If you’re a fan of the blues, you owe it to yourself to get acquainted with the work of Israeli guitar slinger Andy Watts. He’s performed with legends such as Johnny Winter, Joe Louis Walker, and Kenny Neal while simultaneously carrying the torch for a music scene in Tel Aviv that has proven to be much more fertile than those of us in the Western world realized.
His latest album, “Supergroove,” is a 10-track collection of blues, jazz, rock, soul, and whatever else Watts and his dynamite backing band feel like conjuring up. I caught up with Watts this week to discuss the project and hopefully gain a deeper understanding of how the American bluesmen of the past inspired a kid from Israel to embark on a lifelong journey.
MNOD: How have you been getting through the pandemic thus far?
AW: It’s a global thing. The entire world is being tested right now and hopefully we’ll get through it soon. We into our third lockdown in Israel and my last show was on March 11, 2020, but I’ve spent the last six months or so laying the foundation for my next album. I’m not going to release anything until Corona is behind us, so lately I’ve been doing promotion for “Supergroove,” which I’m very proud of.
MNOD: Are you optimistic that things will get back to normal before 2021 is over?
AW: I have to be. If we stick together to defeat this common enemy, I think we can beat it. The vaccination program in Israel has really caught on lately, but the proof is in the pudding. We’re a country of 9 Million people and 10% of our population received the vaccine by the end of 2020. We must stay strong. I don’t want to play shows again until everyone is comfortable with going back out, because I want to have my full band up on stage.
MNOD: Who were some of your influences when you were first getting into music?
AW: When I was 12-years-old, I loved John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, and, of course, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac. That period really changed my musical destiny. Hearning the blues on the radio was life-changing. I learned to play the guitar by myself, but I don’t read music. I know that’s not what everyone wants to hear, but I think it gives me the freedom to play outside the box sometimes. My playing isn’t confined by expectations. I try not to overplay and I’m always trying to be in the right state of mind for the song.
MNOD: What inspired your sound on “Supergroove?”
AW: That’s a great question. Sound is always important to me, because it can really define the attitude of an album. First, I had to decide what kind of guitar I wanted to play. Did I want a Strat? Did I want a Les Paul? Or, did I want an ES-335? I only play Fender or Gibson, so finding the right guitar sound is crucial to getting what I want out of the studio. When you’re making an album, I believe that each song should be cut in one, two, or three takes. Anything more than that and you start nitpicking rather than trying to capture the essence of the band at that moment. When you get into that zone, it’s important not to overthink it. For “Supergroove,” there’s a kibbutz in central Israel that had a chicken shack converted into a studio, so we ended up recording there. It’s a warm, analog room that really worked for me.
MNOD: What was Kenny Neal like to work with as a producer?
AW: He’s a fantastic musician. I brought him over to Israel to play some shows with me and we had great chemistry, so it was easy to get him on board with this project. He liked the concept for the song I wrote called “Don’t Take My Blues Away” and the message of not giving up, which is one of my favorite tracks on this album. One of my goals is always to widen the audience for Israel’s music scene and getting all of these great players to collaborate with helps me do that.
MNOD: How did the rest of the guest appearances on this album come together?
AW: This album contains five originals and five covers, but the covers aren’t the copy and paste versions that people may be used to. That’s not what I do. I wanted to inject my own flavor into the song and make each cover fit the concept of what I wanted this album to be. Each song usually starts with a riff and then I do all of the initial vocal guides for them. Joe Louis Walker recorded the vocals for “Burning Deep” in the US while Rick Estrin recorded his harp parts for the album in Israel.
MNOD: Is there a particular track that you feel embodies the overall vibe of this album?
AW: I think my version of Peter Green’s “Supernatural” is one that people will really enjoy. I tried to picture in my head what it would sound like to drive at night and that guided me when shaping the sound of the song. Overall, though, I just wanted everything to have a good flow. It’s hard to put me into a box, because I incorporate elements of soul, funk, jazz, psychedelic, and the blues into my sound. Rejuvenating the blues is important, because I always want to evolve and move forward.
MNOD: What is something unique about the scene in Tel Aviv that people from the outside wouldn’t necessarily know?
AW: It’s a melting pot. We’re very Western-oriented, but we also have Middle Eastern influences. It takes about an hour to drive from one end of the country to the other, so Israel is small but lovely when it comes to its music scene. I dedicated this album to Tel Aviv, because there’s a genuine artistic pulse here that I want more people to know about.
MNOD: What is the significance of the graffiti used for the album cover?
AW: There’s a hip neighborhood in Tel Aviv called Florentin that is full of art and graffiti, and I wanted to highlight its contribution to the scene. Also, putting interesting things on an album cover leads to people asking questions and being curious, which is a good thing. I’m sure a lot of people are wondering why I put a yellow rhino on the cover, so hopefully it encourages them to dig deeper and check out the music.
“Supergroove” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.
For further information about Watts, check out the following links: