Chris Duarte Group Fan Forum Interview

by George Ladish

On September 3, 2009, I had a chance to sit down with Chris Duarte when he was in Springfield, Missouri. Chris gladly gave me a little over an hour of his time to answer questions from his fans, and would have given more if I had more questions. Chris genuinely appreciates his fans and this is just one more way he has shown it. I'm not a journalist, just a fan that started a messageboard out of a love for the music. I hope everyone enjoys the interview. So here it is, the interview by the fans, for the fans.

Q: At what point did it become clear to you that you had become known as a "Guitar-legend"? Was there a single event or revelation by which you realized that there was a certain legendary status attached to the name "Chris Duarte" on a worldwide level?

A: You know, I just want to be good at something, that's always been the way I try to live my life, if you're going to do something, be good at it. I guess it happened when Graham Snider of the Fort Worth Star Telegram wrote a review of a show and he called me one of the top promising young guitar players to come out of Texas and from then on the ball got rolling. I wanted to be respected by my peers, but I still had aspirations to sound like my heroes. I just always wanted to work at it.

Q : Most of your concerts are in US. Just ocassionally in Europe. It is a problem of management?

A: We're working on getting my visibility up in Europe and I want to tour more in Europe. But, it's just finances. If I'm doing good and there's a demand for me over there I'll be over there. Right now there's not a huge financial incentive to go over there. Russia's always very lucrative and I like going to Russia, but I can only go over there like once every two years.

Q: What do you feel about management in modern music. Sometimes it seems more important than music itself. Is it right?

A: It really depends what level you're at. If you're a huge star, yes it makes a very big difference, but at my level it doesn't make that big of a difference. Right now I have no management, I have an agency. Would I be further along if I had a manager, who knows? I wasn't going very far with managers, although they tried hard. It just depends what your status is. If something happens where a song breaks on the radio and does really well, damn straight I'm gonna get me a manager to handle it.

Q : When in studio - you do not use any other instruments - like piano, synths... Is it because you want to stay as close to live performance as possible? Or it is a part of your vision, your attitude to the music? Or you do not like any keyboards?

A: Actually, I like using other instruments and the last couple records I have put multiple guitar tracks on some songs. And harmony vocals. But right now the producer that I'm working with, Mike Varney, he wants to keep me mean and lean and I don't see anything wrong with being able to replicate the cds in a live performance.

Q: While the last album had some old tracks finally make it to studio recordings (Lets Have A Party...was played in mid-90's a lot)...are there any plans to ever record songs like Monkey Food, Pop song, Crash (and the others I've surely forgotten)?

A: We've put forth some of those old songs to produce, and Mike likes them but right now they haven't found a place for the way he wants certain albums to be. He says Pop Song is a great song but he says, different album. He wants to make more of a blues, you know, guitar rock album. But we're gonna be talking next week about the next album, me and Mike. So we'll see, I mean I've still got some songs in the vault and of course I'm always writing songs. Mike was actually thinking of putting together a compilation cd plus some live tracks hopefully to be out this November, so we'll see.

Q: How did your relationship with Ted Nugent begin? Who had the idea for the Texas tour you guys did in 1994? Any funny stories from those gigs?

A: (laughing) Well first of all, we don't have enough time to tell all the funny stories, but I will relay one. We were on the road and we were opening up with like, Hideaway, a song that Ted didn't feel was aggressive enough to open up a show. Ted came into our dressing room when we were on tour and Ted said, "I don't know everything, but I know all things Ted". And he proceeded to tell us we had to come out stronger and scare the bejeebus out of the people out there, and from then on we came out always with an uppercut. So that's what we got from Ted. That was just such a classic moment and Ted was dead serious, he wasn't being facetious at all at that moment. Ted's a great guy, he's one of the best people that you'd want to be in your corner. He believes so strongly in what he does. I don't agree with everything Ted does, but you can't fault him for his conviction. The way I was introduced to Ted was Ted goes hunting with this guy in Abilene and this guy was a big fan of mine and he'd showed Ted one of my videos that he'd shot and Ted just totally freaked out. And Ted was like, I've got to meet this guy, and that was it. I've got his phone number in my cell phone and every time I call him and leave a message Ted always calls me back. Ted's a great guy.

Q: I'm curious as to what gauge strings he uses and what kind of picks...

A: GHS Boomers 11-15-18 plain, 30-40-50, and I'm tuned to E flat, Dunlop Tortex green .88 mm

Q: Question from Ted Nugent........"Chris, do you have the proper permits for that thing?"

A: (laughs) Yes I do, I adhere to all legal restrictions.

Q: In the past, you'd stated that it was your intention to play all of the songs that appear on your records live, at one time or another. Can we eventually expect the same with all of the songs from "VANTAGE POINT"?

A: I guess we haven't played Woodpecker, and we haven't played Babylon live yet, all the other ones I think we have played live at one time or another. Troubles On Me I think I've only played once or twice. But hopefully so, Babylon would be the toughest.

Q: Is there anything planned in the future as far as The DBs project? Will there be more shows? CD's?

A: We've been trying. Everybody's schedule has been conflicting, but we have been trying and we're hoping something probably in November.

Q: Chris, on "Love is greater than me" (possibly my alltime favorite recording form BTW) you are pictured playing a Les Paul. I saw you play a Jackson once in Springfield Mass. On many of your songs on "Blue Velocity" it sounds like at least the rythym track is recorded with a humbucker equipt guitar. Is this the case, and if so what do you use?

A: There are some songs that were recorded with a Les Paul on Love is Greater Than Me. Azul Ezell, and we just started playing that again. Metaphor song is a Les Paul, the electric version, Baddness, Les Paul is one of the guitars on Duarte e Ezell.

Q: do you ever dabble in open tunings? I always have a guitar strung up in open G, expanding on the Kieth Richards chord voicings. If you have, what open tunings do you like?

A: Just a drop D, nothing serious, and a raised G if I do some slide stuff, but that's very rare.

Q: You are possibly the only modern strat blues guitarist that doesn't use a wah pedal. I've always wondered why? Or is that why, because everyone else does.

A: Exactly, everyone else does, I don't have anything really new to offer.

Q: do you hunt with Uncle Ted?

A: No, I've never hunted with him. I wouldn't mind it though, but I'm not an archer, I use a rifle.

Q: My 2 favorite guitar players are you and Ted Nugent. Who are your favorite 2 players?

A: John McLaughlin, and the last one varies. It could be Mike Stern one day, Hubert Sumlin the next, it changes. Derek Trucks has really turned into a good player too.

Q: you have used GHS 11 to 50's forever I beleive. Do they endorse you? If not, they should!

A: Yes they do, I get my strings free, and I've been getting my strings free since '94.

Q: Do you have a favorite city or cities to play?

A: Some cities I just like because they're beautiful, you know. Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Francisco, Honolulu, Prague, Moscow. Well, scratch that, Moscow's not really beautiful, it's got beautiful things in it, but it can be a very dirty city. You know, Paris, London. But then there's some cities I like because of the people and I've got such a strong connection with them. Kansas City, Springfield, Lincoln Nebraska, Austin Texas, San Antonio. There's a lot of cities that it's because of the people. Even Abilene, when I first started playing with Ted.

Q: Do you have a preference between smaller intimate clubs, larger venues, or outside venues?

A: Yeah, I mean, I like the larger venues but there's nothing like having the small club that you know, you can press the flesh and people are right up against you, I really do like that.

Short break while Chris had a quick conversation over the phone with Ted Nugent. During that phone call Chris mentioned doing a couple songs with him on the next album. I asked about it and Chris said Ted is totally down for it, they just need to do it.

Q: Any plans to ever rerelease Chris Duarte and the Bad Boys?

A: I don't think it's a great album, it would just be for the gimmick of it. Probably not.

Q: A live Chris Duarte show is the ultimate for guitar lovers. Any live albums or dvds coming up?

A: Well with the compilation we're thinking of some live cuts and the fan club is releasing a live dvd sometime later this month. Craig (Keyzer, CDG fan club president) has been working very hard on it. I'm anxious to see it as well.

Q: You have a pretty big following with tapers and collectors of your live shows. What made you decide to allow taping and sharing of your music.

A: At my level it can only help. I'm not a big artist, so anything to spread the word, you know, to get it out about me, I'm down for it.

Q: You've been at this a long time. You've been a sideman, played with some of the big names, and developed a large and dedicated fan base for yourself. What are one or two of your most memorable experiences?

A: One of them was hanging out with John McLaughlin, that's probably one of my top experiences. Others are like, playing with Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Hubert Sumlin, Ted (Nugent), Edgar Winter. Those are some big highlights. Playing with the Texas Tornados - Freddy Fender, Flaco Jiminez, Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers - those guys were bad. (Chris seemed to be fondly reminiscing when he spoke of the Texas Tornados)

Q: You have a pretty good size catalog of music. Other artists that have put out the amount of music that you have generally have one or more tracks that you just hit the skip button on, deservedly. I really can't think of any of your songs that make me want to hit that button....

A: To me, I've got a skip button that I hit, because you know, I wasn't that much of a player back then, I wasn't mature, you know, there's some tracks that kind of make me cringe, but I mean, my one big solace is that most of that music is my own, there's not a lot of covers in there and it's a large catalog. It's so large, I forget about songs to play at shows, I just don't have that much RAM in my head.

Q: I'm curious about your songwriting process. Do you have a specific approach or is it different for each song?

A: The songwriting process that I go through is, I hear a melody first, and then I start coming up with the rhythm. But really, it can go both ways. Lately it's been a rhythm first and then a melody comes. That's how it's been with some of the songs on Vantage Point. There's been at least on the last three records that I've released, three or four of those songs have been Mike (Varney) telling me the day before, 'we need a song that kind of sounds like this'. So I'll go and I'll write something, I'll bring it back, we'll get the rhythm down, Mike and I will go to work, we'll start crafting lyrics and a melody with that. And there's like, The End of You and Me was basically a dead song. I didn't like that song. He said, 'I need a song that's kind of like Thrill is Gone', and I used to play Thrill is Gone kind of real hip-hopish a long time ago. I know Craig has taped some real old ones, back in the early '90's. And so I did that. I didn't want to do the usual Thrill is Gone turnaround, I wanted to something a little more sophisticated, so I came up with those chords, and that was kind of like, I painted myself into a corner with those chords, I couldn't find a melody to go with it, and I couldn't find lyrics and I worked on it, and basically I finally came to Mike after working on it for days and I said, 'I don't like this song, let's drop it, let's do another song'. And he goes, 'well, let's get in there and work it up', and within 30-45 minutes we had the melody and then it turned out to be one of our favorite songs on the record. So that's just how it goes, and I think Mike and I have a really good relationship the way we bounce ideas off each other. Michael is a musical encyclopedia. You can't stump him with any record title, or describe an album cover and he'll get it, almost any kind of music, he'll get it. Michael's an amazing guy.

Q: Do you ever come up with lyrics first?

A: Definitely, that's happened too. Sometimes I just like the way the cadence of a line, the syllables and the phonetics, I like the way it sounds and I'll remember it, I'll just hold on to it. I'm still trying to write this song, I've been trying to write it ever since I did that gig in Paris back in '95 or '96. About a little beggar kid, begging for stuff on the Champs-Élysées. It turns out that little kid was real manipulative after I watched for awhile.

Q: You're well known among your fans for being extremely friendly and accessible. Have you ever tried to estimate how many autographs you've signed?

A: And how I've watered down the value of my autograph. That is a funny question. It's got to be getting close to 100,000 if not more. I don't know. But the rare one is when I put a #1 by it, those are the rare ones. That's when I see something for the first time, and I'll put a #1 by it. There's probably less than 25 of those, easily. I know there's one in Beirut, Lebanon, the first cd I sold in Beirut.

Q: You've done some of the producing of course on your own albums. Have you done any producing other than the 2003 album "Changes" by Fernando Noronha and Black Soul? How did that come about?

A: (laughing) He actually wanted some other people, I think I was number three on the list. That's okay, at least I was available and I was ready to do it. It was really a great experience. The first record was in Puerto Alegre in South America and that's quite a long flight from Houston to Sao Paulo, then you have to switch airplanes to go another couple hours to Puerto Alegre. I thought, it was a red-eye flight, I'll get off the plane, I'll go to the hotel, I'll chill out. And I get off the plane, it was exciting to meet him for the first time, and he goes, 'well I was kinda hoping we'd go to the studio and start working'. (laughing) So me being the gung-ho guy that I am, I just said well, let's go to work. And it was a studio basically with nothing in it, but it was really exciting the way we all made it work. And then after that he had me do his next record. Which, I don't think he really liked it as much. Because I would chop up his solos and rearrange them, like what was happening during my "Texas Sugar". So he didn't like it as much, he thought it changed his sound too much, which is cool, it's just a personal decision. I helped produce another record, but I really didn't produce, it was more 'inspirational producer' for a guy named Mojo Perry up in Minnesota. Mojo actually has a very bold vision, a big sort of pop vision, I was kind of impressed that it came out the way it did. But I would tell him, straighten up your rhythms, it sounds cluttered, the cohesiveness is stumbling, it's jumbled, that's basically what I was doing. The name of that album was Magic Butterfly.

Q: When you're on the road, what do you like to do when you have down time but not enough time to go home?

A: Practice. Study Japanese. Chill.

Q: How long do you see yourself doing this?

A: It's funny because about 3 or 4 years ago I was saying I see myself with 5 good years left in me. You know, good hard touring. But now, sitting here I see I could do this easily for another 5 years. You know, as long as there's a demand out there for me, I'll be doing this. It's just my life. If something comes up where I move into producing or doing something associated with music, anything but working in a music store, I'll probably do it. [With a melancholy tone to his voice] I don't want to end up as that lounge guitar player, slogging through a sappy, saccharin version of Satin Doll. Just kill me, 'cause I'll be dead already, I'll be dead on the inside.

Q: Is there one thing most people don't know about you that you'd be willing to share?

A: I have a secret desire to play in a Tejano band and to learn the accordian.

Q: You just came back from Beirut. What do you have to share from that experience?

A: It was totally cool. I thought the people were wonderful. I wish we didn't have this stereotype of Beirut being turban-wearing fanatics, that's not it at all. There's religious zealots everywhere. They're totally normal over there, very educated, very urbane. Just seeing and experiencing the different culture, that was my real first venture into the Arabic culture and it's really cool, I dug it. The people I was working with were Christian, the promoter was Christian, but of course he's Arabic and so he's sympathetic to the Arabic causes and the Israeli question is very thorny. I wasn't gonna touch it. I wasn't there to figure that problem out, I was there to play music.

I thanked Chris for doing this interview for his fans and he responded as serious and sincere as can be with:

Thank you, I think I have the greatest fans in the world, I really do people, I'm not just saying that 'cause the tape player's rolling in front of me. Y'all are the greatest.

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