The Music & Sound Retailer: Who was your greatest influence or mentor and why?
Justin Norvell: Richard McDonald. I worked for him for about 18 years in various capacities. He just retired [from Fender] in fact! As a former NAMM board member and Lifetime Achievement award winner, he was an industry luminary and taught me virtually everything. I was mentored by other greats, like Dan Smith and Donnie Wade, but Richard and I took virtually identical paths, transitioning from working musicians to customer service, then working through sales and into product management.
The Retailer: What was the best advice you ever received?
Norvell: Tons of deeper general lessons, but the one that sticks is, “maintain rigid flexibility.” Just be consciously open and adaptable!
The Retailer: What was your first experience with a musical instrument?
Norvell: Piano lessons at age seven or so, but I took up the drums at age nine and the guitar at 13. My father played a little guitar, and we had an upright piano in the house, so instruments were around as long as I can remember.
The Retailer: What instrument do you most enjoy playing?
Norvell: The electric guitar, still to this day. My wife laughs and is amazed that, after 23 years at Fender, I can still come home from work and pick up the guitar as soon as I get home.
The Retailer: Tell us something about yourself that others do not know or would be surprised to learn.
Norvell: I have never had a guitar or drum lesson. I am completely self-taught by ear.
The Retailer: What’s your favorite activity to do when you’re not at work?
Norvell: Hanging out with my family and surfing. We just moved to California three years ago, and I have been getting pretty into surfing.
The Retailer: What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
Norvell: That would be too hard to state, from seeing the Eagles as a young kid, to Nirvana’s last U.S. tour. But probably the craziest or most memorable one is a Foo Fighters show. I was side stage, and the show was outside, and a biblical deluge of rain was unleashed out of nowhere. The band kept playing for 50,000 people the whole way through the set! Hazard of the job!
The Retailer: If you could see any musician, alive or deceased, play a concert for one night, who would it be and why?
Norvell: Chris Whitley. One of the best singer-songwriters and a great performer. He passed away in 2005. I only got to see him once, and he was mesmerizing. So powerful, just him and a guitar.
The Retailer: What musician are you hoping to see play in the near future?
Norvell: I just saw Nine Inch Nails two days ago here in Los Angeles. And I have a gig tonight with my CEO (Andy Mooney)! I just love seeing live music. Here in L.A., there are literally dozens of things to see every night.
The Retailer: What song was most memorable for you throughout your childhood, and what do you remember about it the most?
Norvell: I remember albums over specific songs. My parents had a great record collection and there was a lot of music. I remember Steely Dan, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin most impactfully.
The Retailer: What songs are on your smartphone/iPod, etc. right now?
Norvell: About 5,000 songs. Favorite recent albums are “Call the Comet” by Johnny Marr, “Beside Myself” by Basement and “Look” by Blake Mills.
The Retailer: What’s the most fun thing you saw/did at a NAMM Show?
Norvell: One of the great things about NAMM is that anything can happen! I’ve made lifelong friends, seen great artists and products, and had great experiences. Overall, I would say helping design a product that won a NAMM Best in Show award was the best.
The Retailer: If you had to select three people, past or present, to have dinner with, who would they be and what would you ask them?
Norvell: Being in a job where I have met many of my idols and been in some pretty fantastic situations, I would have dinner with my family. I would just ask them about their days. Not an exciting answer, but work/life balance is something I keep super prioritized.
The Retailer: Tell us about your most memorable experience with an MI retailer (without naming them).
Norvell: There are a ton from over the years. I view every trip out in the field as a true learning experience. That’s where our products are intersecting with the public, and it’s truly the front line. And it often ends with me finding a piece of gear I need to have.
The Retailer: What is the best thing about the MI industry?
Norvell: The people. Almost everyone that’s here is here because they are super passionate about it. It’s a calling rather than a choice.
The Retailer: Who do you admire most outside of the music industry and why?
Norvell: I have several friends with decades [of experience] in the other music business (label/management side) — a few that have enough stories to give “Behind the Music” a run for its money. They lived inside this industry I was viewing while growing up via MTV, radio, etc., and their experiences are full of lessons.
The Retailer: What technology could change MI down the road?
Norvell: Customer-relationship management at the retail level and interconnectivity on the product side.
The Retailer: If you weren’t in the music industry, what would you be doing and why?
Norvell: Trying to get into the music industry!
The Retailer: Tell us about your hometown and why you enjoy living there.
Norvell: I live just over the L.A. County line in Ventura County. Working in Hollywood, it’s great to be in the action of the city every day, but it’s great to have a home base a little outside the action. We have mountains, are close to the beach and it’s a little more laid back. It’s a great place for the family and to recharge.
The Retailer: What are your most prized possession(s)?
Norvell: I have a 1963 Fender Jazzmaster. It’s a great vintage instrument, but also a direct connection to the origins of the brand I have spent a good portion of my life and career obsessing over.
The Retailer: What’s your favorite book and why?
Norvell: Everything and anything by Kurt Vonnegut. The way he interweaves the absurd with complex, real issues and a dry sense of humor. He’s been my favorite forever.