle burl top. There’s an 18-volt custom Bartolini system onboard that does a tremendous job of getting the natural tone of the instrument out of the jack. The 735 (MTD 7-string) has woods identical to my blue 535, excepting a flame maple top.

I have another couple of MTD’s (a 24-fret 535, as well as a fretless 535), but the blue 535 is what I play 95% of the time. For session work requiring other voices, I do have a few different basses, including ‘73 and ‘65 P basses, a 1963 Hofner 500/1 Beatle Bass and a fretless acoustic bass guitar.

BassSource: You've recently switched to Gallien Krueger amps. I was very impressed with the tone out of the current GK line you used in Detroit. How is that deal going for you? How did the switch come about?

Norm: Thanks; YES, I’m really happy to be working with G-K. To make a long story shorter, I ended up having to depart from my previous amp endorsement...and was really bummed out about potentially having to settle for substandard tone from a different amp manufacturer, in an effort to simply make the practical logistics feasible. Then at the last summer NAMM show in Nashville, I was encouraged to drop by the G-K booth and try out their new Neo (neodymium) cabinets. To be totally candid, I was shocked and incredibly surprised to hear the tone coming out of that G-K rig; for my tastes, it’s the best gear they’ve ever produced. I’m now an enthusiastic endorser, and my rig consists of a 1001-RB head, and any combination of Neo 112, 212 or 115 cabinets (depending upon the size of the venue). Some of your readers may be thinking "12's????". That’s what I thought, too, as I’ve always used 10's. But these cabinets sound like no other 12's I’ve ever played. Big punch, clarity, tightness, beefiness and headroom.

BassSource: Groove seems to be one of the main focuses of your playing. How did you develop your ear to recognize what hits in different settings?

Norm: Thank you - as a bassist, I consider that the highest compliment! :^) I came around to a groove-oriented approach by taking the long route! Let me explain.

Shortly after I started playing bass, somebody played me a tune by a popular progressive rock group that featured an incredibly cool, riff-oriented bass part. That began an 8-year period in my playing where I lived and breathed progressive rock - and more specifically, that riff-oriented, busy style of bass playing. What I didn’t discover until years later...is that that approach is only really effective IF the arrangements are based around that sort of playing. However, in most "normal" ensemble situations, that approach will tend to get you fired...because in a typical rhythm section, it’s simply too busy, and doesn’t provide as much of the foundation that the rest of the band is seeking.

Don’t get me wrong - that progressive rock band still has a special place in my musical heart. But it occurred to me many years later that the reason that the vast majority of us are invited to the gig or recording session...is to provide a rock solid foundation for the vocalists and/or other instrumentalists. All of the flashy runs are simply icing on the cake, but the groove...the pocket that occurs when a drummer and bassist are simply laying it down with rhythmic solidity, effective parts, good phrasing and feel...is DEFINITELY what makes the phone ring.

Nowadays, it is my primary musical objective anytime I’m playing. I throw in embellishments as appropriate for the musical context, but HOPEFULLY never at the expense of the foundation!

To answer your question (sorry for the tangent - is it apparent that I have a passion for talking about groove? ha), I don’t think there’s any substitute for listening to and emulating the masters. Listening analytically, picking apart and seeing what works and why, then tweaking it and individualizing it...I think that’s how most effective groove players developed their vocabulary.

BassSource: One interesting thing about your basses is the use of the slap ramp. Can you explain to us what exactly this is, and how it helps your performance?

Norm: When I’m slapping, my fingers have a tendency to get stuck under the strings if there’s too much room between the string and the top of the bass. I guess I have bony fingers! :^) So I’ve had all of my basses that I use for slapping fitted with a thin piece of wood (wenge) to reduce that distance. John DiMaggio, owner of "Bass Alone" in San Diego (www.bassalone.com) built all of my slap ramps, and does a really great job.

BassSource: In Detroit, you had 2 single effect pedals. What were they, and do you occasionally use more, or different effects?

Norm: They were EBS Octabass and BassIQ pedals. On the Pondering CD, I also used a Mutron and a Line 6 Delay Modeler. I’ll typically use the pedals when playing tunes from Pondering, but actually don’t use effects in most other situations. I prefer getting different timbres by varying my technique instead. Hands tend to be more reliable...plus there are no batteries to go dead, and I don’t have pedals making my baggage overweight!

BassSource: Are you still teaching private lessons? If so, what is the general focus of your teaching

My schedule has gotten to the point lately that I’ve had to take a break from all of my ancillary commitments (like private lessons, as well as an adjunct faculty position at a university in Los Angeles) until I get a few big projects off my plate. But the general focus of my teaching is equip the student to do this one task: if presented with a chord progression and any given drum groove, be able to come up with 15-20 different bass lines that function well with that groove, each of which would be appropriate depending upon the context/style. Being able to do that one thing, with good time and feel (assuming decent gear, transportation, and that you’re not a complete jerk! ha), will make you a very in-demand player. It’s a matter of developing a basic understanding and vocabulary, both rhythmically and harmonically.

BassSource: Tell us about your "Grooving for Heaven" instructional DVD series. What can players of different levels and influences take away from this?

Norm: I’ve been overwhelmed with the response to the Grooving series. About five years ago, while performing and doing clinics in churches around the U.S. and Canada with a company called Maranatha Music, I discovered that the bassists I was encountering shared many common characteristics. The vast majority were self-taught players who had a decent ability to play by ear and functional technique...but most had the same holes in their musical "bags", so to speak. I decided to put together a resource that would help fill in some of those holes in the average self-taught bassist, and that ended up being about 3 hours of material. Although it was intended for the church bassists I was meeting at the Maranatha clinics, response to the series was incredibly positive from both secular and worship musicians. It seems that most self-taught bassists have the same musical gaps.

Last year, The Art of Groove and Pondering Bass Technique DVD’s (the 3rd and 4th volumes of the series) were released, and the feedback has been amazing. The Art of Groove is about 2 hours of working with a live drummer, and REALLY digs in to the bass/drum interaction. Pondering Bass Technique is in response to numerous requests for a DVD exploring the various techniques I used on my Pondering the Sushi CD.

I’m gratified that players of every level and a really diverse spectrum of influences have gone out of their way to contact me and express how much they’ve benefitted from the Grooving DVD’s.

BassSource: Generally speaking, do you have a favored way on how you approach composing your music?

Norm: I generally like to come up with the basic melody and feel just by singing it in my head. That tends to keep my writing from being constrained by any physical limitations or default fingering patterns I might have on the bass. I’ll record myself just humming the tune into a little handheld cassette recorder, then eventually will pick up my bass and start working out the harmony and grooves.

BassSource: At what point did you decide that music was going to be your profession?

Norm: I had such a passion for music that I was doing it nearly full-time for many years even while I still had a day gig...since probably the early ‘90's. Candidly, I wasn’t sure that I was ever going to make it my sole vocation, though, because I have a wife, family, mortgage, etc. I definitely felt more comfortable having the safety net of a "normal" career.

However, about 5 years ago, I honestly sensed in a really clear way that God was leading me to take the step. My wife and family were totally supportive, and we moved to Orange County, CA. All I can say is that we’re doing incredibly well. The very fact that I’m able to support a family of 4 on a musician’s salary in one of the most expensive areas of the country is nothing short of miraculous. I’m hugely grateful, every single day.

BassSource: To this point, what would you cite as the biggest highlight of your career?

Norm: Man...it would be really difficult to narrow it down to a single thing. Back in May of 2000, I recorded my solo version of The Star Spangled Banner late one evening in a 31st-floor hotel room while overlooking Manhattan...that remains a very special memory for me. It has also been incredibly cool to have had the opportunity to work with and become friends with some of the musicians who were (and still are) heroes of mine...like Michael Manring, Brian Bromberg, Abraham Laboriel, etc.

I recently played the very first live band gig of tunes from Pondering the Sushi...at an event called the BassQuake NAMM Summit 2005 in Anaheim, California. I performed with my quartet, and the feedback I’ve been receiving is that people really dug it. I had an absolute blast. I’m hoping for other opportunities to perform with the band.

But I honestly feel like the entire thing is a highlight. To be able to make a living doing what I love, helping develop the musicianship of players from practically every region of the globe, having an incredibly supportive and appreciative fan base (I hate that term, but you know what I mean) that allows me complete freedom in my own musical expression...it’s a huge blessing.

BassSource: Any immediate plans of a followup to "Pondering the Sushi"?

Norm: I’m hoping to start working on it later this year! I’ve got a couple of other projects to complete first, but am definitely excited about writing and arranging some new tunes.

BassSource: Norm, it has been a pleasure to chat with you! Thanks again for spending a few chatting with us. Please feel free to use this space to thank those who help you along.

Norm: Thanks! If any of your readers are interested, they’re invited to sign-in the guestbook at www.normstockton.com. That is the list we use to send out invitations to those in the region of an upcoming clinic or performance, as well as announcements and discounts for newly-released DVD’s/CD’s/etc.

Hope to meet some of you at an event this coming year! God bless you...

Norm's Link:
Interview by Tim Cole for BassSource.com
Copyright 2005 BassSource.com  Do not reprint or repost in part or whole without expressed written consent.

As both bassist & clinician (MTD Basses, Gallien-Krueger, Maranatha! Music), Norm Stockton travels extensively throughout North America and Europe. He also serves as the bass columnist for Christian Musician magazine.

Profiled in Bass Player magazine (12/95), he is a bassist/composer/educator with extensive experience in a wide array of musical settings. His recording and/or performance credits include jazz guitarist Steve Laury (solo artist, Fattburger), keyboardist Rob Mullins (solo artist, The Crusaders), bassist Dominique Di Piazza (John McLaughlin Trio, Front Page), keyboardist Scott Wilkie (Narada Jazz recording artist), guitarist Lincoln Brewster (worship & solo artist, Vertical Records and Steve Perry), Fernando Ortega (worship & solo artist, Word Records), bluesman Darrell Mansfield, heavy rock group Luna Halo (Sparrow recording artists), and singer/songwriter Bill Batstone (Harvest Crusade Praise Band, Franklin Graham Crusades, formerly with The Praise Band).

Norm's acclaimed bass instructional video series, Grooving for Heaven, has been distributed extensively in the United States and abroad.

His recent solo debut, Pondering the Sushi, continues to garner positive feedback from print and on-line media including Bass Player, Jazziz, the Roland User's Group, UCLA's Daily Bruin, Bass Frontiers, Christian Musician, Bassically.net, GlobalBass.com, and SmoothChristianJazz.com.

Norm's composition, "The Race" (opening track from Pondering the Sushi) was selected for Bass Talk 7, the recent compilation from Germany’s Hot Wire Music. Released in March of 2002, the playlist includes tracks from such notables as Jeff Berlin, Tom Kennedy (with Dave Weckl), Kai Eckhardt and Marcus Miller.

As a bass educator, Norm has served as adjunct faculty at both Concordia University and Hope International University. He is presently adjunct faculty at Biola University in Los Angeles, California.

Norm lives in Orange County, CA, with his wife and daughters.


BassSource.com - February 2005
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