|When John Cafferty & Beaver Brown Band opened for Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes three of Cafferty’s musicians were on home turf - including Michael Antunes. He’s a local kid who made the big time.
Forty years ago, Dartmouth’s Mike “Tunes” Antunes began playing saxophone for the Rhode Island band Beaver Brown. The second-generation American with a Cape Verdean heritage rode a wave of success that included world tours and a pair of number-one songs. With the release of the movie soundtrack for the feature film “Eddie and the Cruisers” in 1983, Antunes’ talent was heard on radios across the nation and seen on MTV and HBO. To add to his accomplishments, Antunes also played a role in the film. John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band found themselves at the top of the charts alongside acts such as U2 and Sting.
“Through it all he’s still the same ‘Tunes’,” says Cafferty, the singer/guitarist who leads the band. “I’ve heard a lot of sax players and I think he’s the best. He’s a magician. He makes magic with that saxophone.” But there’s more than talent for Antunes. He has a sturdy work ethic and a devotion to his audiences. Nearly 75 years old, he is still at the top of his game.
“I can’t believe it. He gives 100 percent all the time,” says Beaver Brown bassist Dean Cassell of New Bedford, also a professor at Berklee School of Music. “He doesn’t phone it in, he doesn’t pretend. He always plays like he’s going for it.”
Antunes says he gives his best whether he’s playing for an audience of two or 2,000.
“It’s still a thrill to play whether it’s Texas or New York, but it will be an extra special thrill to play in my hometown area, for my extended family,” he says. “It’ll be a pleasure to see a lot of faces from my past.”
And there’s sure to be audience members whose faces are particularly familiar. Antunes has both a strong lineage and legacy. Antunes, married to Jennifer, has 11 children. He was raised in a musical family. Though his first show was with the Dartmouth High School stage band at age 13, most of his early shows were playing Cape Verdean music with his guitarist brother David and his cousin Joe Silva in a band called Second Generation.
Antunes’ father Peter Antunes played upright bass, guitar and Hammond organ, performing throughout New England. His grandfather Joaquim Antunes was a Cape Verdean immigrant who played guitar and violin in the region in the 1920s and 1930s. Antunes has two sons who have also found success in the music industry. Kevin Antunes is Madonna’s musical director and Matthew Antunes is musical director for Tavares, the famous band of New Bedford brothers who found fame in the 1970s.
Beaver Brown drummer Jackie Santos of New Bedford has been performing with Antunes since his first show at age 12. He also teaches at Berklee. “All the musicians in the area look up to ‘Tunes,’” Santos says. “He’s got a great reputation and a lot of people consider him the best sax player in rock. He’s got a great sense of spontaneity and creativity.”
“The sound of the baritone sax really resonated with me,” Antunes says. “I like that I’m able to express my feelings and make people happy.” Antunes was also able to make people happy with his side project, Ernie & The Automatics, a blues band that included former members of Boston, The J. Geils Band, and Peter Wolf’s band. The group was together from 2004 to 2011.
Antunes says he appreciates the fact that Cafferty’s songwriting is at the center of the band’s success. “It’s always been my honor to share the stage with John Cafferty and play the songs he has written,” he says. “It lets people relive a moment in their life that was important to them and maybe even changed their lives.”
Cafferty and the band play upwards of 50 shows a year. Antunes’ “go-for-it” attitude is shared among his band mates. "I’d like to think our shows are pretty exciting,” Cafferty says. “We try to touch all the bases. We play stuff that’s fun, dramatic, romantic and serious. We want people to feel like they’re glad they came out.”