Singer/harmonica player John Nemeth is a Boise, Idaho, native. From where John Neméth comes from, they dig more taters than blues. But that hasn’t stopped the Boise, Idaho, native from carving out a career over the past two decades as a purveyor of the down and dirty blues. But the singer/harmonica player doesn’t just get down and wallow in the Mississippi mud or go stomping around in the high and lonesome hill country. He visits those locales and comes away with that dirt sticking to him, then sluices it off with a shower of soul.
“Stronger Than Strong,” which was released Oct. 16 on Nola Blue Records, is Neméth’s 10th record. It finds him tailoring his soul man suit tighter and tighter, soaking the fabric with buckets of squeezed-out soul juice.
Neméth was fed a steady diet of classical music growing up in a Hungarian household in Idaho. His father was a Hungarian freedom fighter who introduced his son to unruly Hungarians folkies zapping blues at warp speed. But Neméth’s idolatry changed allegiance at the age of 14 when schoolmates introduced him to Freddie King and Junior Wells.
A move to San Francisco in 2004 earned him a two-year residency with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets honing his harp and vocal skills. Neméth put out his first solo record, “Magic Touch,” in ’07. The title was prophetic. His melding of soul vocal and blues harp is a head-on collision with both coming away better for the mash up.
Relocating to Memphis in 2013, Neméth celebrated his new digs with his adaptation of soul classics on “Memphis Grease” winning a BMA for Best Soul Blues album in 2015.
Former Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin once said that he thought Neméth was as good as a once unknown guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Neméth responded by saying that he believed if there weren’t harmonica players out there doing traditional blues music, it might just drift away.
But it’s what Neméth does with traditional blues that sets him apart. Greensboro saxman Jimmy Carpenter sits in with Neméth any chance he gets, and in his capacity as musical arranger and assistant talent booker for the Big Blues Bender, books Neméth regularly for the Las Vegas-based blues extravaganza.
“He’s a very inventive guy," Carpenter says. “He doesn’t do stuff like others. He’s never obvious, a great harp player with a different angle. There’s so many people in the blues world that do that same kind of thing, but Neméth doesn’t lose those influences. It’s there, but he does interesting cool stuff with it.”
Neméth’s vocals are unique as well, like a 1950s crooner inventing soul before its mainstream debut a decade later.
“He’s got this kinda edge to his voice,” Carpenter says. “But it’s not harsh, it just cuts through.” The presentation is unique as well. You don’t hear many harp players coming back in soulfully on the next breath. “The cool thing to me is (that) he doesn’t seem to push. Even when he’s singing those rocked-up, fast kinda things, he’s easy with his delivery,” Carpenter says.” I always feel like I’m half a breath behind, and he never sounds like that. Even when he sings really high, because he’s got an amazing range. It doesn’t sound forced. It’s smooth.”
On Neméth’s latest release, newly minted soul classics pop up everywhere. “Depriving a Love” is a juke joint window-rattler fueled by Jon Hay’s barbed wire guitar riffs and Neméth’s stabbing harp thrusts, backed by a relentless tribal beat driven by Matt Wilson’s throbbing bass.
For glorious misery, it’s hard to beat “Sometimes,” Neméth’s cover of Little Junior Parker’s ’58 release. “Sometimes I feel […]