John Nemeth gets to the soul of the music before hitting the bandstand
The reason John Nemeth jams so well? He knows were his bread was buttered.
It’s easy to consider Nemeth a classic soul and R&B player because seasoned, old-school sounds come across loud and clear at his live shows and on his five CDs, the last three with Blind Pig Records.
An Idaho native, Nemeth now lives in Oakland, which, he said, has an under-appreciated musical history.
“You know, ‘The Thrill is Gone’ by B.B. King?” Nemeth asked. “That was a hit 19 years earlier by a guy named Roy Hawkins in Oakland. ” ‘Tin Pan Alley,’ ‘Mercury Blues’ and ‘My Time After a While,’ hell, those songs were written by a guy named Bob Geddins and recorded in Oakland.”
From the time he heard his first Junior Wells record, Nemeth has been a fan of the blues. But he was inspired after hearing T-Bone Walker team up with Mel Brown on the album “Dirty Mistreater.”
“It was real funky blues,” Nemeth said. “T-Bone didn’t even really change. It was the band around him that changed, and that gave me the idea I can really do that. I can take the harmonica and take the blues vocals and I can put it against some of those real funky soul rhythms. It turns out cool.”
Walker has influenced musicians for decades. Chuck Berry learned to speed up his licks, and that led to him being given credit by some for inventing rock ‘n’ roll.
“That’s sort of been the American way,” Nemeth said. “Take one thing from something else and take another thing and throw it in the soup and pretty soon you have a brand new stew.”
Nemeth’s musical tastes are varied – he has an appetite for everything. But when he’s not working, he often can be found at San Francisco’s Biscuits and Blues, where he recently saw fellow harmonica player-singer Kim Wilson.
“These guys really know all the old music, where it came from and how to sell it,” he said. “The place is full of fans but I’m thinking, ‘Where are all the musicians at? They’re not out here taking lessons from the pros?’ “
Nemeth received an ultimate accolade recently when he played at Blind Willie’s in Atlanta and spotted 72-year-old William Bell in the audience. Bell recorded the 1961 hit, “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” and co-wrote with Booker T Jones “Born Under A Bad Sign.”
“I’m a huge fan of his,” Nemeth said. “He was there all night long. I talked to him for a while and he said he really liked my tunes. He heard the music on the radio and came down. I kind of write songs like him in a way. I never intended to, but some of them just come out like that real honest melodic southern soul.”
Nemeth with perform with a trio of young musicians Friday, Dec. 16 in the Crystal Bay Casino Red Room: Nick Fishman (drums) and Tommy Folen (bass) and guitarist A.C. Myles, who, the bandleader said, “is a grown man to the rest of the world but a youngster in the blues.”
Nemeth has been working out several new songs in his home studio and hopes to begin recording his next record by February. He said he will play a lot of his new tunes at Tahoe.
“I love the Red Room, and Blake (Beeman), the sound guy up there, he’s top notch,” he said.
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