INTERVIEW WITH BRET MICHAELS BAND BASSIST NORMAN VOSS
Date: August 29, 2021
Interviewer: Christopher Carroll
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography
Following the news that Bret Michaels Band bassist, Eric Brittingham, will be staying off the road for the remainder of 2021, I caught up with the man who will be his temporary replacement, Norman Voss, to find out what it was like to step into a dream scenario like this. I’ve seen Norman play in the Washtington, DC area music scene for several decades, fronting his own band (singing, playing guitar AND playing bass, sometimes even sitting in on drums). ‘The Stormin Norman Band’ even opened up for the Bret Michaels Band twice (fun fact: the second time it was an acoustic set and I, Christopher Carroll, was actually ‘the drummer’ playing cajon… a latin percussion instrument)!
Norman is well known in the area as a true musician. When a replacement was needed, Bret Michaels Band guitarist and long-time band music director, Pete Evick (also from the Washington, DC music scene) said Norman was the obvious choice. The two have written songs and performed onstage together over the years. Instead of asking questions, I wanted to get a feel for what his experience was like so I asked Norman to just start at the beginning and walk me through the entire ordeal. Below is what he had to say.
Norman Voss: Tuesday, at 10:47, I got a call in reference to a ‘Stormin Norman’ show. The venue needed to cancel and it bummed me out a little. Then, minutes later, on Tuesday at 10:52, I got a call from Pete asking if I was available to play a show Friday. I said, ‘Sure!’ I had previously played bass on a national tour with ‘The Meatmen’ in the past. Next, he referred me to a
video of their live show and told me to learn the entire set of songs the way they were being played on the video, not the album. The reason being, they add a lot more to the songs in the live shows, extending songs and parts, stops, etc. I watched the video and wrote it all out. So the next day, Wednesday, I got another call from Pete asking me to ‘Come to the warehouse that day to practice.’ When I was about 10 minutes away, I called Pete to let him know and he said, ‘By the way… Did I tell you Bret’s gonna be here too?’ Uh… NO [laughs]!
We were setting up when Bret walked in. We were reintroduced then, while I was setting up the bass and Meri was setting up her drums. Bret picked up my acoustic guitar, walked up to the mic and started playing and singing “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” All I could think to myself was, ‘Is this a dream?’ The whole band ran through the songs with Pete directing while Bret stood back and looked on to make sure everything was played correctly. The first song we started playing was “Talk Dirty To Me” and I glance over to see Bret across the warehouse listening and doing his shuffle type dance around the warehouse. He was really getting into the music like it was his first time hearing it. I realized, the onstage dancing is not just a thing he puts on. I was like, ‘Wow, he really gets into these song and this music!’ At one point, Bret stepped up to the mic to sing “Something To Believe In” and everything seemed to be flowing pretty smoothly but, of course, I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought. Fortunately, a few minutes later, I found out. Bret walked up to me and said, ‘This is great! Norman, you sound great! You have the energy!’ Pete said ‘Norm says he won’t even go to a show if the band is just gonna stand there.’ Bret replied ‘Yeah, I’m the exact same way!’ Bret finished up with ‘Stormin’ Norman, I like you! You’re awesome!’ I can’t think of a better compliment.
Shortly after that, Pete and Bret left and I looked over at Meri, the drummer I’d known for years, and said, ‘Meri, that is the most surreal moment I’ve ever had. It’s like we’re in high school and forming a band, and the new cool singer comes in and just blows our minds!’ Later, I noticed Bret posted a photo of that night with a tag line saying ‘Garage band rockin! Still love playing music, East Coast all hours of the night.’ And it was funny because that was the same sentiment I relayed to Meri.
Anyway, I get home at 12:30am and by 7:00 am, I’m on the way to Dulles Airport to get on a plane and fly all the way across the country. From there, it’s a three hour drive to the venue, we checked into our rooms and met up for dinner — compliments of the Casino… I had dungeness crab. I woke up early the next day — show day — and looked out my window to see small rolling mountains, miles of trees and realized that, directly outside my window was where they were setting up for us to play. I could see the stage and for a while, I just watched the crews bringing equipment in and setting it up… Lights, backstage, monitors, computers, building changing rooms behind the stage and they did it so quickly with surgical precision. I was amazed. I also looked down to see a group of young guys — 20 somethings — trying to get through the gates hours before showtime. I could see that they had album covers with them and it put a smile on my face because I remember those days, showing up early hoping to get my album signed!
The weather was a perfect 75 degrees and as we ran through soundcheck, we could hear the large crowds of people outside the gate cheering when we would finish a song…. And this was still three hours before the gates would even open! Bret was present for soundcheck. I’m sure he wanted to make sure everything was going to be perfect for the SOLD OUT show and we finished up between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. I went up to my room, showered and went down to the bar to grab some food because I really hadn’t eaten much all day. Well, it was 7:20 by then and my food still hadn’t arrived. I was getting worried because we go on at 8:00 pm! Of course, there were all kinds of rockers in there and I leaned over to a group that was sitting near me and asked if they were going to the show tonight. They said, ‘Of course!’ I said, ‘I’m actually playing in the band’ and one of them said, ‘Really? Why are you here reading a book when you are supposed to be on stage in half an hour?’ I don’t know if they even believed me.
Finally it arrived, I ate fast, ran back to the room to put away the book I was reading then met Rob [keyboardist] at 7:40 and we were onstage playing by 8:10 pm.
Sleaze Roxx: [Norman has played countless shows over the past decades but never to a sold out crowd of several thousand so I asked him if he was nervous and how it felt being on a stage like this in front of a big crowd.]
Norman Voss: I actually wasn’t nervous! I mean, with the exception of Bret, I knew everyone in the band. I went to high school with Rob Jozwiak [keyboards], Meri Schaefer [drums] and I were in a band together for a few years, and Pete and I are great friends so it kind of felt like I was just going to play the gig with some old friends and have some fun…. with one of the biggest frontmen in the world, Bret Michaels singing [laughs]!
When it was show time, Bret Michaels Band guitar tech, JT, handed me the bass, the lights went down and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” (Bret Michaels Band intro music) was playing. I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to just strum the strings once real quick to make sure everything is working.’ I reached down, hit the strings… and nothing. Not a sound. JT’s spot with the guitars is all the way on the other side of the stage — and this stage is huge — but we were just about to go out onstage so I ran behind the drums, all the way to the other side of the stage and told JT the bass wasn’t working! He messed around with the wireless and got it working again, just in time for us to hit the stage. All was good for a while until later in the show when the wireless went out again so I ran over to JT and just then I heard Bret say to the audience, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce to you, the newest member of the band, STORMIN NORMAN!’ and the crowd was cheering, then Bret turned around and looked from one side of the stage to the other then said, ‘….where IS he?’ So that was an interesting moment!
Bret Michaels Band performing “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Nothin’ But A Good Time” live at Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde, Oregon, USA on August 27, 2021 (video by Tyler Torpey):
I do remember, at one point, onstage, I had a flashback to a 1987 video I have of my band playing “Talk Dirty To Me”… and now, all these years later, here I was, playing these songs in a band with Bret Michaels. Another funny thing, I do this thing back home where I take my guitar and play at some senior homes because they love it and I love seeing them light up. I do some of the old classics but I also have some fun with it and they love it when I play songs that are a little more ‘rock’. Wednesday, was one of those days I went by and played at a senior home and one of the songs I played for them was “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”…. Fast forward to two days later and I’m onstage playing it with Bret Michaels.
Norman Voss performing “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” at seniors’s home on August 25, 2021 and two days later with Bret Michaels Band:
OK, to finish up the events for that night, while I was walking through the casino to my room, I transformed from ‘Nobody Norman’ to ‘Everybody needs to have a picture with Norman!’ It was amazing! I wasn’t even sure anyone noticed I was onstage but now, random people in the casino were rushing over to get a picture with me. By the way, I ran into those guys from the bar earlier –the one where I was reading my book — and one yelled, ‘It really WAS you!’ It was after midnight by the time I got back to my room and I was anxious to post a few pictures I’d gotten from the experience, on my Facebook page.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you get any more feedback about your performance?
Norman Voss: Well, JT, Pete, and a few of the others told me, ‘Bret was talking about you and how great your energy was and how well you did’ and I was like, ‘WHAT? Where was I for this [laughs]?’ Anyway, after that, I slept great, woke up, tried to climb a mountain.
Sleaze Roxx: …in true Norman fashion.
Norman Voss: I made it halfway, then kept thinking of all the people that had been telling me about how there were so many bears around there… so that’s as far as I got before I started the long journey home at 9:00 am. I finally arrived home at 11:30 pm Eastern time.
Sleaze Roxx: So that is a rundown of what has happened… but where do you go from here? Was it a one off show for you, will there be more?
Norman Voss: Well, I’ve been asked to play out the rest of the year. So far, there are seven shows on the books.
Sleaze Roxx: Any more rehearsals?
Norman Voss: Nope, no rehearsal. We had one, played one show and we are ready for the next one!
Sleaze Roxx: Knowing you, you probably had all of those songs down the same day you got the call to join!
Norman Voss: [Laughs] Well, I had to, we had rehearsal the next day!
Sleaze Roxx: Anything in closing?
Norman Voss: I will tell you this, being onstage watching Bret sing “Something To Believe In” was amazing for me. I was standing back, Bret Michaels in front of me and a huge crowd of people beyond him with their cell phones lit up for that song…. Seeing this actually gave me goose bumps. You know, to have this opportunity. THAT is when it hit home that I was really doing this!
Sleaze Roxx: Norman, it couldn’t have happened to a better person!
You can reach Norman Voss via Facebook.
Bret Michaels Band performing “Ride The Wind” live at Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde, Oregon, USA on August 27, 2021 (video by Tyler Torpey):