John Nemeth (from the album Memphis Grease) - The Blues made a Soul man out of John Németh. The son of a Hungarian immigrant grows up in Boise, Idaho and learns his chops on the harmonica by building on the style of rootsy heroes like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson.
Maybe not a typical path to the Blues but when John Németh’s first paid performance came in 1991, he never looked back. John was hired to perform drinking songs for a pinochle luncheon held by the Catholic Daughters of America. Once the lunch mob was under his belt, he set his sights on the Boise club scene, where he played seven nights a week for the next decade. A string of album and a move further south landed John in California, first in the San Francisco then across the Bay in Oakland.
John Németh: “I was living in California when the new album started to happen. Nick Loss-Eaton asked me about the next record and he recommended Scott (Bomar) in The Bo-Keys. I had kind of heard about The Bo-Keys when I saw Otis Clay perform at a festival. He said he had done a song with The Bo-Keys, though at the time I thought he said The Bar-Keys.
Trying to be a musician in the Bay Area is tough, especially if you don’t have mailbox money in from a hit record. I have a daughter and my wife started saying they don’t see me much. I told her ’you don’t see me that much because it costs a fortune to live out here’. We were living in Oakland. When I got to San Francisco it was at the bottom out of the dot.com bust. I got there in 2003 and2004 and got an apartment on the corner of Pine and Mason. It was $1200 bucks when I moved in and the day I moved to Oakland it went $3000 a month.
I always liked Memphis. I drove around with band (The Bo-Keys) when we were talking about the album. I got back home and said we should move to Memphis. The musical heritage here is fantastic; folks get to see some amazing players. The food is terrific; coming from California you hope that the place you move to has as many good restaurants and Memphis has that covered. My family is out here, there are lots of cool things to do for kids, libraries, some of the best parks I have ever seen.”
Since their inception, The Bo-Keys have been a band on the inside of a hot groove in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. In the early parts of their careers, members of The Bo-Keys performed in B.B. King’s orchestra and anchored the Hi Rhythm Section. The first referral John Németh for Memphis Grease wasScott Bomar, who had worked with Willie Mitchel and Al Green. Skip Pitts started The Bo-Keys with Scott and laid down the wah-wah guitar intro to ‘The Theme from Shaft” in the 1970’s. Trumpeter Ben Cauley was with school-kid funk band The Bar-Keys. The group’s hit “Soul Finger” got them a gig as backing band for Otis Redding and put them on board for the plane crash that took his life, leaving Ben as the only survivor of the disaster. Drummer Howard Grimes’ can be heard keeping the beat for recordings by Rufus and Carla Thomas, O.V. Wright and Ann Peebles. Memphis Grease is the album the John Németh put together with the help of The Bo-Keys.
John Németh: “Memphis feels like a good fit. These guys are so deep into the music. The music is just here, the energy is here, people have been brought up on this style of music. For me, I have been listening to this music forever. It touched me deeply when I was a kid. My intro to Memphis was playing the Leviitt Band Shell. Throughout the summer there are three or four concerts a week and the city pays for it. I did a show after the record with The Bo-Keys, then a festival in Springfield MO and a showcase at B.B. Kings. I am taking the band that is on the record out on tour. These guys don’t go out on the road, they stick around town and do studio work. The live show is going great, you’ve got these guys that have played with a lot of folks over the years and the list is long. O.V. Wright to Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Isaac Hayes, Al Green , Ann Peebles, Robert Plant. When you’ve got a drummer like Howard Grimes to phrase, you really can’t miss.”
John Németh and The Bo-Keys tour begins March 14th in San Francisco and runs through April, including a slate of Massachusetts shows beginning with an Alternate Root TV filming on April 9, Narrows Center for the Arts (4-10-14), Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA (4-11-14) and Bull Run in Shirley, MA (4-12-14).