There are not too many artists these days who I will spend $50+ in gas and travel over an hour to go and hear play - and although I had not yet actually heard John Nemeth (but definitely heard of him), I was glad my drummer Jim talked me into making the trip last night from Lexington, Kentucky to Louisville's Stevie Rays Blues Bar to catch John's show. This was a good night of blues which unfolded a few unexpected surprises ...and some BBF meetups as well.
band, The Stella Vees, opened up this early Sunday show at 6:30PM. Fronted
by Jason Lockwood, a true T-Bone Walker/Charlie Christian aficionado on
the guitar/vocals, the Stella Vees are known for their yearly daytime
jam in Handy Hall at the IBC in Memphis. Lately the Stellas have added
a new member, my favorite harp player in this area of the country (cos
he's likely the best!)... Mark Hoekstra. I arrived about 15 minutes into
their set and Mark was singing a slow, sexy Magic Sam tune. The band was
sounding good and looking good. Jason is a very smooth vocalist... a truly
fine guitarist and front man. Mark's dynamic showmanship and vocals was
really a standout...he has played with some notables as 'Big Eyed' Willie
Smith (late 'Legendary Blues Band' tours), Steve Arvey, and of course,
Johnny Roy & the RubTones!
John Nemeth's band started with California
pro guitarist Bob Welsh. Bob appears to be a well weathered roadman "in
a clean and wholesome kind of California way" and is a remarkable
picker. Welsh seems to be a very versatile guitar player in that he can
do Buddy Guy style frantic/live-wire guitar/soulful R&B/West Coast
swing/jazz, etc.. He did mostly the Buddy Guy type stylings thru the evening
as was appropriate for alot of Nemeth's material. My only complaint was
Bob's tone, with no reverb, was a a bit hard and harsh to my ears...but
I'm a reverb man from way back, and I assume this tone is Bob's preferred
choice, or perhaps the effects were just not working on his vintage Fender
Super. The rhythm section were seasoned pros as well.
Nemeth took the stage, he commanded the room with his confidence and with
his voice...and what a Voice! I haven't heard blues crooning like this
since I witnessed Sugar Ray Norcia with Roomful of Blues many years ago!
Nemeth could kill with that voice! Whoo! After the first song, I told
Mark Hoekstra I thought the PA wasn't quite loud enough (it usually isn't
in Stevie Rays as the soundman seems to prefer a 'rock mix' for vocals).
Mark asked the soundman to turn Nemeth up and it was excellent from there
Just a bit before Nemeth sang that Junior Wells song, a certain Champaign Illinois band entered the club who we all know as Kilborn Alley, with our own Josh Stimmel (waltersharp), excellent vocalist Andy Duncanson, and their guest harp man, our recent BBF member Deak Harp of the Deak Harp Blues Band from Illinois. Nemeth, (a very tough vocal act to follow!) soon called Andy to the stage to sing. Mr. Duncanson did a fine job, singing in a Chicago "Muddy" style that was a cool contrast to John Nemeth's vocals. Then Josh and Deak took the stage. Josh sounded great on guitar, played his ass off, and I was very impressed with Deak's harmonica playing which, at that point, I didn't know who he was, or where he was from, but knew he wasn't Kilborn's regular harp man.
A great evening of blues in Louisville! Stevie Ray's Blues Club is a venue that has been around a good while. Recently, they tried a stint for more income by opening up to more rock type acts. I am not sure if that helped their cause much, but I think they slowly seem to be going back to the blues...where they should be! This show was very sparsely attended at first, and Kilborn Alley were playing an early party for a blues society member in another club, which may have affected attendance of Nemeth's show somewhat, but the crowd picked up pretty good later on - though I was surprised that a good many of the later arriving people toward the back of the bar were talking very loudly and not really listening to the remarkably talented John Nemeth. The crowd noise wasn't that noticeable except during John's low dynamic moments, and between songs. Still, a very good night for the blues in Kentucky.