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A new 'Mr. Excitement' is on his way

John Nemeth's take on American R&B is a mix of retro and modern music that draws from classic influences, such as James Brown, Solomon Burke and Jackie Wilson. Since he emerged onto the national music scene in 2007 with his debut album, "Magic Touch," he's wowed audiences and critics with his edgy, new-American music.

"Nemeth and his band deliver top-shelf goods that can hold their own alongside the finest journeyman of the '60s soul era ... Nemeth and his crew are bona fide throwbacks in the most flattering sense ... And the cat up front might be the best white R&B singer on the planet," according to the online Jazz & Blues Report.

Nemeth and his group will perform at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 7, at Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland. Cover is $7. The combo includes A.C. Myles on guitar, Smokey Davis on bass and Nick Fishman on drums.

Nemeth says his big break came in 2006 when he attracted the attention of Jerry Del Giudice and Edward Chmelewski of Blind Pig Records.

"They saw me play at a club in San Francisco and asked me if I wanted to make records for them," he says. Based in San Francisco and Chicago, Del Guidice and Chmelewski own a club, called The Blind Pig, in Ann Arbor, Mich. The two book Chicago blues bands there, and they started producing records in 1977 in the club's basement.

The best part of recording is writing the material, says Nemeth.

"I write about 95 percent of it," he says. "The other bit is usually songs that had great stylistic influences on me. I include one cover on each record as a reference point so that maybe listeners will search out the artist and get into what I'm listening to."

Nemeth says he's listened to a lot of artists. He picked up the blues after hearing Junior Wells' "Snatch It Back and Hold It." After that, he listened to Wells' 1965 album, "Hoodoo Man Blues," for hours.

"Right now, I'm listening to a lot of late-'60s Hank Ballard," says Nemeth. Ballard and his band, The Midnighters, emerged in the early '50s. "He collaborated with Brown and made a really cool, funky album."

A cover that's showed up on Nemeth's 2010 album, "Save the Day!," is Burke's "Home in Your Heart."

"Its more on the funkier, soul side of the material that Burke did," says Nemeth. "It's a song I love doing."

In 2009, Nemeth recorded Robert Ward's "She's My Heart's Desire" on his "Love Me Tonight" album.

"That's another song I love," says Nemeth. "Ward was part of The Falcons in the '50s and '60s with Wilson Pickett. I was playing that song in Atlanta, where Ward was living, and some deejays in the audience called him at his home to let him hear some young bucks playing his song."

Nemeth, who hails from Boise, Idaho, made two independently released CDs and played a stint with blues guitarist Junior Watson before heading to San Francisco in 2004. He replaced vocalist Sam Myers with Anson Funderburgh and The Rockets for two years while Myers was ill, building a reputation among musicians established in the Bay Area. His bluesy style took on more of the soul and funk of what Nemeth calls "the early 'East Bay Grease' sound."

When the buzz turned the heads of Del Giudice and Chmelewski, Anson Funderburgh produced Nemeth's "Magic Touch," and Junior Watson was featured on guitar. The album garnered a nomination for best new artist debut at the 2008 Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Tenn.

Nemeth continues to revitalize vintage American rhythm and blues with "Name the Day!" His vocals echo the toughness of soul singer Brown and the sweetness of Burke. The edgy R&B sound of Nemeth's earlier recordings is still there, but with more artistry. Tracks such as "Breaking Free" and "Tuff Girl" showcase soul arrangements alive with a full horn section, Hammond organ, piano, a laid-back rhythm section and guitars.

Nemeth says most of his new material contains vocal harmonies that also are reminiscent of the '60s R&B sound.

He and his band will be "doing plenty o' giggin' " over the next few weeks, playing at Lake Tahoe and in Chicago, Detroit and New York City.

"It's been wild," says Nemeth. "We'll have three or four days off in the next three and a half weeks, then we leave for Norway."

The highlights, says Nemeth, are playing at festivals around the world. He's played the Montreal Jazz Festival twice and once performed in a castle in Switzerland.

Watch Nemeth's video at www.johnnemethblues.com/promo.

Critics are hailing blues vocalist and harp player John Nemeth as the new Jackie Wilson. - Photo by Pat Johnson