The name of John Németh’s new album is striking: “May Be The Last Time.”
The blues singer cut the record before having a fast-growing, benign tumor removed. His jaw was amputated.
It’s hard to imagine a world without Németh’s music. I think I own every CD he’s made, and I still keep 2007’s “Magic Touch” on regular rotation. It might be the perfect blues record.
A newspaperman, I starting writing about music around the time Németh moved from Idaho to the San Francisco Bay Area. He performed in my home region Lake Tahoe all the time. Unfortunately for me, he later moved to Memphis, where I’ve seen him twice. One of those times, it was upstairs at the Rum Boogie, and I stood about 3 feet away, taking photos with a short lens.
At the other Rum Boogie show, a friend said to me, “That guy is such a great singer, why does he even bother to play harmonica?”
Németh was inspired by the harp-playing legend Junior Wells, and Németh also is a great harp player. I’ve interviewed Németh on numerous occasions, and once I repeated my friend’s observation, which is a back-handed compliment, and I regretted it as I heard the words come out of my mouth. You know the adage: There are no stupid questions, just stupid people who ask questions.
Németh was unfazed. “I am going to play harp as long as I am physically able to play harp.”
The words aren’t as poignant as they might sound. Németh is recovering. He’s made some onstage appearances.
He made a statement this week: “I was hoping to get back into touring this fall, unfortunately my jaw can only handle a performance here and there until my rehabilitation is complete.”
There will be more surgeries. GoFundMe contributions have gone to pay medical expenses. Proceeds from sales of “May Be The Last Time” will go toward the bills, too.
And about that album – Hey! – it’s soulful and fun, and as blue as Broadway neon.
Elvin Bishop, who’s always been an outspoken supporter of Németh, and his Big Fun Trio mates Willy Jordan and Bob Welsh, along with Alabama Mike gathered at the optimal location, Kid Andersen’s Greeceland Studio for a two-day session. “These guys are phenomenal players and even more amazing human beings. They donated their time and talents to this album at no charge to allow the proceeds to go to my follow up procedures and bills,” Németh wrote.
The fun the players had on those 11 songs is contagious. When it hits your ears, it spreads to your smiling face. Some of Bishop’s most knee-slapping classics are here, “Stealing Watermelons,” “Rock Bottom” and the gospel “I’ll Be Glad.”
Németh shows off his harp acumen on Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips.” As he did with his 2022 The Love Light Orchestra record, he makes a civil rights statement, covering J.B. Lenoir’s “Feeling Good.” Németh does a raucous new arrangement of “Elbows on the Wheel” from his “Memphis Grease” album, which earned a BMA for Soul Blues Album of the year.
I’ve already broken the first rule of journalism by placing myself into the story, so I’ll keep going.
The reason I went to Memphis is the first place was to receive the greatest piece of hardware I can ever imagine, and it sits on my desk next to my keyboard. Another thrill occurred in a little Tahoe venue called the Red Room. I arrived early to secure a table, at which I sat with my wife and a couple of blues buddies. With a deadpan delivery, Németh silently approached and placed a double shot glass of Dewar’s on the rocks in front of me. He proceeded to blow the room away with a terrific performance. I felt like a big shot. I ordered another.
Németh is too great on- and offstage to stop now. Support him by purchasing his new album. Listen, smile, dance and give a toast. Think of it as that it “May Be The Last Time.”