For years, a gleaming row of Harleys has lined up outside First Cabin on Huntington Drive in Arcadia most weekends, presumably so riders can relive glory days to the Stevie Ray Vaughan–style soundtrack purveyed by house regulars Pat O’Brien & the Priests of Love. It’s been a lone spot of beery (if retro) rebellion in a town that prides itself on being sleepy. But over the past two years, competition’s been steadily blasting out of Arcadia Blues Club a few doors west, close to the intersection with Santa Anita Avenue.
That there should be two blues-friendly clubs stationed on the same block in greater Los Angeles is in and of itself worthy of comment, given the struggles facing live music venues. That they’re both located in a staid San Gabriel Valley community that all but rolls up its sidewalks at night is sufficient cause to arch an eyebrow.
The former Dianne’s Blues Café passed through the hands of blues fans with more good intentions than practical experience before finally being taken over by Bobby and Maria Dahms, operators of longtime Pomona blues club Yesteryears. For a while it seemed like Arcadia Blues Club was stepchild to Yesteryears’ beefier marquee offerings — and meager attendance at the unassuming space reinforced that perception. But since the recent closure of Yesteryears, the owners’ public pledge to “focus on top-notch bands” has been accompanied by quantifiable improvements in weekend bookings, with national acts like Rod Piazza, Coco Montoya, Café R&B and Lil’ Charlie & the Nite Cats bringing bona fide sizzle to ABC’s stage.
This Saturday, ABC will host Bay Area bluesman John Németh, a harmonica-blasting R&B/soul crooner who sounds simultaneously old school and fresh.
The Idaho-raised Németh earned his chops playing with the Junior Watson Band and Texas guitarist Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets before going solo. His second CD, the recently issued “Magic Touch,” produced by Funderburgh, jumps with the live ambiance and energetic spark of classic R&B platters, and comes dressed with flourishes of Memphis-style horns. As a gut-busting frontman, he delivers with chewy harmonica solos on originals such as the party anthem “Blues Hit Big Town” and authoritative, heart-on-sleeve vocal readings of Chicago cuts like Willie Dixon’s “Sit & Cry the Blues” (also featuring ex-boss Watson on guitar). He’s reminiscent of Junior Parker or a grittier Robert Cray, more engaging for his lack of suavity.
Contemporary blues is in sorry tatters these days, blanded out by too many Stevie Ray wannabes and beer commercial slickness. Count Németh among a promising handful of artists keeping the genre true to its roots, yet relevant in the 21st century.