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Published: Wednesday, 4/29/2009

Singin' the blues: John Nemeth has a smooth, soulful sound

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It's a sad, familiar story for blues men and their ladies.

The guy goes out on the road and succumbs to the temptation of the flesh. He cheats, and next thing you know the happy couple is living out 12 bars of sadness as they become fodder for one of the songs.

This did not happen to blues/soul singer John Nemeth, but he did do something on a recent tour that really turned his wife off.

He got fat.

"Being out on the road, you know it's not too easy of a thing on your constitution. You go through the South and you have all these ladies that want to feed you fried chicken and sweet potato pie and all this pork fat. My first time out on the road I gained 30 pounds and I outgrew my clothes."

Which explains how it is that on his album covers he appears as a suave-looking ladies man and then you find him on YouTube on stage in a pair of baggy bib overalls, looking pretty much like a slob.

"That's a good way to keep the ladies away: go out there and get fat - having barbecue sauce on your cheeks isn't the most attractive thing."

Nemeth - and his wife - are happy to report he's back down to his original weight on a tour that brings him to Perrysburg's Fat Fish Blue Thursday night. The Boise native is touring behind the highly touted Blind Pig release "Love Me Tonight," which effectively showcases his soulful voice that is equal parts Otis Redding and Joe Turner.

He can deliver smooth readings on his own songs or belt out the blues and blow a pretty mean harp when it's called for. Nemeth tours regularly on the blues circuit and has performed with Elvin Bishop, Junior Watson, and the Rockets.

Nemeth knows he's a bit of an outlier because he doesn't play guitar, but that doesn't bother him. His point: blues guitar players are common, probably too common.

"Blues has become such a formulated product these days," he said in a phone interview from Chicago. "I think they've gotten too far away from the stress on vocalists. They really should make a point of bringing that back. Guitar power trios have become so formulated and stale."

First exposed to the blues when he was about 14, Nemeth said he grew up in a house where completely different strains of music were played on the stereo - his father is a Hungarian immigrant who played folk music from his home country, along with classical and operas. But once he heard artists like Junior Wells and Magic Slim, he knew he wanted to sing and play the blues.

Singing always came easy for him, and he said he's made a comfortable living touring and recording albums. "Love Me Tonight" is his fourth release and the second for the Blind Pig label. It exudes a combination of an old-school soul feel as if the music was lifted out of Memphis in the '60s, with a contemporary sheen that makes it feel fresh.

Living in East Oakland now, Nemeth said he's already written a half-dozen songs for his next release. He may not be hungry anymore, but he's on a roll.

"Right now, I feel pretty creative. That means the stress level is low," he said. "When you go through the stressful times, that's when you come up with a lot of good memories for good blues music. But you have to decompress some to get the songs."

John Nemeth will perform with his band Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. at Fat Fish Blue, 6140 Levis Commons Blvd. Tickets are $8 and are available at the door. Information: 419-391-3474.

Contact Rod Lockwood at rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.



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