We recently had a clinic in Northern California with Norm Stockton at a place called Tone Mountain in Douglas City. It is approximately 45 miles northwest into the mountains off Hwy 299 from Redding. Needless to say, this place is off the beaten path and for that reason, it is the last place that you would expect to see a state-of-the-art studio with a sound room, one big jam room, 2 bathrooms, a back porch and fresh, mountain air surrounded by small cabins. The drive alone is a beautiful trip that leads you to a space where the mountain opens up to make room for this surprisingly advanced studio set-up.
Tone Mountain Studio in Douglas City, CA
Years ago, Jorgen Moholt, owner and creator of Tone Mountain had a vision and went through great lengths to get it done right. He even had to explain to the local county clerks that he wasn’t building a ‘living’ space (because the details of the specs were so involved and included installing 2 bathrooms) but, of course, they have never heard of such a thing up in the hills. . . A studio? They assumed that he was building a “living” space which requires a whole new set of permits. But he wasn’t. In fact, a “studio” is nothing more than a glorified “shop” so when he finally convinced them that all he was building was a “studio”, he was on his way and ended up with the coolest “shop” that any musician has ever seen. A space that was built for musicians, by a musician (Jorgen plays bass, so, that’s cool!). I mean, there might be bigger studios in the world or studios that are simply set up differently, but this guy has every detail in place that makes this one comparable to all of those. You can see it from start to finish on his website: ToneMountain.com. So, to commemorate this new, awesome place,
Jorgen’s first, featured guest was none other than bassist Norm Stockton.
Norm found his way up the mountain and produced a clinic that was so profound that even I learned a little something! Mainly because he has an easy approach when he speaks so that any amateur bassist (like myself) doesn’t feel overwhelmed by any sort terminology that he has to use in order to describe the bass and its purpose in most performances. Norm Stockton tends to “feel out” what the audience is capable of keeping up with because when he did touch on ‘theory’ for a bit, he was quick to notice that some of our eyes were beginning to glaze over because (let’s be real) the topic tends to be boring and so he quickly switches gears, plays hard, answers questions and really just let himself enjoy the atmosphere.
The one thing that I can say is that he did tend to lead any “potential bass players” into his own direction which he calls “session” work. Norm describes session work as showing up and having the music plopped in front of you. He explains that each band member is playing just the right supporting part and that the music is a great tapestry of stuff (who writes this stuff? That’s my question). He also admits that anyone could’ve played it but, in his opinion, a session player requires tons of skill and talent with a huge bass vocabulary. I agree.
“I want to encourage you as bass players to listen to a broad range of music and have a broad range of music in your vocabulary. It’ll increase your potential vocationally to have a wide array of styles”.
In my experience, bass players themselves come in a “wide array of styles” and “session” work is a pigeon hole (that pays! That’s really the point that Norm was trying to make) but it doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for creativity and some of the best bass players in the world don’t read music or worry about theory and (even the slappers) are creating the coolest rhythms and sounds that anyone has ever heard. Session work? That sounds like a compromise to most of them.
However, Norm suggests that “if the idea of playing a bass line like that sounds like a drag and a waste of time – you picked the wrong instrument”. Then he discusses the two ends of the spectrum, according to him (with reference to NAMM artists playing in booths, jamming their little hearts out all alone with no sheet music to guide them).
“On the one end there are session player chops (which consists of music being plopped in front of you) and on the other end, there are NAMM show chops. On the NAMM show side,” he admits that “there is some jaw dropping stuff that took some time to work up, some talent, some dedication and some hard work. . .wow,” and then he jokes, “I don’t know where I would ever use that. . . but wow!”
He goes on to say that “one of these two [styles] have complete applicability to most of the music that you and I will ever play and that is the session player thing.” Which, as he puts it, has a lot to do with interpreting the song and being able to help convey it. “I want to encourage you to develop your session player chops and that involves listening to a broad range of music” and that there is “value to knowing what some of those rhythms are, even in your own genre.” Well, THAT I can understand. I like it when we get on the topic of value. In this case, mixing Rock and Latin to create “something fresh” might spice up your band’s music, making it a valuable experience.
When he does discuss the slap technique, he says, “it’s not that hard to get the technique to where you can put together a steady stream of 16th notes. It’s a matter of getting the mechanics together and develop your ability to be subtle.” Subtle? Not the BassCravers that I know!
However, despite any differences in styles and approaches, getting the opinion of a successful bassist like Norm is always a gold nugget of knowledge. He is sincere in his efforts and wants only the best for us all. It was good advice. So, thank you! We had a great time. Here’s the video if you want to see more: