By ROB DUGUAY
When it comes to blues music, the stuff that has come out of Texas is its own particular thing. Texas blues has a unique electric sound that often incorporates influences of jazz and swing while embracing a groove. Stevie Ray Vaughan will be forever the icon of the regional style, but his brother Jimmie, Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins have also become synonymous with the music. Since the late ‘80s, Chris Duarte has been playing Texas blues in his own way while often pushing the sound’s boundaries. He’ll be coming through with his band to Chan’s on 267 Main Street in Woonsocket on May 27 to showcase his talents on guitar.
Duarte and I had a talk ahead of the show about playing his brother’s guitar before he got his own, his idolization of a jazz legend, preferring to perform on stage rather than in the studio and new music that’ll be released in a few months.
Rob Duguay: You first got inspired by music at the age of eight by the musical Fiddler On The Roof, so going from that what made you want to pick up the guitar instead of taking up acting or doing theater?
Chris Duarte: What it was is my older brother got a guitar when I was around 13, it was a classical guitar with nylon strings. I was constantly picking it up and it seemed like I was taken to it a lot easier than he did, I could learn stuff a lot quicker. From looking through Beatles books and stuff it all seemed to come to me pretty easy as compared to what he was doing so my mom got me a guitar. It’s ultimately because of my brother getting one first.
RD: You consider jazz sax legend John Coltrane to be your number-one musical idol, so what is it about his music that makes you put him in such high regard?
CD: His dedication to always looking for another way to get from point a to point b. His dedication to practicing, always looking for a way to explore music so he could open up his own horizons. The way he grew through his career working with Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson when he was real young, then he worked with Thelonious Monk and he worked with Miles Davis. His career trajectory was just amazing until he was heading his own group, which turned out to be one of the most influential groups with him and Miles.
RD: I couldn’t agree more. You’ve also said that you consider yourself to be a better live performer, is that because you feel more creative freedom while on stage in front of an audience rather than in the recording studio or is it for a different reason?
CD: I think you hit it on the head. It is because you’re there in front of people, you’re trying out musical ideas and you gotta get out of the routine. I could sit around my room and find myself in practice coming up with these great lines but I have to get in front of people to try this stuff out. It’s almost like a trial by fire to get up there in front of an audience and the pressure’s on whereas in the studio things can get pretty dry. I have to be in the right mindset in the studio where you always think you can do certain parts better and the next thing you know you’ve done it 20 to 30 times with things never getting better. I love the immediacy and the spontaneity of playing live.
RD: It’s also very difficult, as any musician would say, to capture the energy of a live performance into a studio record. You’re based in blues guitar, but you also incorporate numerous elements in a lot of your songs with psychedelic, jazz and other things. How malleable do you find incorporating these styles into your musical foundation? How flexible do you feel it to be? Does it ever get challenging for you to include various approaches into your sound?
CD: I haven’t seen it as a problem. That’s why I practice so much, so I can try these ideas and have the technical ability to try these ideas out. It’s things I hear in my head and I don’t necessarily think of it in a blues format with the instrumentation having to be this particular way. I don’t hear things like that, I just hear music, I hear notes and these sort of soundscapes. That’s kind of how I do it, I don’t find any problem with the malleability of it at all. It all just gels together for me.
RD: What’s the status of the next album with The Chris Duarte Group? I know it’s been a few years since you put out your last record so can we expect a new release sometime soon?
CD: We have finished an album, we recorded it out in Los Angeles and I brought Dennis Herring ,who produced Texas Sugar/Strat Magick, on as the producer. We’ve been working on the artwork, it’ll probably be out in September and I’ll be playing some new songs off the album when I come through.