Chris Duarte was very generous and willing to share with us about his gear, music, new album and touring the world for nearly 2 decades. The native Texan who cut his teeth in the Austin trenches through the 80's as a teen, has carved out his own niche of raw, Strat-tones enriched Hendrix and Texas influenced super Blues.
Although sometimes written off as an SRV "clone" or accused of being too "Hendrixy" by the narrow minded, Chris Duarte is one of the most passionate & energetic guitarists you'll ever see live-- which you should do before passing judgement. Chris respects his influences more deeply than any critic, and he always delivers the goods with honest conviction. So check his tour schedule!
INFINITE ENERGY is Duarte's 10th album-- his 5th with Mike Varney's Shrapnel/Blues Bureau label.
I'm proud to bring you this interview in its full complete form. At Stratoblogster, we may pimp some gear here and there, but artist interviews will NEVER be edited down for ad space as guitar mags do.
More links and credits follow the interview.
Stratoblogster: You kicked off the INFINITE ENERGY tour with a few Southeast US gigs the first half of October. Then you pick it back up and head West in November through early December. How did those
October shows go?
Chris Duarte: The shows we did were just a precursor to the release date. Three days before to be exact but that didn’t dampen my fan spirits at the shows. If anything, we’re already playing several of the numbers off the new cd. We were just whetting their appetites.
Stratoblogster: What's the typical venue size so far on this tour? Large clubs mostly?
Chris Duarte: We’re still all over the maps when it comes to club sizes. We don’t discriminate against any club size.
Stratoblogster: Do you like the Summer outdoor fest type gigs when weather & logistics are favorable? Do you seem to gain more new fans from those types of shows?
Chris Duarte: Merch sales are definitely better. ; ) The hope is that we’re making new fans at the shows and sometimes it’s reflected in the merch sales when the people share with me that they’ve never heard of me. Big stages just require a different approach to the performance, but if the PA is adequate and the sound is big on the stage it can be pretty exhilarating.
Stratoblogster: You're doing a lot with Xotic Guitars. Have they finally gotten your configuration dialed in the way you like it? Currently using the Novak pickups? Is there an Xotic Chris Duarte signature model possibly in the works?
Chris Duarte: I’m really satisfied with my Xotic model. By default there kind of is a CD model already; it’s the Ice Blue color. As it turns out, when I first started with Xotic Toshihiro san asked me what color I wanted and since I lean towards the cool colors, greens and blues, their forest green color wasn’t available and so I told them whatever greenish color that was on hand will do fine and voila!; guitar. Xotic takes real good care of me and their luthier, Hiro san, is just great with his hands. The pickups were changed out by Hiro san to old DiMarzio Blue Velvets but I still have some Novaks in my other guitars.
(ed note: top photo is one of Duarte's new Xotic models)
Stratoblogster: Is your '63 Strat just retired from the road-- do you still use it in the studio? How many re-frets in its lifetime?
Chris Duarte: It’s funny you should mention the ’63. I did a tour recently back in May of this year with the original band members from my Texas Sugar cd. John Jordan and Brannen Temple. This was to commemorate the 16th year since the release of the cd that thrust me onto the world stage. So I was talked into by my fan club president, Craig Keyzer, www.chrisduartegroupfans.org, and he convinced me to take the ’63 out on the road since that was the only guitar used for the whole album. I thought OK, I’ll struggle through on a couple of songs and it’ll be allright because I had retired it months and months previously due to the frets being woefully low and flat. It was just a real chore at making it play good. I had thought there was not enough rosewood veneer left on the neck to replace my current frets. I was told this several times so I resigned myself to put her in the closet and to let go of my need for attention that I would get every time I pulled it out. I missed the “Awe-factor” the people would say when they saw that guitar, “Awe” they would gasp. I hate to admit it but it makes ya’ feel good.
Anyway I digress; I’m on tour and we’re playing Boca Raton and I’ve also brought my Hamiltone guitar for this tour too and Jim Hamilton shows up at my gig. He makes the trip out to see me just about every time I get within range where he resides and it’s always great to see him. Well Jim wants to see if I still have the Hamilton and of course it’s there and after that I show him the ‘63 strat and tell him my lament and confide that I fear she has been marginalized as an item to be bequeathed to my daughter when I shuffle off this mortal coil, and the guitars meaningful days are but a fond and fading memory. With that Jim states confidently, “There’s enough wood on her. I can do this.” I gave Jim my guitar to take home with him at the end of the night and wished him good fortune and God’s speed in his new assignment.
I’m happy to report Jim was successful; She’s Alive!
So I have her on the road with me and I travel only with my Xotic and ’63.
Stratoblogster: I read at Wiki, you paid $500 for that Strat in 1979. Is that accurate?
Chris Duarte: Yes I did pay only $500 for a ’63 but that was my beloved #L14261 strat. That guitar was stolen out of our van in NYC in ‘93. We’ve never found her but I haven’t given up. Still the best strat I ever heard. The one I have now is #71699, and my fan club prez once again stepped in and found another ’63 for me and I paid $2,900 back in ’94. Supposedly it was Clapton’s guitar and the Hard Rock Café wanted to buy it but the current owner at that time wanted the guitar to be played wished it not to be hung on a wall. Never been able to prove the Clapton part but I think she’s been played and very much loved, and not just by me.
Stratoblogster: You're about as aggressive as anyone dare be with an old school non-locking Fender trem system! Can you share any of your trem set-up secrets?
Chris Duarte: Just get a graphite nut and stretch your strings good when you put them on. I also replace the strings about every gig so I’m always on fresh strings. I’ve always said, “strings only have to last me a couple of hours then they’re outta here.” Thanx GHS!!! I’ve got those Raw Steel (Raw Vintage) bridge saddles that Xotic makes and the graphite I get is the best that the US government has. A friend of mine works at a Phantom F-16 factory and he gets me the same graphite that’s used on F-16’s. It’s really the scraps that fall to the floor after they’ve made cuts for the pieces going on the planes. No pilfering here. Need not; waste not.
Stratoblogster: How many guitar changes in your current live show?
Chris Duarte: I only have two guitars as aforementioned. The ’63 and Xotic Ice Blue
Stratoblogster: What's your current live amp config?
Chris Duarte: I’ve scaled back over the past few years. It really came about because some of my band members were showing signs of ear fatigue with my volume and maybe it was the weight and size of those cumbersome cabinets that had something to do with it too. I had the wall but now it’s been dismantled. I did a drastic reduction from 4 amps down to just one. It wasn’t easy getting used to the tone and trying to find all the colors in the sound but I did it.
I started out with my Chicago Blues Box, Buddy Guy model,(basically a Bassman configuration), and all was good once I learned how to get around and figure out what I could get out of it. Then I did that Texas Sugar tour and I decided for “funnzies” that I would take my old ’72 Marshall 50-watt JMP (color:Red) out on the road and I fell in love again with the big sound of two amps. I stopped taking the ’72 out with me and have replaced it with my Marshall JCM 900. So it’s two amps that I use now.
“Just another brick in the Wall.”
Stratoblogster: Even with all the great live Hendrix & Trower vibes in INFINITE ENERGY, your signal never gets swamped up in effects. I hear 'em, but you always manage to keep the guitar voice crisp &
articulate. Is this something you simply strive for with your attack style, or do you also credit the mix, along with better gear and signal chains for this?
Chris Duarte: I really should be better informed and aware of the intricate subtleties of pedal arrangements and power source cleanliness and polarity matching and so on and so forth and Scooby-dooby-do-yeah. No but seriously, I try real hard not to be enslaved by pedals. Fans of mine and the casual concert goers that come to my shows from time to time take notice of my rather large array of pedals before me, made all the more obvious by how I string them out a-la old school; no pedal board for me. (time costly yes, it has it’s purpose but that’s another story)
Some of those pedals only get activated maybe two times a show because my array is like my painter’s palate. I have the basic primary colors on the board, then the secondary and from there the exotics. It’s the exotics that are only called upon for a song or two at the most. I know too many players that are shackled to pedals and there’s no variation in tones. Some people can make it work if a certain effect is your identity and shtick but I’m not able to do that.
Stratoblogster: Which track is turning out to be the toughest to do vocal-wise in concert-- My Heart Don't Want... or Purple Gloaming?
Chris Duarte: My Heart by far. Purple Gloaming was tough at first but we’re starting to get a better handle on it, or I’m starting to get a better handle on it I should say.
I’m really having to knuckle down on learning how to play and sing these songs. The reason being, when I go to the studio I start to write songs while I’m there. So I get the general outline of the song, teach it to the bass player and drummer and then we lay down their rhythm tracks with me playing a scratch guitar part. So now it’s time to write a melody. I listen to the songs over and over again and start to formulate a melody and then craft lyrics after that. Right there that makes it more difficult because I’m not playing the guitar and coming up with the melody as I’m strumming the guitar. It’s just me and a note pad. Some songs are just impossible to play and sing, at least with my abilities they’ll be, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. If worse comes to worse I’ll start making slight adjustments so that I can play and sing it live.
Stratoblogster: Any particular vocal influences do you draw from? Although context and attitude vastly differ, I actually hear a David Lee Roth quality in your vocals, especially in Me All Me and parts of Waiting On You..
Chris Duarte: Wow, a David Lee Roth comparison!? That’s a first. : ) Actually David is a good singer and Lord knows I wouldn’t mind having his financial portfolio. You know I really don’t try and emulate my favorite singers. I’m just trying to work with what I got. I don’t think it’s a pretty voice but if I had my druthers I’ll go for soul and sincerity every time. Confidence is a large part of singing.
Stratoblogster: Which guitar & pickup maker did you record the Purple Gloaming solos with for that Creamy neck position stuff?
Chris Duarte: That’s the Xotic Ice Blue on that one. One more important component of the tone was the amp that was used. Let me set the scene; we’re at the studio and we’re doing pre-production. My amps haven’t arrived yet cuz’ I sent them out Fed-Ex a few days before I arrived so I’m just using what’s at the studio for now. So this is my fourth album I’m making at Prairie Sun studios and I’ve very rarely used any of the house amps. Not because I didn’t like them but because I’ve always had my stuff and you know guitar players will always use their own stuff when given the choice. So I’ve already made the decision to play like Clapton did during his Cream days with the phrasing and all and I’m looking at one of the Marshall heads there at the studio; just a plain black almost 80’s look to it. But upon closer look this head might be a early 80’s late 70’s head. I plugged it in and the tone was soooo thick and meaty. It was perfect! That Marshall was only used on that song. Turns out after I did some research on the amp, it’s a mid-70’s Mk II 50-watt with a master volume, no modification, stock. A Really great amp.
Stratoblogster: The last four tracks of INFINITE ENERGY really build up the progressive vibe-- at least to my ears. Do you determine the track order yourself or work it out with Mike Varney? How involved
does this process get?
Chris Duarte: Mike and I work that out. We go round and round on some things but we’ll come to a compromise in the end. Of course you want to arrange it depending on your contract obligations and the targeting of audiences and demographics. For this one Mike wanted to front load it with rock and blues. Then he wanted the “Cross My Heart” following with the catchy “Waiting on You.” We pushed “Me All Me” down the list cuz’ that one is kind of the odd-man-out song. It’s more pure rock and my solo technique is really a different approach as well. At times the song selection can be very involved and argued over but Blues Bureau Intl. is not a huge behemoth and the process is just decided by two people; me and the producer.
Stratoblogster: Having toured around the world for many years at this point, are there places that stand out, besides your home stompin' grounds, where you've been really well received? Artists often mention Brazil, for instance...
Chris Duarte: Although I have been in Brazil but I wasn’t there to play. I went there to produce albums on two different occasions and I saw different parts. I went to Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo. Moscow of course is fabulous and Prague. Paris, London and Rome. Amsterdam and Milan, the island of Sardinia. Hawaii and Oslo, Sicily and the city of Palermo, Beirut Lebanon, and of course Tokyo and Osaka and Hiroshima plus all the smaller towns in Japan that I’ve played in that most American musicians never get to go to. I really love my job.
Stratoblogster: After a couple decades of touring, any changes in your audiences you notice?
Chris Duarte: We’re all getting older but I’ve managed to gain younger fans too.
Stratoblogster: Any parallel art forms you're involved with besides music-- i.e. photography, painting, sculpture, etc.?
Chris Duarte: I thought I was getting good a photography but then some of my wife’s friends came over for a dinner date and they showed me some photos they had taken and it was humbling. I thought I was a contender, I thought I could be somebody. I just try to learn more about my classic muscle car that I have, ’68 Camaro 396cid/375hp. Fixing up little things on her and getting the engine screaming. She’s a dandy.
Chris Duarte: I’m going to be playing for the rest of my life. I can only dream and wish that I’ll be playing like Les Paul did. What a guy. *sigh* I’ll always strive to play to the best of my ability and I promise never, ever, ever, to “mow the lawn” at my gigs. I remember I was staying at a Holiday Inn and there was a band in the lounge playing the typical faire of standards, and I remember the band doing “Satin Doll” and it was just so lifeless and devoid of any effort that I turned to my wife at the time and told her, “If I ever look that miserable and care that little on a gig, sneak up behind me and put a bullet in my head. Put me out of my misery.”
Special thanks to:
Scott Thomas of Guitars Forever Marketing & Promotions
Jas Obrecht, the world's greatest interviewer of guitarists-- for continuing inspiration!
And extra special thanks to Chris Duarte for taking the time!
(from top to bottom)
The bloody pickguard is a viral web image.
!Pin It Now!