Bluesman John Nemeth is one of the up-and-coming stars in the blues world. Stints with Junior Watson and Anson Funderburgh brought him to the attention of audiences worldwide, and earned him a reputation as a soulful singer and electric harp player. His contributions to albums by Nappy Brown and Elvin Bishop cemented his status as a young blues talent. Last year we chose Nemeth as one of "Six Blues Artists To Watch In 2010" and he did not disappoint, releasing the near-perfect Name The Day! album in 2010 to widespread critical acclaim.
John Nemeth's Name The Day!
One of the things that stands out from listening to Name The Day! is Nemeth's wonderful soul-blues sound, a throwback to an earlier era. "I definitely had been writing more soul music, soul-influenced music," says Nemeth, "especially after my Love Me Tonight record. I went back and listened to all sorts of soul music – I can always listen to soul music! We were driving all over the place last year, we were on the road a lot, and my guitar player Bobby turned me on to all sorts of things that I hadn't heard before in the soul genre. It started sinking into my brain. When I started writing songs, they sounded like 1960s soul-blues kind of stuff."
Songs like "Breakin' Free" and "Tuff Girl" from Name The Day! have a distinctive Stax Records, Southern soul feel. "There doesn't go a week that I don't pull out James Carr or Percy Sledge, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, fellows like that," says Nemeth. "I listen to country records, too, and I've always been a big fan of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and all those cats. I listen to a lot of Wilson Pickett and Robert Ward, so when you're always listening to that kind of music and diggin' on it, it's going to come out in your songwriting."
Nemeth got interested in music at an early age. "When I was in high school, I was listening to a lot of 1950s, '60s, and '70s country, and listening to a lot of rock," he says. "A friend of mine, a guitar player, got his hands on some blues and played that for me, played me Freddie King, and B.B. King, Junior Wells, Blind Blake, cats like that and I really flipped out when I heard the stuff."
"It was just a little different, kind of like rock 'n' roll but funkier, a little tougher, not so many pop sensibilities to the music." When Nemeth began writing songs of his own, the music he heard as a teen would spill over into his music. "There's no escaping all those influences, especially back in the day when the radio was full of those artists, white and black, and it was readily available for everybody to hear."
Contrary to what some fans may believe, Nemeth's current high profile and popularity didn't happen overnight. The bluesman has spent much of the last decade hitting the gong and touring anywhere that he could perform. It's this "road warrior" mentality from Nemeth and his band that has built a loyal following. "Last year we did around 220 shows, and were on the road maybe 240 to 250 days," says Nemeth. "We've been on that sort of schedule for three years now. You have to work a lot to make it all add up, but we actually enjoy it. It's fun to be able to work five to seven nights a week; some musicians need to do this to satisfy their soul and keep their demons at rest."
Nemeth's dynamic live performances and impressive work ethic has won favor from audience wherever he has performed. "I was never a hustler, just a singer and musician that happened to be in bands that people liked and wanted to hire," he says. "I was never the guy that got on the telephone and hustled up my own work. I'm just not geared like that; some in the music business are relentless hustlers, but I've been fortunate enough that audiences always liked it and club owners noticed that."
Fat John & the Three Slims
Nemeth got his start in the music business in the early 1990s with his first band, Fat John & the Three Slims. "I was Fat John," he says, "I was about two-hundred and twenty pounds, and the other guys in the band were about a hundred-and-tens pounds each. I was a football player, eating a lot and lifting weights. I played sports in high school, the other guys were hanging out and partying and practicing their instruments. That was my first band."
Even early in his career, the response of fans would lead to greater opportunities. "We played a talent show, and some girl in 'advance communications' in high school videotaped it. She really enjoyed the show and passed it around to some different people, and the owner of a club in Horseshoe Bend, Idaho called the Grubstake hired me to come in and play the summer in his little club," Nemeth remembers. "We were playing rock, blues, and 1960s and '70s outlaw country. That was my first gig, and we did that for a couple of summers, and then I graduated from high school. After that one gig, we were playing seven nights a week in one town for years. It was cool...Boise, Idaho from 1993 until about 2002; I was working five to seven nights a week."
Junior Watson & Anson Funderburgh
Nemeth's steady gig at the Grubstake brought him to the attention of others in the business. "I got a call from a dude named Scott Cable, a blues producer. He was in Boise helping out a business that he was working with," says Nemeth. "He told me that Junior Watson was going to be passing through town, and so I put together a gig for him. I played every Monday and Tuesday night at this one club, so I brought him in one night, opened up for him, and he was looking for a side guy so he called me up and I started touring with him." Nemeth spent a year, on and off, touring with former Canned Heat guitarist Watson.
One thing led to another, and Nemeth's touring with Watson brought him to the attention of Texas blues guitarist Anson Funderburgh. "Sam Myers came down with throat cancer, so he was looking for a singer to fill in the dates that Sam couldn't make," he says. "At the time, nobody knew exactly how serious it was. It was Scott Cable and Little Ronnie Owens that had mentioned my name to Anson, so he called me up and got me in the band." Nemeth toured with Funderburgh and the Rockets in Myers' absence, further honing his live performance chops.