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 five Blues Music Award nominations in 2013 alone.
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.”