Oz Noy is Back Messing with the Blues

If you still haven’t heard of Oz Noy by now, you’re just not paying attention.
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If you still haven’t heard of Oz Noy by now, you’re just not paying attention. The New York-based, Israeli guitarist has been steadily releasing remarkable recordings of bluesand bop-inflected, pedal-effected instrumentals for almost a decade. Thanks to universal admiration for his jaw-dropping skills, Noy has no trouble rounding up rhythm sections comprising the best bassists and drummers in the world (Will Lee and Vinnie Colaiuta come to mind), as well holding his own with guest guitarists such as Mike Stern, Eric Johnson, Steve Lukather, and Warren Haynes.

For 2011’s Twisted Blues, Vol. 1, Noy’s compositions and covers revolved around blues-based forms. This year’s Twisted Blues, Vol. 2 [Abstract Logix] wraps up the experiment with more shuffles, as well as modern blues rhythms based on funk feels. Oz sat down before a gig in Nashville that saw him going toe-totoe with guest guitarist Brent Mason to talk about twisting the blues, and what we can learn from bass players.

Did hearing Robben Ford and Scott Henderson when you were growing up inspire your mixture of blues and bebop?

That’s exactly what it did. I wanted to play like them, but I went to some teachers who said, “If you want to play like that, first you have to study bebop.” I had been trying to sound like them, but it didn’t sound right until I got the right foundation.

Why did you record a second volume of Twisted Blues?

I knew I wanted to do volume two while I was doing volume one. I already had half the material for the second one written by the time I finished the first. I look at it as forms, and I had more blues forms I wanted to try than I could fit on one record. I felt I had to write something over some grooves Chris Layton had played for me. They ended up on “Come Let Me Make Your Love Come Down,” “Blue Ball Blues,” and “Slow Grease.” Those grooves inspired me to do Vol. 2. Now I am done [laughs].

Are any of the tracks on Twisted Blues, Vol. 2 left over from Vol. 1?

No. They are all newly recorded. The only song that was supposed to be on Vol. 1 was “EJ’s Blues” [with Eric Johnson guesting]. We didn’t have room on the first record, and I didn’t actually record it until this one.

What makes a tune “blues” enough to be on these two records?

None of these tunes are real blues, but I think their format is more blues-oriented than the other stuff I have done. Still, harmonically, I do whatever I want. I wasn’t just going for shuffles—I was also inspired by when Albert and Freddie King, or Albert Collins did their funk stuff in the ’70s. On “Freedom Jazz Dance,” I was going for an Albert King funk thing, but in my own way. I don’t think of it as fusion—I think of it more as R&B or funky blues.

Why did you revisit the songs “Get Down” and “Just Groove Me” on Vol. 2?

Because they were on the live record [2007’s Oz Live], and I didn’t feel I had good enough recordings of them. Plus, we had been playing them a lot since then, and we had new angles on them.

Where did you do the record?

I did everything at the Carriage House in Connecticut, except for the track with Eric Johnson, which we did at his studio.

Did you play everything live with the rhythm section?

I always play everything live. I think of it like a jazz record—no overdubs! If there are any fixes to be done, I can do it with edits. We do between five and ten takes a song, and we play with a click track so that we can cut in parts easily.

You have said you haven’t been totally happy with your recorded sound.

I don’t think anyone is. Twisted Blues, Vol. 1 is when I started to get comfortable. I had my amps in a room where I could keep the door open so I could feel the air. These are the first records where I have felt comfortable.

Was there more of your Custom Shop Fender Telecaster on this record?

Yes. It was about half Tele and half Strat. There were just more tunes that the Telecaster was right for—I’m not sure why. When I go on a tour where I can’t take the Tele, and I have to play a song I recorded with it, it just feels weird to me.

Which Fender Stratocasters did you use?

Two ’68 Custom Shop models. One is red with a maple neck, and the other is sunburst with a rosewood fretboard. The maple one is tuned a half-step down, and strung with D’Addario .012s. The sunburst is in standard tuning with a .011 set, but with a .012 substituted for the high E string.

You were playing a Les Paul live for a minute. Do you still play it?

I still play it, but I haven’t recorded with it yet. I tried to get into it, but it is such a different animal [laughs].

What amps did you use on the record?

For Vol. 1, I just had my Marshall and my Fender Bandmaster. For this record, I also had my Two-Rock. The Marshall is a 1973 head tweaked by Ziv Nagari. It goes through a Bad Cat cabinet loaded with four Celestion Greenbacks. The 1966 or 1967 Fender Bandmaster— also modified by Ziv—goes into a Bad Cat 2x12 with a pair of Eminence Tone Spotters that I really like. The Two-Rock started out as a Gain Master 100 model, but they made it special for me, and it took us two years to get it right. We eventually had to put an old-stock transformer in it to give it enough headroom—even though it was 100 watts! Now, it sounds really good. The cabinet is loaded with two 65-watt Celestions.

We recorded all three amps at once. I always start out recording three, so I can choose the best, but it is rare that I end up using only one amp in the mix. Each amp has its own frequency range, and, sometimes, it works to add them together—though sometimes it doesn’t.

How do you split the signal between the amps?

The Two-Rock is dry—meaning no delay— and I split the other two amps using my delays, but it is not wet-dry-wet. I have some dry signal on the other two amps, as well. I also used a really nice box made for me by XAct Tone Solutions that lets me split the signal into up to five amps.

How did you mic the amps?

I used a Shure SM57 and a Royer R-121 up close, with a Neumann U87 out in the room.

What pedals were you using for Vol. 2?

Whatever I use live is what I use in the studio. I have two pedalboards. One has a Vox King Wah, a TC Electronic tuner, an Xotic AC Booster, an Ibanez TS808 with the Analog Man Brown Mod, a Dunlop Octavio, an E.W.S. Fuzzy Drive, an MXR Phase 90, a Monster Effects Swamp Thang, a Sweet Sound Ultra Vibe, and a DLS RotoSIM—all powered by a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power. The other pedalboard has the delays—an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, a Line 6 M9, a Boss DM2 Delay, and two Boss DD-7 Digital Delays.

What picks do you use?

I use the Dunlop Tortex 2mm

Saxophonist Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” does not lie well under the fingers for a guitarist. How did you master that song for your version on the album?

A friend of mine figured it out on a 4-string bass. He showed it to me, and it made perfect sense, so I play it almost entirely on the third, fourth, and fifth strings—as if I were playing bass. The main difficulty with these kinds of lines is the right-hand picking, so I just find a way that works—using hammerons or whatever.

With your tunes, how do you decide when it is time to veer off from straight blues into a bebop lick, or take the solo outside?

I don’t think about it like that. I just think about developing certain kinds of melodies.

What is next?

I have some ideas, but I don’t have specific plans. I have been thinking of recording some straight-ahead stuff, because I have been playing with Jeff “Tain” Watts and John Patitucci at the 55 Bar in New York. I have been developing this acoustic jazz thing for a while. I don’t usually get tense before playing with people, but with those guys, I get a little stressed out [laughs]. It’s out of my comfort zone. It’s playing standards— or tunes like standards—with a more swinging feel. I’m searching for my own sound within the straight-ahead format. Even with my tunes, I don’t just play them—I always have to find my own approach.