Back in the early ’80s, Brand X bassist Percy Jones debuted a trio at New York’s Bitter
End nightclub featuring the then-unknown Bill Frisell. Soon after, Frisell became
recognized as one of the most original electric guitarists of all time. Two decades later,
history repeated itself when Will Lee and Anton Fig—the famous rhythm section from
The Late Show with David Letterman—began to appear at the same club accompanying
another unknown but truly original guitarist: Oz Noy.
Imagine a player with the combination of Jimi Hendrix’s sonic adventurousness, Jeff Beck’s wit,
John Scofield’s harmonic sophistication, Yngwie Malmsteen’s chops, and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tone.
Now imagine that player writing and performing music as funky as James Brown and the Meters.
By age 13, Oz Noy was doing sessions in his native Israel. By 24, he had accompanied a slew of
famous Israeli artists, many during a two-year stint as a member of a television show’s house band.
Emigrating to New York City in 1996, he soon earned the respect of the city’s best musicians, becoming
a fixture on the highly competitive session scene. To date, Noy has recorded five solo records. His
first, 2006’s Live, reflects the excitement of his weekly club gig at the Bitter End. On his latest, Twisted
Blues, Vol. 1, Noy is assisted by the likes of Eric Johnson and Allen Toussaint as he pays tribute to one
of the musical forms central to his artistry. The original title tune recalls cool theme music from a ’70s
cop show, while his takes on the Thelonious Monk tunes “Light Blue” and “Trinkel Tinkel” exude tikibar
and Texas-shuffle vibes, respectively.
Noy’s singular, spectacular style invites endless raving from his contemporaries—just read the
“Others on Oz” sidebar on p.180—but let’s hear from the man himself first.
You started playing guitar
when you were 10. Did
you start taking lessons
Yes. I started playing chords,
Beatles songs, and Israeli songs.
There were Beatles records in
the house, and then my brother
started bringing home jazz
records. I began with the electric
stuff—Pat Metheny, John
Scofield, Allan Holdsworth, and
Scott Henderson. I went to a
teacher who said, “If you want
to play like that, you have to
learn the roots—bebop.” My
whole thing comes from bebop.
How old were you at that point?
I was 15 or 16 when I started to
concentrate on bebop. I played
with my thumb for years—I was a
Wes Montgomery clone. I learned
a lot of Charlie Parker, Bud
Powell, and Thelonious Monk.
Noy onstage with his two Fender Custom Shop 1968 Strat Relics, both of which feature ’70s-style headstocks.
What were you playing on
First, I had a copy of a Gibson
L5, then a real Gibson ES-175.
At the same time, I had a
Charvel and was playing heavy
metal—because I was growing
up in the ’80s [laughs].
My friends used to ask me,
“When are you going to decide
[which style to stick with]?” I
couldn’t—I liked both.
In the early ’90s, I discovered
Stevie Ray Vaughan. That
led me to Hendrix. I started
to understand that, in order
to sound anything like those
guys, I had to get more into the
blues. I began to get away from
bebop and into people like Jim
Hall and John Coltrane, which
opened it up a little more. It
became less of a strict separation
between bebop and metal.
Because the blues is closer to
jazz than metal?
How did your current
In Israel, I used to do jazz gigs
and a lot of recording with pop
artists. At one point, I wasn’t
getting many calls to do jazz
gigs, so I became a bandleader.
At first, I would do all Wes
Montgomery, but once I decided
to do a real electric thing I
got a trio and we would play
Stevie Ray Vaughan-style stuff.
But, instrumentally, I got bored
after a few months of that. So
I added instrumental versions
of Stevie Wonder and James
Brown tunes. Then I got bored
again, because I was restricting
myself to the basic blues vocabulary.
I thought, “What would
happen if I just started playing
some of my bebop stuff over it?”
That’s when it all came together:
I had my electric rock sound,
the grooves weren’t really swing,
and I was playing a mix of any
style I wanted to—whether it
was rock, bebop, or whatever.
That is still basically the concept
of the band to this day.
When I came to New York,
I brought my hollowbody
guitar and my 1962 reissue
Stratocaster. I always hated the
sound of the hollowbody jazz
guitar, even when I was heavily
into Wes—it’s not as expressive
as a Stratocaster. I was playing
with pop artist Gavin DeGraw
and needed an acoustic guitar,
so I sold the hollowbody to buy
one. That was best move I ever
made: I only had my Strat, and
I decided I was going to play all
my music on that.
At this December 2010 gig at the Saxon Club in Austin, Noy was joined onstage by Chris Layton (drums), Roscoe Beck (bass), and Reese Wynans (keys).
When did you get into effects?
I was always into sounds. I used to
have racks in the ’80s, but I really
started to get into effects after I
started writing my own music.
When did you start writing
your own tunes?
I was writing in Israel. Then
I started to write for my band
here. I was playing at the Bitter
End about twice a month until
after I recorded my first record
in 2001, then I started playing
there every week.
That was some band: Will Lee
and Anton Fig.
I got introduced to Anton at
this musician’s hangout, The
Bar Bat. Anton and Keith
Carlock [Sting, Steely Dan]
played drums with me from
the beginning. Bassist Reggie
Washington [Branford Marsalis,
D’Angelo] played on most of
the first album. I knew Will Lee
a little. He saw me at a gig and
said, “Why don’t you call me
to play your gig?” I had always
wanted to call him, but hey—
he was Will Lee! Then Reggie
couldn’t make a gig, so I called
Will and that was it. Until now,
it has been pretty much Will
and Anton, or James Genus
[Saturday Night Live] and
Keith Carlock. Now and then,
I might change the drummer or
add an organ.
On this record, you’ve added
Vinnie Colaiuta [Sting, Jeff
Beck], Chris Layton [Double
Trouble], and Roscoe Beck
[Robben Ford, Leonard
Cohen]. How do you decide
which rhythm section is right
for each tune?
I play in Austin a few times a
year, and Roscoe is in the band
I use down there, so he knows
the material. I figured, if I was
going to record there, maybe I
could get Chris for the shuffle
tunes, so I called him and he
was totally down with it.
Do you use Chris Layton
when you play in Austin?
No, Chris was new. But it is
pretty simple stuff—I mean,
Chris knows how to play a
Did you go to Austin to
record Eric Johnson’s parts?
I recorded half the record
in New York at the Carriage
House, and half in Austin at
Noy having a blast in the studio with a pedalboard that barely has enough spare room to route patch cables
What is Eric Johnson playing
on “You Are the State?”
He does some harmonics. At the
end, he plays a couple of lines—
some pedal-steel sounds and
textures behind me. There was
supposed to be another song
with us really playing together,
but it fell through. It will hopefully
be on the next record.
Why did you decide to call the
record Twisted Blues?
This is not a blues band, but it
takes some of the blues forms
and adjusts them to what I
do. I always play jazz. When I
improvise, I don’t think about
what I am doing, stylistically.
Even if I play with a fuzz pedal
or play a Hendrix lick, it is
still improvising jazz. The only
difference is that we don’t play
swing—we play grooves—but
the improvisation part is jazz.
For this record, I wanted to play
more blues forms, like shuffles,
and use a blues sound.
Which Strats did you use on
I have two 1968 Relic Strats
from the Fender Custom Shop.
I told them exactly what to
make, and they are fantastic. I
mostly used the red one with a
maple fingerboard. I used the
one for “Trinkle
Tinkle.” I also used a Tele.
Is this the first time you’ve
played a Telecaster on record?
Yeah. It’s a ’58 Fender
You’ve been playing a Les Paul
a little these days, too, right?
I didn’t use it on the record, but
yeah, I just wanted to have a
Les Paul. I hadn’t played humbuckers
in years. For a while,
it was difficult to play, because
it reacts so differently and is so
loud. It took a while to get used
to it, but now I am digging it.
You usually record as a trio.
What made you decide to add
organ to this record?
It felt to me like it needed a
little more harmony. Plus, organ
is very bluesy [laughs].