SCOTT SIMON, host:
When singer John Nemeth opens his mouth, '60s soul comes out.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. JOHN NEMETH (Singer): (Singing) (Unintelligible) right sure ain't easy to do. When nothing good is expected of you. Educate yourself, gotta do better things. But you got a right to change your means...
SIMON: Blues and R&B are also part of John Nemeth's repertoire. Since his first album three years ago, he's been collecting fans and attracting the attention of the music industry. He received a 2008 Blues Music Award nomination for best new artist debut. One critic wrote: Nemeth can croon, wail, growl a bit and soar - pulls together some of the best aspects of classic soul and blues.
John Nemeth has a new CD out. It's called "Name the Day." He's on tour with it. He joins us from member station KCUR in Kansas City. Thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. NEMETH: It's great to be here, Scott. Thank you for having me.
SIMON: And to get this out of the way first - so what's a blue-eyed kid from Boise doing singing like Sam Cooke?
Mr. NEMETH: Well, when I was in high school, I started falling in love with the whole blues genre at that time. And I was driving around, driving my friends around and I was listening to blues and soul in my old 1964 Comet. And some of my friends said, hey, John, you kind of sound like the guys on the recording. And the rest is sort of history. I've just been performing the music ever since I was in high school.
SIMON: Junior Wells was a big influence on you?
Mr. NEMETH: Absolutely, yeah. He was one of my all-time favorites. He was sort of funky like James Brown but had the whole low-down blues feeling like Muddy Waters at the same time and played harmonica like Sonny Boy Williamson but a little funkier.
SIMON: Let's listen to a little more of your music. Here's "Heartbreak with a Hammer." And you, speaking of the harmonica, are on this one.
(Soundbite of song, "Heartbreak with a Hammer")
Mr. NEMETH: (Singing) (Unintelligible) day to way late at night, rock away the hours to keep my mind looking right. Ooh wee, I'm just (unintelligible) heartbreak with a hammer just to keep from going insane...
SIMON: In recent years, you moved from Boise to the West Coast, to the Bay Area, and acknowledged that some of your blues got inflected with a distinctive style, particularly of East Bay and Oakland. But this CD sounds real east of the Mississippi, doesn't it, like Memphis, Muscle Shoals, maybe a little bit of Motown?
Mr. NEMETH: Oh, absolutely. I'm sort of a sponge. I soak up anything and everything that I can put my ears to. And I'm greatly influenced also by cats like Otis Redding and Solomon Burke and Buddy Guy and Little Walter and Ray Charles. And all these influences sort of sink into my mind and come out in the songwriting when I'm putting an album together.
SIMON: I wonder: I asked you the inevitable question about what's a blue-eyed guy from Boise doing singing like Sam Cooke, but I wonder if any actual blues musician, like let's say Buddy Guy, has ever said that to you, or is it just interviewers?
Mr. NEMETH: It's just interviewers, actually, yeah, it is. Most musicians are more concerned about the music and what you do with it than where you're from.
SIMON: You've got some tight horn arrangements on this CD. You responsible for that?
Mr. NEMETH: Actually, the horn arrangements were done by Mike Rinta. In the past I would probably have a little more influence on the horns, but this man is well-versed in the style of music of all different genres, of classic R&B and soul. So I handed him a demo tape of some of the songs that we were working on and I said go to town. And about a week before we were supposed to do the recording, he invited me over to his apartment to check out what he had done and I made very little changes in anything that he had put together.
SIMON: Let's listen to a clip from the song "You Know."
(Soundbite of song, "You Know")
Mr. NEMETH: (Singing) Now you're carrying on. Yeah, like it don't mean a thing. You know, you know, you know, what you done. Turned your back on love for some reckless fun. Oh, that's nice.
SIMON: So how do you hit those high notes?
Mr. NEMETH: I'm not exactly sure. I just do it. I guess the singing aspect of what I do is something that I work on the least, actually. I sort of know the parameters of all the high notes that I can sing and when I go for them I guess I just do them and I really don't think about it. I'm just one of those lucky guys, I guess.
SIMON: Let me ask you about some of the retro aspects of this CD, including the fact that your label, Blind Pig, has released a 45 with a couple of cuts. How's anybody going to hear that these days?
Mr. NEMETH: As they go around the country with those 45s, I ask people to raise their hand if they still have a record player, and surprisingly enough, a lot of people do - a lot of those kids that were into scratching records, like hip-hop and rap, and a lot the stores were selling record players that you could do that with. And so I think that turned a lot of people on into vinyl, and vintage music sort of created a vinyl market in the United States.
(Soundbite of song, "Why Not Me?")
Mr. NEMETH: (Singing) Why not me, why not me, now that you're alone...
SIMON: Let me ask you about the ballad that's on the other side of that 45. It's called "Why Not Me?"
(Soundbite of song, "Why Not Me?")
Mr. NEMETH: (Singing) I was there to hold you. I was there to console you, every time...
(Speaking) It's a song that is sort of a real Southern soul ballad. So much that it almost has a country styling format in the way the song is written and definitely has a lot of Otis Redding and Solomon Burke sort of inflections, with John Nemeth in it too.
SIMON: Now, it sounds, to my un-expert ear, that you took a song from 40, 50 years ago and didn't change a thing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NEMETH: Thank you.
SIMON: That's the idea?
Mr. NEMETH: You know, it's not really the idea so much as it's just the kind of music I love so much and I listen to all the time. And when I have ideas for writing songs, they sort of come naturally within the style. I guess that's how all the songs kind of sound like they came out of that era, because I just think like a songwriter from that era.
SIMON: Well, Mr. Nemeth, a pleasure talking to you. Thanks so much.
Mr. NEMETH: Thank you, Scott. Appreciate it.
SIMON: We're going to go out with the title tune. We'll tell everybody that your latest CD on Blind Pig records is called "Name the Day."
(Soundbite of song, "Name the Day")
SIMON: And you can hear songs from "Name the Day" at NPRMusic.org.
(Soundbite of song, "Name the Day")
Mr. NEMETH: (Singing) You gave me something I can't forget. Strong conversation and a look that won't (unintelligible). Since that day you've been on my mind...
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.