Boise, Idaho is hardly the place anyone would conjure up as a hotbed of soul music.
But for John Németh, it’s where his love for the genre began—and the starting point for a journey that’s taken him from his first gigs fronting a teenaged band to thirteen Blues Music Award nominations between 2012 and 2015. He received the 2014 BMA for Soul Blues Male Artist Of The Year.
It’s where this preternaturally talented son of a Hungarian immigrant gained his early chops on the harmonica, building on the style of rootsy heroes like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson. Németh’s first paid performance came in 1991, when he was hired to perform drinking songs for a pinochle luncheon held by the Catholic Daughters of America before setting his sights on the Boise club scene, where, for nearly a decade, he played seven nights a week at local pubs, taverns, joints, and parties.
After opening a show for Junior Watson, Németh was tapped as tour opener for the guitar great, a gig that took him across the United States, to Scandinavia, and into the recording studio for his 2004 solo debut, Come And Get It, featuring Watson. When Németh’s girlfriend decided to relocate to California, he knew he couldn’t lose her, so he packed up the house and traveled west. It was an astute move: shortly after his arrival, Németh was signed by Blind Pig Records to a three-album deal. He also earned critical acclaim placing him in, as Nick Cristiano of the Philadelphia Inquirer put it, “a cadre of young and relatively young artists such as James Junter, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed, and Sharon Jones.”
“I learned a lot living in Oakland and San Francisco,” Németh says, “from recording and performing with Elvin Bishop to hearing Jimmy Hughes perform. Oakland is like a truly southern city, only it’s on the west coast. It wasn’t until after I arrived that I discovered that so many great songs I love actually originated there.” In early 2013, Németh traded his life on the west coast to settle down in Memphis, Tennessee. He and Jaki, that girlfriend he followed to California, had married and started a family, and Memphis made sense for multiple reasons: It’s centrally located for touring, the cost of living is inexpensive, and the river town is the historical ground zero for American roots music.
“I moved to Memphis because it is the epicenter for soul and blues,” Németh confirms. “The wealth of knowledge runs deep in the instincts of its musicians and its studios.”
The 2000-mile trek south was wild. Németh’s 26-foot Budget rental truck broke down in the middle of the night in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he had to unload the entire truck and reload a new one on the side of the road. A scant two days after that, he was in Memphis and, as improbably as it sounds, in the recording studio.
Németh landed in the perfect place: Electraphonic Studio, home of producer and musician Scott Bomar, who composed the film scores for Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan and