Bluesman John Németh moved from his hometown of Boise, Idaho, to San Francisco not to be a part of the thriving Bay Area blues scene — but for a woman.
“There was this lovely girl across the street,” he says. When she decided to move, he told her, “You can't go down there all by yourself.”
Things worked out, he adds: “I'm still with her, so that's good.”
Though Boise admittedly wasn't a hotbed for the blues, he found success there as a musician. The same thing was true of his transition to Northern California.
“I've made a living playing music since I was 18,” says Németh, who plays harmonica and sings, “so I was able to slip right into the scene here.”
Németh, who appears Saturday in Half Moon Bay and Wednesday in San Francisco, played piano when he was a teen. But when he couldn't afford an electric piano, he took up harmonica, he says, “because it was really right in my budget.”
While he considers himself primarily a singer and songwriter, he calls the blues harp “the icing on the cake,” and admits that it helps him stand out because not that many big-time musicians are known for playing the harmonica, even though it's the world's No. 1 selling instrument.
He shows off both his vocal and harp skills on “Magic Touch,” his 2007 album on San Francisco-based Blind Pig Records, which deftly mixes soulful original tunes with covers the likes of Junior Wells' “Blues Hit Big Town.”
The CD, which was recorded in Austin, Texas, was produced by guitarist Anson Funderburgh, whose band also appears, as do the vibrant sounds of the Texas horns.
Németh 's local touring band — musicians he's collaborated with since he came to San Francisco three years ago — features guitarists Anthony Paule and Kid Andersen, bassist Kedar Roy, drummer Paul Revelli and keyboardist Bob Welsh.
Last year, they were on the road 191 days (“I was just doing my taxes, that's how I know”), and while it's hard work “at 10 o'clock getting in that van and driving to the next town,” he likes his job a lot.
“It's not many people who get to do what they love for work,” he says.
Business lately has been good, he says, thanks to the growth of satellite and cable radio stations, which have been sending more and more blues fans to his shows.
Calling blues a “cottage industry” compared to the pop music world, and a type of music that sometimes goes under the radar, he maintains that it won’t ever go away: “People really love this music; it’s so deep-rooted in all other music. I’m going to be playing it forever.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Half Moon Bay Brewery, 390 Capistrano Road, Half Moon Bay
When: 7 to 10 p.m. March 8
Contact: (650) 728-2739
Where: Biscuits & Blues, 401 Mason St., San Francisco
When: 8 and 10 p.m. March 12
Contact: (415) 292-2583