Big Rick and the Bombers playing in Greensboro

by Matt Goldman

After a brief glimpse at his monumental stature, it’s not difficult to figure out how Ricardo Nunez got a nickname like “Big Rick.” By the time he reached the age of 11, Nunez stood 5-foot-8 and weighed 120 pounds. He was then, and still remains, a large presence.

Then again, upon listening to him play the guitar backed by his four-piece band the Bombers, the name could also be more metaphorical. Their trademark combination of blues, funk, soul and R&B makes for a big sound.

Either way, one thing is certain: These folks have some chops.

The award-winning band based in Raleigh returns to Davie Street this year as one of the festival’s main attractions.

They’re made up of Nunez on lead vocals and guitar, singer Lynnette Barber, Lamont Blackmon on bass guitar and hype vocals, Philip Smith on the keyboard and Chelsey Allen on drums. They were slated to add keyboardist Adrian Duke to the mix for their May 5 Triad appearance, but Duke was forced to back out due to a scheduling conflict.

Over the last year, the quintet has been busy playing gigs and taking part in competitions all over North Carolina. It’s this dedication that Nunez cites as one of the key factors to their success.

“We have a lot of determination and never give up, and because of that we have the most gigs in the area,” he said. “My band wants to play and make money doing what they love, so they play to the best of their ability at all times.”

Their steady touring schedule has also paid off on the competitive side of the business. Since forming, they’ve won seven regional blues contests. Playing competitions also serves as a great for way Nunez and his crew to stay fresh.

“I love to play festivals but competitions keep me on my feet,” he said. “At first I thought it was just luck, but after winning seven, I realized that it came down to wanting it more than the other bands. They are all good but I try to commit myself to every performance and every song I sing.”

Since the age of 13, when he began playing his first gig with Jimmy Jenkins and the Flames of Harmony, his talents have not gone unnoticed by some of the biggest names in blues. As a result he’s had the privilege of playing with legends like BB King, Buddy Guy, Clarence Carter, Louisiana Red, Lucky Peterson, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Debbie Davis, Johnny Lang, the Tower of Power horns and Robert Cray, who Nunez says is his one of favorites to jam with.

“I’m heavily influenced by him, Buddy, BB and Al Green as well,” he said.

When Big Rick is just listening it’s the vintage R&B and soul that he likes to keep in his rotation. “The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder – not the new age, the old school stuff, that’s the music that keeps me going.”

Rick and The Bombers will take the stage at 3 p.m. on Saturday ready with some new material in their catalogue along with older favorites from their 2003 album, Too Much Money.

As of now, the upcoming festival is not Nunez’s favorite – that distinction goes to the Bull Durham Blues Festival. “But Carolina Blues Fest comes in at a very close second,” he said.

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