When it comes time to order business cards, Norm Stockton must face some tough choices. Fact is, the Southern California groove guru has such a varied skill set—as solo artist, sideman, clinician, producer, and all-around swell guy—he’d have to choose between microscopic typeface and super-sized card stock. Having recently released Tea in the Typhoon, an inspired solo release that features guest spots by John Patitucci, Michael Manring, and Etienne Mbappe, Norm basks in the beauty of having the kind of career that has him rocking eighth-notes with contemporary worship artist Lincon Brewster in one moment, and shredding beside buddies Patitucci and Manring in the next.
You’ve become best known for your work in the worship realm, yet you also play in secular settings. How do they differ?
People know me on both sides of the aisle, so to speak, and I don’t make much of a distinction between the two. From a practical perspective, there are different musical considerations in worship settings, where the focus is on something other than instrumental prowess. It requires more of a session player’s mindset. A few years ago, John Patitucci told me that whether he’s playing in a church environment or on stage with Wayne Shorter, he’s always bringing everything that he to the table, and he’s always being himself. I’ve really tried to keep that perspective.
Your solo record involves a lot of intricate melodic playing, while your work with Lincoln Brewster has more of a straightahead rock vibe. Do you find one style more rewarding than the other?
For me, making an eighth-note groove feel legit can be just as challenging as playing the more involved stuff. I love being able to do them both.
What is the bass you play for your album’s upper-register bass melodies?
It’s an MTD 735 7-string tuned BEADGCF. It’s really nice to be able to get up into that higher range, especially when writing. Live, I’m more of a 5-string guy, but the 7 works well for recording and arranging.
When playing with Lincoln, why do you prefer your MTD J5 to your 535?
The 535’s sonic footprint is a little too big. With minimal equalization, the J4 sits right where it needs to, beside layers of guitars and big vocals.
How have you developed your clinics and Grooving For Heaven instructional DVDs?
While doing workshops for contemporary worship musicians, I’ve came across a lot of self-taught intermediate players with big holes in their tool bags. So I teach all the skills I wished I had known when I started playing.
Can you give an example?
When I started out, I was more about playing licks and counter-melodies than grooves. Down the road, I’ve come to understand that it’s all about groove. If you’re in a rhythm section and groove isn’t your focus, you’re going to be bumming people out!
Why do you value the ability to read music?
I played for years without knowing how to read, and then I saw the Stu Hamm Band and the Chick Corea Elektric Band, with Patitucci and [drummer] Dave Weckl. Both experiences opened my eyes to the fact that every resource for learning that style of music requires you know how to read. Plus, it’s tougher to make a living as a musician without that skill.
HEAR HIM ON
Norm Stockton, Tea in the Typhoon [Stocktones, 2009], Grooving For Heaven instructional DVDs; Lincoln Brewster, Today Is The Day [Integrity/Columbia, 2008]
Basses MTD 535 5-string, MTD 735 7- string (tuned BEADGCF), MTD J4 and J5 prototypes, all with “slap ramps” by John DiMaggio of Bass Alone; MTD Stainless Steel roundwounds (45–135)
Rig Gallien-Krueger 1001RB head, Gallien-Krueger Neo 212, 112, and 115 cabinets, Tech 21 Sans Amp Bass Driver DI
Studio Mac Pro with Pro Tools HD-1 and API A2D mic pre, MacBook with Pro Tools LE and MBox 2 Mini