The title of Oz Noy’s new instrumental
album, Twisted Blues Volume 1[Abstract Logix], might
have taken a few of his fans by surprise—but one
listen to any cut on this CD should be enough to
convince anyone that “blues” is a relative term in the
mind of this amazingly gifted guitarist. The fact that
Noy has created yet another album of highly improvisational
music with enough melodic adventure
and terrifying rhythmic twists to keep a fusionist in
stitches is hardly surprising. Still, Noy’s decision to
make it more bluesy sounding than any of his previous
releases—not to mention that he enlisted ex-
Stevie Ray Vaughan alumni Chris Layton and Reese
Wynans to help him do it—is noteworthy.
“After I did my last record, Schizophrenic, I felt that I
had done enough in that specific direction and decided
it was time for a change,” says Noy. “I wanted to go
a little more toward blues and that Hendrix thing.
I don’t know if psychedelic is that right word for it,
but what I do now with this band just kind of fits for
me at this point in my life.”
What led you to make this album?
Ever since I moved to New York I wanted to have
a blues gig, but I never got called to do one. So I put a
group together called the Twisted Blues Band, which
is a quartet with an organ. I’ve always wanted to make
a record that was on the blues side, and since I had
already written a lot of songs for one, it was really
just a matter of collecting them together and adding
a couple of new tunes.
There’s a hint of Stevie Ray Vaughan tone here and there
on the songs you did with Chris Layton and Reese Wynans.
Was it a challenge to not go too far into the SRV zone when
playing with those guys?
I knew I was going to do exactly what I do, but
especially when Chris and Reese were in the studio,
I was super careful not to go too much toward the
Stevie Ray thing. He had a huge influence on me
and still does, so the guitar sound is always going to
come from him because I really like it. But in terms
of the phrasing and what I play, I don’t think it really
has anything to do with Stevie. “Whole Tone Blues”
is sort of a Texas shuffle, but harmonically, Stevie
wasn’t doing that kind of stuff.
Are you extra conscious of what you’re playing when
jamming with, say, Eric Johnson?
Eric covers a big chunk of ground between his
sounds and his fast runs and his Hendrix stuff, and
everyone who tries to go there ends up sounding like
him. So when I play with Eric I try really hard to not
go into his space. Sometimes I do, though, because
he’s an influence on me. It’s the same thing when I
play with Scott Henderson, who also has a very identifiable
You do a Thelonius Monk tune called “Light Blue” that
sounds beautiful with that “Lenny”-style groove and your
slide work. Is there something about Monk’s music that
translates well for you on guitar?
I play a lot of Monk tunes because I like his music
and I think it fits well with guitar. His stuff seems
simple but is actually very deep. I like to play over
clear harmonies so that I can either play nice melodies,
or go outside without it sounding like outer
space. “Light Blue” is a kind of slow blues, but it isn’t
blues really. It has a nice melody and the changes are
kind of floating, so I can play around it pretty nicely.
On the other Monk song, “Trinkle Tinkle,” you’re taking
a bebop tune and turning it into a Texas-flavored shuffle.
Often, I’ll take a song that I like and try to play
it on guitar, and it’s just not going to fit. So then I
have to figure out a way to adapt the tune. I’ve been
playing “Trinkle Tinkle” for years and the melody
is really challenging. The changes are easy, but it’s
Monk you know? I was just thinking of an angle on it
I could bring that would work for me, and the idea of
the Texas thing came together. I’ve played that song
with a swing feel, and it’s not as comfortable because
it limits me to playing a certain way. So now I can
use the [Fulltone] Octafuzz and go for the Hendrix
thing and the Stevie Ray thing, and still play all the
jazz stuff in there, too.
Do you think your use of effects has changed people’s
attitudes about what jazz guitar can sound like?
I think I’ve probably made it a little freer by just
doing whatever I want to and being fine with it. But
my whole thing with effects was developed through
the process of making records and writing tunes. I
wasn’t just sitting at home and screwing around with
bunches of pedals. My ear is always open to what’s
out there, and effects were just another way of filling
out space in the group or coloring things in certain
ways to make the sound fuller.
The grooves you come up with often have lots
of wicked breaks and odd syncopated rhythms such
as we hear on the song “Steroids.” How do you communicate
your ideas to the band?
Usually what happens is I’ll find a cool
riff—it could be a melody or a groove—and
I’ll record it to Pro Tools and program the
basic drum and bass parts. Then, if it works,
I’ll write the whole tune over it and use it as
a demo to show the guys in the band. They’ll
listen to the grooves and kind of make it their
own. A lot of people say to me, “Man, you
really like odd meters.” And I’m going “What
are you talking about? I hate odd meters.” I
believe the reason people think of my stuff as
having odd rhythms is because in the compositions
there are little twists and turns here
and there. The changes in my music are generally
pretty simple. What I do over them
may be harmonically complicated, but they
are just basic standard grooves.
Obviously you’re not playing free jazz, but
does going outside the harmony as much as you
do tempt other players to follow you?
Everything I play sounds inside to me, but
people sometimes think I’m playing out, and
their reaction is to go along with it. That’s
something I really don’t like because I want
stuff to be clear, and when everybody is going
out it just sounds like a mess. For example,
when we were doing the rhumba tune “Oh
Really,” Vinnie [Colaiuta] sounded freaking
amazing, but on the first couple of takes he
was really busy and kind of going outside
with me. I just asked him to keep it in more
of a Cream-style blues vein.
What should blues players study or listen to
if they want to be able to play outside of the pentatonic
You need to learn music, and if you
want to expand your harmonic vocabulary,
you end up learning jazz. I think of jazz as
a more advanced form of blues, and as you
get deeper into the roots of blues and jazz
it’s going to open the door to finding the
cool stuff to play.
My thing is based on Charlie Parker, Wes
Montgomery, Bud Powell, and Thelonius
Monk—but when I was getting into modern
blues I was listening to Robben Ford and
Stevie Ray Vaughan. Eventually you realize
that you’re never going to sound as good as
them and will never be as musically deep as
they are unless you go where they went to
grab what they grabbed. So for Stevie, that
means going back to Albert King, and Albert
Collins, and B.B. King—all those guys. So I
think if a blues player wants to sound more
modern, it’s not about learning what notes to
play, it’s more about the whole approach. You
have to know where the stuff came from in
order to know how to connect it all together.
What effects have particularly inspired you?
Fuzzes are great for getting into new
sounds that can inspire you to play other stuff
or to write new things. The first time I heard
a Fulltone Octafuzz, I was at a rehearsal and
a friend of mine had one. I played one chord
on it, and it freaked me out and I immediately
bought one. Since then I’ve gotten so
many different tones out of it. Any guitar you
plug into an Octafuzz will make it react differently,
and just playing with the controls
and the pickups will give you a lot of different
sounds. Then, when you combine it with
other effects, you’re in a whole other world.
What amps did you use on this record?
For the last few years I’ve been using
pretty much the same things: a ’67 Fender
Bandmaster with a 2x12 Bad Cat cabinet,
and a ’73 50-watt Marshall with a 4x12 Bad
Cat cabinet. When I play live I just use one
amp, but when I record I have them both on.
When I mix the tracks, the amps wind up
being about equal in volume because they
complement each other so well. For the stuff I
recorded in Austin, I used a Fender Super
Reverb and a 50-watt Marshall plexi with one
of Eric Johnson’s cabinets. The only song on
the album that I used a single amp on was
“You Are the State,” and that was a Marshall.
Are you using a Telecaster more now?
Yes, I’ve had a Telecaster for a while that
I’ve mostly used for recording, but I find
it fits really well with this band. “Twisted
Blues,” “Oh Really,” and “Cissy Strut” are
all played on the Telecaster.
Has anything changed on your pedalboard
since the last album?
I used a different board for this record
because I was trying to go for a more vintage
Hendrix kind of sound. So, along with the
Octafuzz and the EWS fuzz, I have a Uni-
Vibe and a Tube Screamer. I don’t use a lot
of saturation. My sound is pretty clean, and
I just boost it with a pedal into the amp running
at high volume. I use the [Xotic] AC
Booster that Eric Johnson turned me on to. I
also have three Boss delays, an Electro-Harmonix
Memory Man, and the Line 6 M9 for
looping and the modern-style delays.
Do you use looping in the studio?
Yes. I do it live first to see where it fits,
and then I’ll do the same thing in the studio.
I basically make jazz records—we’re all playing
in the room together and we’re not overdubbing
anything—so it makes sense to use
looping because it’s all about the sound of
the band. I’ve been doing it this way since
my first record. We do a bunch of takes, and
then I edit them to choose the good stuff.
It’s all live playing, though. I’ve never overdubbed
a solo on any of my records because
it will never have the vibe.
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