ERATH — There are a lot of great musicians who have made their way out of the swamps and prairies of southwest Louisiana. But even more are still here, plying their trade in the clubs and dance halls the dot the landscape.
And at least one is ready to let the rest of the world know he’s here.
Although his webpage labels him as a roots rock/blues musician, Erath’s Michael Juan Nunez says he doesn’t feel worthy to take on the bluesman mantle. He names Texas bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughn as a musical idol and can play the right notes, but says doesn’t feel he has enough grit in his soul to don the title.
“You have to have a certain authenticity,” he said. “You ain’t gonna be a bluesman until you live that life. A lot of my heroes are blues players, but I am not a blues player. I got into blues to be a better rock guitarist.”
And now Nunez looks poised to break out to a larger audience. Already known for his soulful slide playing and aggressive guitar attack, his new record, “Rise,” focuses more on the songwriting, roaming the aural landscape to pick some tasty morsels of blues, soul, and even a little calypso before it is done.
“I had a title, and I had an image in mind and about 30 songs,” Nunez said of the process behind creating the new record. “After a year or so, we started sending demos, but I never expected it to drift as far as this did from the original concept.”
By the time it was finished, with dozens of titles and as many images and paintings considered for the project, the cover was set — a stark image, striking, yet hopeful, with the title “Rise” in red across the left corner.
One surprising thing about “Rise” is that it isn’t the guitar-centered blues or rock record some listeners would expect. Sure, there are moments of the hauntingly beautiful slide work and searing solos Nunez is known for, but much more present is Nunez the songwriter, crafting lyrical textures and a thick, solid old-school soul that firmly anchors the diverse sound palette of the songs.
His command of that medium is not surprising. Nunez was exposed to music early by his father, Warren Nunez, who played country Western music and was a regular on the Leroy “Happy Fats” LeBlanc Show on a local television station.
“I remember when we lived in Lafayette, up until I was about 10,” he said, “I remember we had a house on Eraste Landry and the band rehearsed in the living room. I was fascinated with my dad’s guitar.”
A few years later, after the family moved to Erath, he finally asked for some help learning the instrument.
“He was working seven and seven back then,” Nunez explained, “and he said, ‘OK, I’ll show you three chords. When you master those, I’ll show you three more. When he came back the next week, I had them down and was ready for more.”
In fact, Nunez was voracious in his hunger for more musical knowledge. When he had learned everything his father could teach him, he was sent to his neighbor, Cajun music legend D.L. Menard, for more instruction.
For his 15th Christmas, he finally got an electric guitar — a Peavey Patriot whose pickups now reside in a cigar box guitar Nunez built recently.
“I remember seeing Eddie Van Halen on TV, and he freakin’ blew me away,” Nunez said. From there he found Led Zepplin, then the Rolling Stones, then Muddy Waters, Robert Patton, Blind Willie Johnson — and that led right back to Zepplin and the Stones, who were basically lifting those blues masters lick for lick.
But for Nunez, it has always been the depth of his musical background that has set his sound apart.
“I’m always teaching myself,” he said. “You can’t stop learning.”
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