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Monday 4/23/07 - The Alamo, Springfield, IL

Photo by Susan Walker

They were heavily into the second set of music, when on “The Pawnbroker,” it looked like Junior Watson, a California guitarist with nearly thirty years of experience and cult status, was going to steal the show. Not to be out done, especially since he was the billed artist on tour, rising star John Németh laid the microphone down and filled the room with his powerful voice, singing without amplification!

That was just one of the highlights Monday night, April 23, at the Alamo club in Springfield. My wife and I had traveled down to get a preview of the upcoming concert at Brandon Casey’s in Kankakee on May 6.

John Németh (pronounced like the Jets quarterback, Joe Namath) is a rising blues star; an incredible singer steeped in tradition and with dynamic range. A harmonica player of riveting intensity and virtuosity, he also puts on a stage show with antics like kicking his foot as high as his head.

On one song, John played a mid song bridge on harmonica with just drums. He was like a pied piper on the harp leading the crowd up and down with every note and even had some call and response with the audience where they would yell, “Hey” when Németh did a stop.

His decade long career has found him opening for the likes of Robert Cray and Keb Mo’.  From his January release, “Magic Touch,” the song “You’re An Angel” is getting air play and appearing on juke boxes nationwide. Performing at major music festivals around the United States, Europe, Canada and Asia has brought him critical acclaim and increasing accolades.

“Either John Németh is one of the greatest vocalists in the world or this was the best performance of his life, or both,” said Bob Horn, Washington Blues Society. “Definitely one of the best club shows that I've ever seen,” wrote Don “T-Bone” Erickson, BluesWax, 2004.

But the most apropos credit, that can apply to our Kankakee area, comes from Greg Johnson in Blues Notes, 2004: “Definitely one of the finest new artists performing Blues in the country today.

Catch him now so you can say you saw him in the early years of his soon-to-be giant career!”

John's origins are an unlikely breeding ground for such an impressive blues talent. A thirty year old native of Boise, Idaho, he grew up singing in a Catholic church and started playing in local bands as a teenager. Németh and his wife currently live in San Francisco.

meth’s delightful rendering of “Blue Broadway,” an original song from his third CD, showed his uncanny blend of retro-modern blues and soul music. He is far from a one trick pony as further witnessed on “Romance Without Finance (Is a Nuisance)” and Tampa Red’s “Yes, Yes, Yes” with a light-hearted, bouncy rhythm typical of the 1930s Chicago music maven.

When I asked him about his voice, Németh told me he is enjoying the current Mid-west tour because of the humidity. For a power singer, it’s important. “When we are in the Northwest or Southwest, it is so dry I have to drink a gallon of water a day,” he said.

In attendance were guitar players, Russell Miller (6V6) with his son Aaron and Don Berbaum with wife Sally Weisenberg (SW & The Famous Sidemen). They were there to see Junior Watson. They even brought guitars for him to autograph. Watson was no stranger to the Springfield club. Said Németh, “Junior has been playing here since before the Dead Sea was even sick.” All his playing was pure string squeezing as he used no foot pedals or electronic special effects. Junior Watson played with sweet harmony in his solo melodies with John often joining in with harmony harp in the background.

On drums was Wes Star from Austin Texas, and on bass, Vance Ehlers from Oakland, but his father was from Chicago.

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