interview by Craig Keyzer, 7/4/96

Bobby Mack & Night Train have been rollin’ down the track since the early 1980’s. Night Train was Chris Duarte’s first professional band, but he looks back on it as also going to school. He learned a lot about blues and shuffles when he was a member from 1981-1984. Chris got his first taste of touring on the road with Night Train, as well as his first experience in the recording studio on “Night Train”, Bobby Mack’s first album where Chris appears on four cuts. Night Train played a tight mix of Blues/Motown covers like “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” and “Crosscut Saw”, with original material and odd cuts such as “Crawling from the Wreckage” tossed in as well - all delivered with Bobby Mack’s smooth, powerful vocals. On July 4th, 1996 I had a chance to talk to Bobby about those early days when Chris Duarte was in his band...

How were you drawn to music and who were some of your early musical influences?
I was born in Fort Worth and grew up in Dallas. I started playing acoustic guitar in my early teen years, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, that kind of stuff. My older brother played guitar and he turned me on to Jimmy Reed and Lightnin’ Hopkins. I also got into the British Invasion and listened to Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. I was reading an interview with Eric Clapton in which he said his biggest influence was Freddie King. At that time Freddie King would play at this little barbecue joint in South Dallas, down in Oak Cliff. So I went down to Oak Cliff, I was too young to get into a bar, and hung out by the back door. You could see the stage and watch him play. It was real cool and that got me into the blues.

When did you head to Austin?
I moved to Austin in 1972 to go to the University of Texas. I played some solo coffeehouse stuff, but didn’t start to play in a band until 1976. It was a real interesting time because the “Cosmic Cowboy” thing was the big deal goin’ on in Austin at the time. I was doin’ jams with a little family of blues players. There was Jimmie Vaughan with the Storm and Stevie Vaughan would sit in, too. He was with Lou Ann Barton at the time. This was all really underground stuff. We’d go hang out at Fran Christina’s house after our gigs and stay up all night listening to records, trading riffs. We all had similar influences. I started my own band, Cartoon, and then Night Train, in 1979.

Who was in the first version of Night Train?
Danny Turansky on bass and Steve Fulton on drums. We did a lot of blues gigs for a couple of years around town. I left to play in a copy-rock band up in Dallas for awhile and then came back to Austin.

When did you first hear of Chris Duarte?
It was late ‘80 that I met Chris Duarte. He was a friend of my roommate, Steve Fulton. He would come over to the house and jam, jazz-fusion stuff primarily. He wasn’t into the blues at that time. I reformed Night Train with Clark Ellison on bass, Chris Duarte, Jessie York on drums and myself. We rehearsed for a couple of months doin’ an odd mix of stuff, some Motown, blues. We started gettin’ gigs in the Spring of ‘81. After playin’ for a couple of months we got a regular Wednesday gig at Antone’s. We played Antone’s for about nine months. It was real up and down, being a weekday. It wasn’t very good for band morale. At one point, Jessie York quit and then Clark. That’s when Chris and I got Jimmy Pate on drums and Larry Eisenberg on bass. When Chris first joined the band he was playin’ Coltrane, McLaughlin, DiMeola, that kind of stuff. He was playin’ a lot of jazz riffs over blues songs. When Jimmy Pate, a real staunch blues player, joined the band, he couldn’t deal with it. We had many conversations about playing too many notes. We’d say, “Don’t be bringing your basketball to the baseball game!” Don’t get me wrong, I think Chris is a phenomenal player, but at the time he just wasn’t playing the correct stuff for the format of the band. Jimmy Pate really taught him a lot about blues time and the shuffle. Eventually we started giggin’ around the state.

Chris Duarte has said that Night Train was his first road band.
Actually, I think it was his first band outside of jam bands and playin’ gigs at birthday parties and stuff. We’d go to Houston, San Antonio, down the coast to Corpus Christi, Padre Island.

I also heard Night Train was quite color-coordinated!
Yeah! We had this concept thing where we each had black pants, white pants, 3 or 4 colored t-shirts, and on any given night we’d say “Tonight’s colors are green and white” or “red and black”. We’d dress the same, depending on what was washed at the time! Actually, it helped get us some attention, which led us to gettin’ some investments for the first album.

When did you start working on that album?
We rehearsed at Jimmy Pate’s home and started to record in December of 1984. It wasn’t released until August of ‘85. It started out as a demo, a 4-song EP. Once we got into it, the producer, Steve Mendell, suggested that we go ahead and make a 12-inch record.

How many copies were pressed?
I believe only 500. I don’t even have a copy. I lost mine in a house fire.

I noticed you had Lonnie Mack on that album. How’d that come about?
He lived in Austin at the time and he was there at Cedar Creek Studios the same time we were. He and Stevie Ray Vaughan were recording “Strike Like Lightning”. We had a chance to hang out in the studio and I just asked him if he would add guitar tracks to 2 songs that were already recorded. Looking back, I think the album was over-produced. I was trying to avoid any comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan at the time. We were compared a lot, vocally, but I think we were both just trying to sound like Doyle Bramhall! I added background vocals, horns and all that. It kind of confused the whole issue of what the band was about. Also, I think that was actually the beginning of the end. I was kind of goin’ off into my own cocaine addiction at the time. Maybe it was that fear-of-success/fear-of-failure combination. The band broke up not too long afterward.

Chris really looks back on his time in your band as very valuable.
I’m really proud of what Chris is doing. He’s doing a great job.

Thanks Bobby, for taking time out to do this.
Thank you. Tell everybody in the fan club hello for me and give Chris my best wishes!

Visit Bobby Mack's website HERE