John Németh is feeling freaky. And he brings it all, every night. Playing to huge crowds across the world, this globe-trotting bluesman’s voice is smoother than his black sunglasses and brighter than his yellow-tie-dyed Carhartt-style jumpsuit. On Friday, Jan. 5, he headlines what is certain to be one of the best Little Rock blues shows of the year at Stickyz Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack. Tickets are $10; doors open at 7 pm, music starts at 8, ages 18 and up.
Originally from Boise, Idaho, Németh moved to Oakland, California, in 2004. There, Németh paid his dues, becoming an important member of the Bay Area blues scene. He spent considerable time playing in Anson Funderburgh’s backing band, and after signing with Blind Pig Records, he put out several records. Németh has called Memphis home since 2013, where he has been creating his best work yet.
Enlisting producer and musician Scott Bomar, Németh’s Memphis Grease (2014) debuted at No. 4 on Billboard Blues Chart and earned him 2 Blues Music Awards for Best Soul Blues Male Artist in 2014 and Best Soul Blues Album of the Year in 2015. More recently, he was nominated again in 2017 for the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award. He released his newest record, Feelin’ Freaky (2017) on his own label Memphis Grease. It does not disappoint.
The album has a genuine blues sound, but it also breaks down barriers. Combining more traditional blues and soul with hip hop and rock n’ roll, Németh tackles important social issues such as drug violence and poverty – but he and his band mostly keep it fun, with plenty of songs about hedonistic joys like dancing, sexuality and, yes, good ol’ Mary Jane.
The title track on the new album, “Feelin’ Freaky,” is yummy, with a warm and fuzzy guitar. Németh somehow makes his harmonica sound like the most badass rock ‘n’ roll flute imaginable. The drums are steady, the hook is contagious, and the sound quality is good.
“Kool-Aid Pickle” is another song on the album that Németh has been promoting. It’s a working-class, love-story, slow jam – a raw, Kool-Aid pickle jam, where life has gone from “sweet to sour to raw.” The song highlights Nemeth’s harmonica skills, sense of humor, and guitarist Matt Wilson’s clean, thoughtfully placed guitar licks.
Németh explains that he “creates his songs from melodies and phrases drawn from the sounds of life in Memphis, from early-morning songbirds to the din of the city.” He pulls scene-setting stories from the dirt and daily life of Memphis and the places and people he encounters on the road, but his sound is well-honed and polished.
Németh clearly takes pride in producing tight, quality music, and people have noticed. A reporter who caught his act at a blues festival in France this past summer called Németh “the true show-stealer,” a man who was “blistering and perfectly pitched … ripping along with an assurance and style that was truly masterful.” So, Little Rock, expect a killer show.
Németh may be a globe-trotter these days, but he is no stranger to Arkansas. He has played Eureka Spring’s iconic Chelsea’s and has previously played at Stickyz, where he looks forward to once again “raising the roof.” We recommend that you go ahead and get freaky with him.
Arkansounds Q&A with John Németh
Arkansounds: What is your history of performing in Arkansas?
John Németh: My first show in Arkansas was at Chelsea’s in Eureka Springs. I love it up there. During the sound check I asked if there was a carpet I could stand on because the large cement piece in the middle of the stage was too hard to stand on for a whole show. He told me that the cement I was standing on was the lid to the owner’s grave and that it’s a common request for a carpet. That was a first.
I performed Stickyz a couple years ago, and it was great. I love the ambiance, stage, food, and sound. I can’t wait to get back this week and raise the roof.
What is the most played album you’ve ever released?
Németh: Memphis Grease was the most-played soul and blues album worldwide in 2014. It won Album of the Year and I was named Entertainer of the Year… My latest record Feelin’ Freaky is flying high in that same direction.
What was your most moving performance experience ever?
Németh: My “latest and greatest” performance was last year in front of 40,000 people on a beach in San Sebastian Donostia, Spain.
What is currently playing in your car/iPod/stereo?
Németh: My current playlist is Tom Petty Southern Accents, Prince Purple Rain, Howling Wolf How Many More Years, Ed Sheeran Perfect, Bruno Mars Uptown Funk, Bobby Rush Porcupine Meat.
What is your biggest music-related pet peeve?
Németh: Folks that disrespect the Blues.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a musician?
Németh: You have to give it all you got every night!