Q&A with Memphis-based musician John Németh, has been bridging the lines between Blues, Soul and Americana

"Blues and Soul is music of hope, originated by a people, who had to survive on hope. The feeling of despair and repair are still felt today. Memphis struggles with poverty and maybe is one of the most impoverished cities in America. I just want to help people feel better and performing songs about familiar troubles might make a person feel less lonely."

John Németh: Turn On The Love Of Music

As a teenager in the early ‘90s growing up in the muddy potato fields of Idaho, John Németh was drawn to the hard-edged hip hop sounds and rock bands of the day, until a friend, Tom Moore, introduced him to the Junior Wells and Buddy Guy classic “Hoodoo Man Blues.” Together they formed Fat John & the 3 Slims, which is still regarded as a legendary band in the Boise region. John played harp and sang in local bands, often opening the show for nationally touring blues acts and quickly caught the ear of established blues musicians. It didn’t take long before he was releasing his own recordings, “The Jack Of Harps” (2002) and “Come And Get It” (2004), featuring Junior Watson, and performing in Junior Watson’s band. John relocated to San Francisco in 2004, where he had the bitter-sweet good fortune to undertake a two-year stint with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, filling in for the ailing Sam Myers. Németh immersed himself in the deep musical waters of the Bay area, absorbing more of the soul and funk grooves of what he calls “the early East Bay Grease sound” of San Francisco and Oakland bands. John’s talents did not go unnoticed and he soon signed a recording contract with Blind Pig Records. His national debut for that label, “Magic Touch” (2007), produced by Anson Funderburgh and featuring Junior Watson on guitar. In 2008 Németh was recruited by Elvin Bishop to do some performances and contribute four vocal tracks to his Grammy-nominated album “The Blues Rolls On.”

(John Németh / Photo by Valery Latypov)

Németh released two more albums on the Blind Pig label, “Love Me Tonight” (2009) & “Name The Day (2010). John followed up with two independently released live albums in 2012, “Blues Live” and “Soul Live.” In 2013 John relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, where he teamed up with producer Scott Bomar and his classic Memphis Soul band, the Bo-Keys, to create an album of revisited soul classics, “Memphis Grease” (2014 Blue Corn). John won the 2104 BMA for Best Soul Blues Male Artist, followed by “Memphis Grease” winning Best Soul Blues Album in 2015. In 2017 Németh released “Feelin’ Freaky” (produced by Luther Dickinson) on his own Memphis Grease label. Later that same year, Németh was part of a side project “The Love Light Orchestra Featuring John Németh” recorded live at one of Memphis’ favorite watering holes, Bar DKDC. Németh returned to Electraphonic in December of 2019  with his seasoned road band of young gun players, The Blue Dreamers, for a rowdy southern swamp roots session resulting in his 10th album, “Stronger Than Strong” (2021), demonstrating, yet again, his uncanny ability to skillfully blend retro and modern blues and soul into compelling music that is simultaneously old and new. The Love Light Orchestra’s second full-length effort titled “Turn On Your Love Light” will be released on February 18th, 2022. The 10-piece band—initially envisioned by guitarist Joe Restivo, vocalist John Nemeth and arranger/ trumpeter Marc Franklin—also reveals their affection for Bland here through covers of “”I’ve Been Wrong So Long” and “Poverty,” and they tip their hat to King and Parker through, respectively, “Bad Breaks” and “Sometimes.” The phrase “the Memphis sound” often evokes Sun rockabilly or the mid-‘60s “deep soul” era of Stax, but a style equally important in the city’s rich musical history.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

From the very beginning Blues gave me the feeling of freedom, opportunity, hope, and love. I believe that is the desire of any human being. I was a young man and did not know much about the history of the music, I just knew how it made me feel. It gave sympathy and compassionate for the person in the song. I always got the sense of hope from the singer’s voice and the feeling of dissatisfaction of their current situation. Soul music was the same as blues but placed in a different package. I could sense a stronger connection to the church. The music lifts me to new places both spiritually, physically, and geographically. I’ve been to war torn countries and countries living in peace and no matter where I go, there are fans of the music and fans of my contribution. 

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? What touched (emotionally) you from the sound of harmonica?

My sound is what I love in life, the energy that I receive and the energy that I give. I raise a wide variety of organic sounds in my musical garden and feelings that have slowly evolved over millions of years. My songbook is a reflection of my life, and the world around me. The harmonica is powerful instrument and very responsive to emotion, it allows me to cry and moan.

"From the very beginning Blues gave me the feeling of freedom, opportunity, hope, and love. I believe that is the desire of any human being. I was a young man and did not know much about the history of the music, I just knew how it made me feel." (Photo: John Németh)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Paul DeLay was one of my first mentors. He told me, “Look bubba you can’t play the chestnuts your whole life, you’re going to have to write some songs, so you can get that mailbox money!” I went back home and wrote “Let Me Hold You”!   Junior Watson loved that song and we recorded it on my “Come And Get It.”  Anson Funderburgh liked it and played it on my “Magic Touch.” It’s great to meet someone who cares enough to be honest with you.  

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, tours and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

The last gig I remember was the other day on my front porch! All my neighbors sit on their front porches and watch the show while I perform for fans on Facebook. I had the fans request the songs for the play list and was surprised how deep they went into the songbook  It was great to perform songs that I wrote over 20 years ago. My fans are the greatest. I also performed my new single “I Can See Your Love Light Shine.” It was a great success and I love performing these songs acoustically. I perform for donations these days and the fans take great care of me. Always have.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I think there is still a tremendous amount of talent in the world performing at an exceptional level. I do miss the organics in the music. I miss the days when popular music was spontaneous. These times come and go. I love the creativity, heart and soul that is on display today. The vocalist is a great vocalist even though many can’t cut a complete song in one take.

What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

My job is to help people feel good, to help the listener understand that they're not alone in their struggles and to see the light of hope. 

"Memphians create music and art out of passion and love, not to prove anything. With that comes the freedom of originality and creating music based on what feels right. This city has been oppressed, disenfranchised and downtrodden for decades, but yet still it rises, and you feel that in the music coming out of here." (Photo: John Németh's side project The Love Light Orchestra, a 10-piece band—initially envisioned by Joe Restivo, John Nemeth and Marc Franklin)

How do you describe The Love Light Orchestra sound, music philosophy and songbook?

The sound is built on the pioneering sound of 50s and 60s Memphis Soul Blues. Much like that of Junior Parker, Bobby Blue Bland and BB King. It is the philosophy of love. The songs are about relationship struggles and the hope for loving resolve. 

Are there any studio sessions memories with The Love Light Orchestra which you’d like to share with us?

The sessions were magic. The communication between musicians was on point, as if we were all moving as one body. The songs were cut in three, four-hour sessions with two to three takes of each song. Singing in a large studio next to a wall of horns was inspiring and the rhythm section was grooving like they were performing for millions of people. 

Why do you think that the "Memphis Sound" continues to generate such a devoted following?

I'm not a native Memphian, but from an outsider’s perspective, Memphis has long been underappreciated, with the spotlight shining elsewhere. It's crazy to me, because the creative pulse running through this city is so impressive. Memphians create music and art out of passion and love, not to prove anything. With that comes the freedom of originality and creating music based on what feels right. This city has been oppressed, disenfranchised and downtrodden for decades, but yet still it rises, and you feel that in the music coming out of here.

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues and Soul music?

When I was a child, my Hungarian father would tell me stories of living through WWII, Nazi, Russian and Soviet Russian occupation, about the fight for homeland and survival. The pain of leaving loved ones behind and coming to the US, only to find trouble here as well. As a teenager, I instantly bonded with the language and feeling of the Blues. It's the universal story of struggle and sorrow, not unlike the stories my father shared with me, with the reminder of hope and resilience. I've always felt Blues and Soul deep in my bones, the music has always been a reminder for me that others have faced the impossible and come out on the other side.

"My sound is what I love in life, the energy that I receive and the energy that I give. I raise a wide variety of organic sounds in my musical garden and feelings that have slowly evolved over millions of years. My songbook is a reflection of my life, and the world around me. The harmonica is powerful instrument and very responsive to emotion, it allows me to cry and moan." (Photo: John Németh)

What would you say characterizes Memphis music scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Memphis has a lot of musicians and venues. There has been a long tradition of people coming to Memphis to hear music much like that of New Orleans. The town has many great hit making studios and hit making musicians - Yo Gotti, B.B. King, Elvis, Carla Thomas, Justin Timberlake, Bobby “Blue” Bland, James Cotton to name just a few. Southern Avenue and Victor Wainwright are coming up through the ranks to be contenders as well. The town is famous for funky grooves with a lot of soul.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Communication is everything. You can be successful in any style of music if it speaks to people.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

It would be for the music streaming world to be overhauled in a way that ensures artists are paid fairly for their music.

What is the impact of Blues and Soul on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Blues and Soul is music of hope, originated by a people, who had to survive on hope. The feeling of despair and repair are still felt today. Memphis struggles with poverty and maybe is one of the most impoverished cities in America. I just want to help people feel better and performing songs about familiar troubles might make a person feel less lonely.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would love to go to Stax Records on the day Otis Redding cut “Try A Little Tenderness!”

John Németh - Home

(John Németh / Photo by Laura Carbone)

Views: 402

Comments are closed for this blog post

social media

Members

© 2022   Created by Michael Limnios Blues Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service