There is so much energy in John Németh and his band it’s hard to explain why they haven’t exploded yet. And after seeing and experiencing their live performance it just defies logic that these musicians don’t end their set by spontaneously combusting into volcanic ash onstage. Pure and simple: John Nemeth’s voice and harp playing is as hot and furious as any furnace and his music as captivating and enjoyable as anything burning up the national Blues scene today. Read on and learn how Nemeth feeds the fire:
Blues Blast: Your style draws as much from classic soul and r & b as it does from the blues. Who were your biggest influences growing up and who do you listen to now ?
John Németh: My first influences were Junior Wells, Freddie King, Magic Sam, B.B.King, T.Bone Walker and Little Walter. After a while I got into Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, James Carr, Big Joe Turner, Nat King Cole and Fats Domino. A few country artists got me too. George Jones, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Then I started getting into some other cats like Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin, Paul deLay, Bill Clarke, Robert Cray, Junior Watson, Anson Funderburgh and Elvin Bishop.
BB: When you write a song do you hear all the instrumental arrangements, the harp parts, the lyrics and music in one inspiration or do you start smaller and build to completion ?
JN: I start small and personal. ll my songs start with a vocal hook. The melody and the hook happen pretty much simultaneously. Then I work up the chorus. Once the chorus is finished I tell the story in the verses and maybe include a bridge. The groove and the style may change a few times till I get the right chemistry with the the melody and phrasing. A song may start as a ballad and wind up an uptempo or the other way around. I change keys and feels. It’s a very cool process. Then the instrumentation and production follows. In the end the song must have an energy and flow.
BB: You’ve been called “the best white blues singer in history”. What do you feel is your true place in music history ?
JN: I am honored by all the fantastic press I’ve received. I work hard to be the best I can be. This music is my life and without it I don’t know what would have ever become of me. But I do believe the best is still out there somewhere waiting to be discovered. Being a blues singer is a special thing. My place in music history. Wow. It’s something I’ve never thought about. I may be grouped with many artists who never gave up on the coolest music style in the world. Or maybe just one of the many revivalists that the music has seen over the centuries to come.
BB: Your harp playing has been compared to Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter. Is this an accurate statement ?
JN: I play blues harp. In the beginning I tried to sound like Little Walter and Sonny Boy. Now I try and sound like myself. My style has changed quite a bit. Especially with the real funky blues and soul that I’ve been doing as of late.
BB: What is the relationship between your vocals and your harp playing in your songs ?
JN: The harmonica is an extension of the song. First comes the song then the vocal and then the harp if the song could use the harp.All the blues I play has harp. Only half the soul numbers have harp.
BB: Tell me about those two great guitarists you play with Junior Watson and Bob Welch. Will both be on your next CD ?
JN: I have had the great fortune of working with some fantastic guitar players. Junior Watson gave me my first big tour opportunity. I opened a show for Junior in my hometown of Boise, ID. After that he asked me to go on tour with him. He has helped me out tremendously in my career. He appears on two of my recordings “Come and Get It” and “Magic Touch”. Junior is simply one of the best and most creative guitarists out there in the blues genre. His legions of emulators are a testament to his talent. Bob Welch. I first heard Bob playing in RJ Mischo’s band. I heard him performing Earl Hooker’s “Universal Rock”. He had “it”. That was in 2008. I needed a great guitarist that would slog it out doing 250 days on the road. He performed remarkably and we recorded twice together. On “Love me Tonight” and “Name The Day”. Bob and I really have wonderful chemistry together. By far, the most underrated blues guitarist in my mind. Most guitarists don’t fully understand how great Bob is until they try to learn his parts. He is unique. As to who will be the next guitarist I record with well I will surprise you !!!!
BB: What’s in the future for John Nemeth ?
JN: Lord only really knows. I will continue beating up the road and recording. I feel fortunate just to have the opportunity to perform so often. I thank the fans, the road band (AC Myles, Nick Fishman, and Tommy Folen), Blind Pig Records and Intrepid Artist for that.
BB: You’ve just added your first child to the family last Fall. How has this changed your career ? Have you written any songs about your latest inspiration yet ?
JN: I am so blessed with a wonderful wife Jaki and my baby Grace. Well the first few months had my wife and me pretty wore out. I have written some very enlightening tunes with my daughter in mind. It sure changes your perspective. My career is still much the same. I wish I could be home more but I have to hit the road to pay the bills so mama can stay home. Day care in the San Francisco Bay area is high like the rent and worth it. Now I have great little responsibilities when I am at home and let’s just say I have become much more efficient with my music time.
BB: For the past four years you’ve been a powerhouse at the Blues Blast Music Awards winning Best New Artist and Rising Star awards in 2004 and being nominated for at least an award in every year since. Why does your sound go over so well in Chicago the birthplace of the blues ?
JN: I just try to write and perform some cool music. Fortunately for me, the readers and nominators at Blues Blast think it’s cool too. It may be the fact that I approach my music as a blues singer. Most of my music is rooted in blues delivery and attitude.
BB: You’ve opened for Robert Cray, Keb Mo’ and Earl Thomas. Any good stories you’d care to share ?
JN: All those guys are tremendous talents. It was a pleasure to meet them and open for them. Unfortunately, at the time it was all business. Two bands on the road trying to keep it together, you know what I’m saying. I have gotten to know Earl since then and consider him a real good friend.
BB: You’ve gigged all over the U.S., Europe, Canada and Asia. How are the blues audiences all over the world different ? Any good stories you want to share ?
JN: Lot’s of good stories but one of my favorites took place in Thailand. Walking into a bar and a Thai band was playing some great pop. I got up with them and called a blues and they knew exactly what to play. The blues is such a powerful thing and without it the modern world would not have pop music as they know it.
BB: You are from Boise, ID and grew up singing in a Catholic Church. What kind of music scene is there out there in Boise and where did you hear the blues growing up ?
JN: I went to St. Mary’s elementary. Catholic schools could barely keep the doors open. We had classes of ten to fifteen students. Only devout Catholics and troubled students went there. We had some great teachers. Sister Colletta had us sing every morning. Two patriotic songs and two religious ones. She would teach us harmony. That’s when I knew I could sing. Boise had a great music scene. From 1993 to 2000 I was playing blues five to seven nights a week in town. Oh. The good old days! There were at least eight clubs to perform at. We had house gigs Monday thru Thursday and would alternate weekends on the circuit. Boise had a blues society and a couple of bands that worked the circuit. Jason Ricci played in a band called Streetwise. Boise really grew and changed. Now the Catholic Schools have waiting lists.
BB: Where can everyone keep up with your career and gigs ?
JN: Check me out at www.johnnemethblues.com and my Facebook Band Page.
Interviewer A. J. Wachtel is a long-time entertainment journalist in New England and the East Coast who currently writes for The Boston Blues Society and The Noise Magazine. He is well known in the Boston and N.Y.C areas for his work in the Blues for the last two decades.