To say that Loy, 52, has incredible guitar technique is to say that a cheetah runs fast -- it's understatement bordering on banality. Watching him perform I have the same sensation I get watching kids in arcades play Dance Dance Revolution at its highest setting; their feet move so fast I can't imagine how they're hitting all the right arrows. Likewise, Loy's fingers move at such lightning speed I'm surprised there isn't a time delay between the moment he plucks the strings and the notes hit my ears. It's sick.
It's unsurprising to find out that John Coltrane is one of Loy's heaviest influences -- he seems to have figured out how to transpose Trane's "wall of sound" to guitar. Whether playing old Folk tunes or originals, most of Loy's arrangements, however pretty, will make your head spin with a flurry of notes followed by percussive hits and fingerboard gymnastics. Other influences include The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Andres Segovia, Joe Pass, Stanley Clark, Jeff Berlin, Jack Bruce and Michael Hedges.
As far as what styles he plays, he says, "I like Rock, Jazz and Classical equally. You wouldn't want to choose between your children."
Though he does a lot of coffee-shop gigs, Loy isn't your typical café background musician. For one, he doesn't strum and hum. He picks, taps, zips, claps and zooms his way around the instrument. Like Native Americans used every part of the buffalo, Loy uses every part of his guitar.
He also plays the weirdest-looking instrument you're likely to see around these parts: a harp-guitar. Yeah, he's got a regular acoustic, but he's also got this thing that has guitar strings in the middle, bass harp strings at the top and upper-register harp strings at the bottom. It would take too long to go into the mechanics of it, so let's just say it looks and sounds cool.
I first came across Loy and his magic guitars at the most unlikely of places: the flea market at Christmastime. I was there against my better judgment while a friend shopped, bored with stall after stall of junk. But then I was shocked to hear -- on a stage decorated with hay bales and surrounded by cafeteria-style tables and fast-food counters -- a lovely and intricate rendition of "Silver Bells." It sounded like at least four hands were involved in the interweaving harmonies, but there was only one person on stage ... with a very unusual-looking instrument.
I watched in awe as he coerced sound out of that strange musical beast, and I lined up during the break to grab his card and a CD.
"Every week without fail," Loy says, "people come up and say 'Can I ask you what you call that? I've never seen one of those in my life!' "
I wasn't any different. I couldn't take my eyes off the thing.
Originally from Lewisburg, Ohio, Loy generally plays the Dayton-Indianapolis-Columbus-Cincinnati circuit. He plays both solo fingerstyle guitar as well as with a Fusion trio called the Hipperoos. Loy himself has been playing since he was in grade school (like many other tots he was inspired by watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan's show in 1964) and has been teaching privately full time for 28 years.
When I ask if he's always supported himself by being a full-time musician, he answers coyly, "Yeah, I don't have a real job."
Loy just released two new CDs, Wackazoid, a collection of ear-bending originals, and Beyond the Grave, arrangements of religious songs such as "Amazing Grace." Spirituality is a big part of his music.
"I don't like Christians that are obnoxious and pushy," he says. "I don't try to be that way, but I'm tired of this politically correct thing where you gotta shut up, you can't mention Jesus. ... I'm not going to shut up, I'm not going to apologize. ... In him I live and move and have my being."
After the interview, Loy laughs and asks if he was too intense. He says that all his friends are intense and he is intense and he doesn't want it to be uncomfortable for others. I shrug and say it doesn't affect me. He shouts, jestingly, "Well maybe you should get more intense!"
When I want intense, I'll just turn on one of his CDs. It's like having a triple espresso stirred with heaping spoonfuls of sugar. I'm glad I'm not a guitarist -- if I were, I would listen to his licks, watch his technique and despair. As it is, I can just get on my running gear and burn my day to a soundtrack by the "Coltrane of guitar."
ERIC LOY (ericloy.com) performs at Everybody's Records Saturday at 2 p.m.