By Hunter Copeland
A few years back, I was up one night surfing the net. You know the drill. For me, it’s my normal routine on the nights when my bouts of insomnia resurface. I can’t remember if I was looking at different amps or guitar effects, or what, but that’s not even important. What is important is that in the mist of my surfing, I discovered a guitar player that changed my life. Strong words, but it’s true. His name is Oz Noy, and the raw energy of his playing escaped from my speakers and proceeded to melt my face off. I then had a new mission: to find any recording with Oz Noy’s name on it. So, that’s exactly what I did (after my face grew back).
The playing I heard on those recordings was fantastic. At the time, I had really grown bored with instrumental guitar music. For me, it was all starting to sound the same, but Oz changed all that! His songs had melodies that stuck in my brain and the playing was beyond spectacular, but the one thing I found in his music that was lacking elsewhere: funk. This dude’s sense of timing was so very cool. It is this rhythmic sense that pushes Noy’s music in to a whole other stratosphere.
So there you have the genesis of my Oz Noy man crush. Now I need to mention his most recent album, which is another great collection of songs.
The tunes on Twisted Blues, Volume 1 are superb and the playing is tremendous. With his innate sense of rhythm, his creative use of effects, and his bombastic style of playing, Oz puts his spin on the blues. He is backed by a list of musical heavy weights: Anton Fig, Vinnie Colaiuta, Will Lee, Jerry Z, and John Medeski. He also invited some guests such as Eric Johnson, Allen Toussaint, Chris Layton, Roscoe Beck, and Reese Wynans.
This all makes for a truly adventurous and inspiring record. If you were hoping to hear the standard blues licks of B.B King and Muddy Waters, you’re out of luck. However, if you dare to come along for this ride, you will be rewarded by Noy’s completely fresh approach to the blues. It’s blues on speed and it may just melt your face.
Oz recently spoke with me about his music, his playing, his gear, and his new album. He never apologized for melting my face, but he was nice enough to answer all my questions and didn’t seem to be too irritated by my obvious man crush. So on to the interview:
Hunter: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me to day. I love your music and I think we will be able to let even more people know about your playing and your new album in particular.
Oz: Is this for the Gear Page?
Oz: Great. I know that thing.
Hunter: Well, I know I’m starting with a very cliché question, but as a child growing up in Israel, what made you want to play guitar?
Oz: I don’t know. I really wanted to play drums. I was fixing to take drums lessons, and then a friend invited me to his guitar lesson and that was it. I don’t know why I went. I don’t know why I kept going.
Hunter: Are there any particular guitar players that got you excited about playing guitar?
Oz: No. I was listening to the Beatles and other pop and rock, but no specific guitar players.
Hunter: For me, instrumental music has to have great melodies or I get bored. Your songs always have that, but what gives your music a whole other dimension is the rhythm. Your rhythm playing is phenomenal! Did that come naturally or was it something you developed with lots of years of work?
Oz: I have developed over the years. It isn’t like I started and already had it down. It took a long time. I was always aware of rhythm guitar playing. You know what I mean? I knew how important it is. It is something that a lot of guitar players don’t understand. If you can’t really play rhythm guitar, you can’t play, and then your not going to work much either. I was always aware of it (rhythm guitar), and at some point when I moved to New York and I started to do my own band here, I had to find an angle that wouldn’t be like what everyone else was doing, which is hard. But I think the one thing that I was aware of, was that I wanted something that would groove hard but wouldn’t be too “out” and then whatever I’m going to play on top of that could be whatever. I was aware of the whole rhythmical aspect.
Hunter: Are there any specific things you would recommend for guitar players wanting to improve their rhythm playing?
Oz: Just be aware of it (rhythm), and listen to records. For example, James Brown records have really good rhythm guitar stuff. Old Michael Jackson records have great rhythm guitar. You know, it’s like anything you hear, not only funk, but pop music has a lot of good rhythm guitar stuff. You know, you just need to be aware of it and tweak your ears to listen to that stuff, and not just the solos and all the fancy shit.
Another thing about the rhythm guitar playing. I always did studio work ever since I was really young. I think that was another reason why I was really aware of it.
Hunter: Working in the studio, you had to be aware of it?
Oz: With studio work you are more focused on parts. Rhythm guitar playing is really about the parts.
Hunter: On your new album Twisted Blues, Volume 1, you work with some stellar players, and I’m wondering how you communicate these rhythmic ideas to them? Do they just catch on pretty quick……
Oz:No, no, no, no no! Well, they catch on pretty quick, but that’s not how we do it. We play all the music before we record it for a few months to a year. We don’t just go in the studio and just read it. I bring them the tune like a year before we record it, then we do a short rehearsal to get the idea of it, and then we are going to play it live a bunch before we ever record it. That’s kind of how we make it gel.
Hunter: Ok, and then when you get in to the studio, you record the songs completely live?
Oz: Yes, in the studio we play live. We’re just playing! I don’t believe in just throwing someone a chart. You know, it’s possible but not really with what I do.
Hunter: Seems like that approach would kill it?
Oz: Yes! You have to have a little time to gel with it. You know?
Hunter: What was the idea behind Twisted Blues? What were you going for with this recording?
Oz: I wanted to do something more in a blues direction. All my other records are all in the same kind of direction. To me they are all jazz records, but it’s more like funk stuff mixed with a bunch of other stuff…mixed with jazz, and mixed with blues and everything. But they were heavily based on the funk grooves, and pop grooves, or R&B stuff. And on this record I basically wanted to have a blues band. I’ve wanted to have a blues band since I moved to New York, and I never did. So this is like my blues band, but it’s still my own thing. It’s going towards more of the blues direction, more like the Hendrix thing.
Hunter: When I first heard the track “Whole Tone Blues” that you recorded with Roscoe Beck, Chris Layton, and Reese Wynans, not the playing, but the tone almost sounded like Stevie Ray…..
Oz: Yes, but that tone is on all my records. I’m not trying to play like him, but I just like that tone. It’s on my other records too. There are songs that have that kind of tone.
Hunter: I agree. I guess it just sounds like your own take on the blues.
Oz:Yes, exactly. It’s not like a real blues record, but it’s me having a take on some blues forms.
Hunter: You had Eric Johnson play with you on “You Are The State.” I don’t know if you had him in mind for that song, but it really sounds like something he would play.
Oz: Well, he just played some pretty stuff in the background. He’s not playing the solo on it.
Hunter: The solo is you?
Oz: Yes. Eric is playing all the beautiful harmonics and some little lines. It’s mostly for color. Originally there was supposed to be another song that we were supposed to record where he and I are like really shredding. It just didn’t work out to record it. I hope to record it on the next record.
Hunter: How did you end up getting Chris Layton and Reese Wynans to play? How did that come about?
Oz: The last maybe two years I’ve been going to Austin to play and I’ve been using Roscoe Beck to play bass there. I’ve always been a big fan of Roscoe’s playing. So when I went to Austin to record, the original plan was just to record with Roscoe and Eric. But when I got ready to go to Austin, I asked Roscoe if Chris might be around to play on a couple shuffle songs, and Roscoe said; “sure.” Then I contacted Chris and he was cool. And the thing with Reese, is that I knew Reese before. I had played with him before at one of the NAAM shows on the Fender stage. So I knew him, and it was kind of a perfect situation. It was like this is going to be some perfect Austin blues situation. You know the stuff they played on was really simple. We did a rehearsal, we did a gig together, and then we recorded. Since I had played with Roscoe and Reese before, we really knew what to expect. And Chris just jumped in pretty well. The stuff was pretty easy.
Hunter: That makes sense. I was wondering where Tommy Shannon was, but it sounds like you had Roscoe first and then added the drummer later.
Oz: First of all, I didn’t want to do the Double Trouble thing. I just wanted to have that sound, and that sound really is Chris, and then Reese’s organ playing is great. I didn’t want to do the rip-off double trouble thing. Plus, I don’t know Tommy, and I don’t normally go for that stuff without knowing the person. It could be problematic sometimes. It was like a pretty easy and logical choice to make.
Hunter: Well, it turned out really well.
Oz: I like it a lot (laughs)
Hunter: What about “Cissy Strut?” I’ve always loved that song. The rhythm on that is wicked. I don’t know if it is something you can put in to words, but how did you develop that idea?
Oz: Well, first of all it is in 4/4. It’s not in any odd time. All I did was move some of the phrasing so it sounds a little off. How did I come of with it? I don’t know how I came up with it? I think one day I was playing and I kind of fucked with the rhythm, and I thought “oh, that’s cool,” so I wrote it down or recorded it. Then it turned in to this. I don’t know, I guess I just got lucky (laughs).
Hunter: Is that you playing slide on “Light Blue?”
Hunter: Have you been playing slide for a while?
Oz: Well, I’ve been doing slide for a while. I have a pretty bad technique in terms of slide. There’s a certain technique to playing slide, so I don’t do it with good technique, but I’ve been playing it for a while. I got in to it and then I found this tune that I had the opportunity to play slide on so I thought “why the hell not.”
Oz: Well, first of all, on the Twisted Blues album I played a Telecaster on some songs. The thing with a strat….You know, I have a really good Les Paul and I’m not used to playing those humbuckers. It’s like it’s a whole other animal to me. It’s almost like playing another instrument. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I can’t control it as well as I can control single coils. Let’s put it like that. It’s not that I’m not going to do it in the future. I have one (Les Paul) that is really good and sometimes I am forcing myself to play it. Eventually I’m going to get in to it, but I just feel more comfortable with a strat. You know I can kind of do anything on it and it’s easier for me to control. The sound is just easier to control with the single coils. Let’s put it like that.
Hunter: And on the new cd, the tele fit on a few songs?
Oz: Yes, yes, yes, absolutely.
Hunter: It sounds great. Seems to have a bit of a bite to it. I like it.
Oz: Yes. It’s not like the typical Nashville country sound. That’s now what I’m going for any how. But I like it. It’s got a vibe for certain tunes that it really works on. You know with a strat, you can make it sound like lots of different things, but I like to just make it sound like a strat. But once you have that tele tone, it’s very hard to get away from it.
Hunter: Are you in to any of the vintage stuff?
Oz: My stuff is all new Custom Shop. The vintage shit is just way too crazy and too expensive. You know, even if I had the bread, it’s so hard to find a really good one that’s worth the bread. You know what I mean? A lot of those old guitars are not all that great. You pay 20 grand for a guitar…..
Hunter: It better be unbelievably great?
Oz: Yes, and then what are you going to do, tour with it? You can’t tour with a 20,000 dollar guitar. The stuff that I have is stuff that I use, and the more I use it, the better it sounds. It is what it is.
Hunter: What amps are you in to right now? The first time I saw a video of you, you were demoing a pedal with a Dr. Z amp.
Oz: I never used a Dr. Z ever. When they shot that clip I was playing in LA and the guys from Xotic brought me a Dr. Z.
Hunter: So, are you using a Fender?
Oz: I have an old Fender Bandmaster and I have an old Marshall that I use (when recording Oz uses both amps together, but when playing live he uses one or the other). That’s pretty much it. Recently, the guys from Two Rock approached me, so I’ve been trying their stuff.
Hunter: How do you like the Two Rock stuff?
Oz: I’m not there yet, but it’s good stuff. I’m trying it, but I’m not sold yet. That’s basically the amps I’ve been using.
Hunter: Let me ask you about effects. I’ve noticed on all your recordings, when you use effects, it doesn’t sound like it’s just something thrown in there. It sounds like part of the song. It sounds almost like you’re using the effect as another musical instrument.
Oz: Yes, it’s kind of an orchestration instrument. You know what I mean? I use it to orchestrate the compositions really. You know?
Hunter: What effects are you using on Twisted Blues?
Oz: Well, I have pretty much the same stuff on all my recordings. There is a different board I made for blues band that is a little different than the other one that I use for my trio. But really it’s all the same stuff. It’s a bunch of boosters, usually the Xotic pedals I like a lot. On the board for my blues band, I have an (Xotic) AC Booster and I always have the RC Booster on all my boards. And then I have the Fuzzy Drive that I really like, and then I always have a Tube Screamer and the 808. I always have an Octa-fuzz Octavia. That’s the main stuff, really. And then, the amps I have really loud so they are about to….they don’t distort, but they compress really hard. And then I have a slap delay that is on all the time, and then a bunch of different Line 6 and boss Delays that I use. On this board (for the Twisted Blues Band), I have a Memory Man, a Boss DD-6, and then I have the Line delay. Then, you know I have a univibe and a tremolo. I also use a Leslie simulator, the RotoSIM by GSL.
Hunter: What are you using for the solo on the first track and then later on “Cissy Strut?” Is that a Envelope Filter?
Oz: No, it’s my wah. Just a Vox wah. I have an old Vox Wah.
Hunter: Really? It really hits hard! It’s a cool sound.
Oz: Yes, it opens up nicely and has a cool sound.
Hunter: On all your recordings, when you play passages that are “out,” you still never lose the groove. It sounds great. What would you recommend for guitar players, especially the more blues-based guys relying on more pentatonic ideas, that want to branch out and learn to fit in more of that “out” type of playing?
Oz: What I would say is that in order to do that you have to study jazz, and to studying jazz means that you have to study bebop. There is no half-way in. You have to get all the way in to it. Otherwise, it’s not going to sound good. There’s no way around it. You can ask Scofield. You can ask anyone you want. It’s either you get in to it or you don’t, and if you get in to jazz, you have to study bebop. All my stuff really comes from bebop.
Hunter: I noticed a clip of you sitting in with the Allman Brothers. How was that experience?
Oz: Yes, it was great. I’ve sat in with them a few times. I know Warren Haynes really well. Every time that Gov’t Mule plays in New York, if I’m around, I’ll go and hang with them. He usually just calls me to come sit in with them. I’ve done that a few time. And then when the Allman Brothers play the Beacon, I live pretty close by, and when I’m around I just go check it out. Usually when I show up, they go “hey, you want to play,” and I’m like “sure.” It’s really truly loose. They are really great people and it’s a great hang. It’s like when you go to play with them, you feel like you’re playing in your living room. It’s really really relaxed. It’s so wild how relaxed it is. Every time I get up there with them it’s always good times.
Hunter: What are you listening to these days? Anything that would surprise us?
Oz: Well, I definitely do not listen to my own music. When I finish recording, I’m done. I don’t listen to that stuff, unless I have too.
Hunter: Are there any artists that you are in to right now?
Oz: You know, it’s hard for me to say because I like a lot of stuff. I’m open to a lot of stuff and I’m listening to everything all the time. I’m trying to really be open to everything. I’m trying to go and listen to old blues now just because it’s kind of like the roots of everything in a way. I’m in to that, but really everything. Between some pop stuff and some new jazz shit, it’s hard to say what I’m listening too. I really try to be open.
Hunter: Back on your recording Ha, you did a cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” How do you choose which songs you want to cover?
Oz: In a lot of those situations where you stumble on tunes that you end up recording, at least for me, I don’t really think about it. On the Fuzzy record I recorded a Prince tune, and I’ve recorded a lot of Monk tunes. Sometimes I sit at home and I’m not going to practice. I’m just going to noodle on the guitar, and suddenly something will come up. Probably what happened with “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” is I played the melody of that song and thought “Oh, this fits really well on the guitar for me.” So, then if it fits really well, and if I can find an angle on it to make it my own, then I do it. If it doesn’t fit well on the guitar for me, or if it does fit well, but I can’t find an angle to make it my own, I would not record it.
For example, on the new album I recorded a couple Monk tunes “Trinkle, Tinkle” and “ Light Blue.” Those are songs that I always like to play, but just playing them the way they are on the original recording didn’t work for me. I do it sometimes, but it didn’t really have anything for me to say in that original form. It was like “ok, big fucking deal.” But when I came up with the idea of playing the Trinkle, Tinkle thing with a Texas shuffle and going more towards that Stevie Ray Vaughn thing, then it really clicked for me. Then I said “Ok, I can really do something with it.” And it’s the same with “Light Blue.” I decided to play it with a slide and play it as a slow blues instead of playing it like a standard. It’s the same with any of the cover tunes I play. On Fuzzy I recorded the Monk tune “Evidence” and it was the same thing. I found a funky version of “Evidence.” I have to find an angle that will fit what I do. For me, just to play a standard the way it was originally recorded and play some stuff on it, doesn’t do it for me.
Hunter: You have to turn it in to your own thing?
Oz: Yes, I’m really aware of it when I make records. When I ‘m just playing around, I can try whatever I want, but when I actually record….When you record a record, that stuff stays around.
Hunter: The new album is called Twisted Blues, Volume 1. Does that mean there’s going to be a volume 2?
Hunter: That’s good news for us?
Oz: I’m already more than half way done writing it. I have almost maybe like 70% of it.
Oz: Well, that’s a good question. Funny, just yesterday I met with my guys and we discussed that. I’m not sure, but probably a year from now. The problem is, it takes me awhile to make records. First of all I have to write everything, and sometimes it takes me awhile to finish writing the music. Most of the time it doesn’t go easy for me. Then the recording part of it is usually the easiest part, because we are usually going for 2, 3, or 4 days in the studio and then we’re done. But then I have to edit it and I have to do whatever else needs to be done to it, including the mixing. Between the mixing and the recording, it usually takes me 4 to 5 months to get it done. And then you can’t release it right after it’s done. You have to go through a record company and it takes a few months until they release it. It’s a bit of a process. Plus I have to have something new to say (laughs).
Hunter: Are there any other projects that you have coming up?
Oz: I’m playing a lot in support of this record. I’m just playing a lot. There’s a bunch of stuff that I do. I’m just playing a lot and just trying to write for the next record. At some point, I’m going to start making some jazz records. It’s not going to be straight ahead, but it will be more jazz-oriented with a trio. I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time and I think now it’s starting to come together nicely. I already have a lot of the concepts together, but I still feel like I need to play it live before I go in to record it.
Hunter: Are you planning some more guests for Twisted Blues, Volume 2?
Oz: I have some, but I can’t say their names. If everything works out, it’s going to be some really really good stuff. I’m shooting really high (laughs).
Hunter: It has been really great talking to you. Thank you so much for your time. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Oz: Sure, anytime.