John Nemeth makes it back to Bluesdays with Album of the Year honors

John Nemeth

John Nemeth in Memphis upstairs at the Rum Boogie Cafe earlier this year. Nemeth appears in the Tahoe area June 23 for the first time since he moved to Memphis 2 1/2 years ago.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Moving from the Bay Area to Memphis was a sound career decision for John Nemeth, a quintessential bluesman who constantly performs.

“I dig it there,” Nemeth told Tahoe Onstage. “The culture is cool and the musical influence, whether it’s blues or not, the bands have that certain sound and feel that they all have down there. It’s cool. I like it. It’s funky.”

An ancillary benefit for Nemeth was getting to sleep in his own bed after receiving the Blues Music Award for Best Soul Album, “Memphis Grease.”

“It was nice,” Nemeth told Tahoe Onstage. “And then I had to get up at 5 in the morning to fly back out to California to finish up the tour.”

Like a blues song, tales of a bluesman’s life end with an ironic refrain.

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Rocking the Rum Boogie are, from left, Johnny Rhodes, John Nemeth and Matthew Wilson.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Nemeth is on another California tour which will include his first Lake Tahoe area appearance since he relocated to Memphis in January 2013.

Nemeth when he lived out West said he sometimes drove nonstop to Lincoln, Nebraska to start a tour. Living in the hub of Memphis cuts down on travel time between shows. But he plays as much as he ever has.

“When I started off in my hometown of Boise, Idaho, I was performing five to seven nights a week, so I’m used to that,” he said. “I’m used to playing every kind of venue known to man and getting out there and doing it. Sometimes I do wish I had the luxury of being able to sit back and go to some parties and do some high-profile exposure gigs here and there. Well, maybe it will come some day, I don’t know. Until then, I’ve got to keep my elbows on the wheel.”

In the blues world, Nemeth is a major star. He sings like a modern-day Johnny Taylor and plays harp in the style of Junior Wells. He has a vintage style and delivery and is very prolific in the studio with at least eight albums since he began recording in 2002.

In addition to the BMA for “Memphis Grease,” Nemeth has been nominated by Living Blues Magazine for Outstanding Vocalist and Album of the Year.

Before “Memphis Grease,” Nemeth released two albums at the same time, “Blues Live” and “Soul Live.” The new record features both styles with five blues and six soul tunes.

Recording with an all-star band from Memphis, the Bo-Keys, Nemeth said the album sounded great before it was even mixed.

“It’s the best songwriting on a complete record that I’ve put together,” he said. “And sonically, it’s my first completely analog venture. You just can’t beat it. As much as they’ve tried to come up with digital forms of recording, tape is still superior in my mind.”

Nemeth took the phone call for this interview at Swaad, one of his favorite Indian restaurants. He was in San Jose for the Fountain Blues Fest. He was with drummer Danny Banks, who Nemeth described as a “child prodigy turned adult.”

“Shall I call back after you have finished dinner?” I asked.

“No, Danny’s used to me doing interviews while we eat,” Nemeth said, before candidly describing the status of his busy career.

“When I get home from work then I go to work with (my two) kids,” he said. “I haven’t had time to smell the roses. I’m always out there touring, putting butts in the stands and the seats.

“A guy like me who doesn’t have a hit record or a Top 40 hit or something like that, my money is made on selling tickets and selling product to people who bought the tickets. In some ways it probably infringes on my ability to collaborate with people because I’m just never at home and missing out on many numbers of high exposure opening gigs and things like that.

“It’s funny how people haven’t heard of me even though I have a ton of critically acclaimed records out there, but you’ve got to spend money like Joe Bonamassa to be somebody these days. You’ve got to start with that money first because the label’s not going to put that kind of money up to make you a household name. So it’s difficult. It’s a weird kind of conundrum that I am in but the beautiful thing about it is I get to perform a lot.”

  • Bluesdays: John Nemeth and the Blue Dreamers
    (Danny Banks, drums; Matthew Wilson, bass and guitar; Johnny Rhoades on guitar. All three sing harmonies.)
    When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 23
    Where: Village at Squaw Valley

    Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

    John Nemeth is the 2015 Blues Music Awards’ recipient for Best Soul Album for “Memphis Grease.”
    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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