What’s it like playing with Chris?
Chris is one of the very best guitar players in the world. I really think that. From the first time I heard him as a mature musician I thought that.

Was that back when he was in
Bobby Mack & Night Train?

No, it was when Jr. Medlow was fronting the Bad Boys.
Jeff Hodges wanted me to join the band. I was in the Vanguards at the time.

Had you heard of Chris at that point?
When Chris moved to Austin, he was living with Clark Ellison. I was the first Austin musician he played with on bass. It was a jazz thing we did. We met through Steve Fleckman, a saxophone player who had a passion for jazz and loved to play it. He would get musicians together. Chris came by with an acoustic guitar and we just dinked around on some jazz tunes. But it was years after that when I first really heard him. I’d heard of the Bad Boys, they were starting to get around. But we were both in bands, busy with the stuff we were doing. I was also a freelance musician in Austin and was playing in a lot of different bands.

Deby and I had started a cleaning business. I had just left the Vanguards and didn’t do any gigs for a year. I was tired of the whole thing. The only thing I wasn’t tired of was music. We’d work all night and then I’d sleep ‘til noon. Then I’d get up and practice ‘til about 6. I wasn’t writing songs, I was relearning my instrument. Tana had been born and everything seemed different to me. Up until then, I wouldn’t consider myself a serious musician. I relied on my natural ability and wasn’t the practicing sort, which is really odd when you know me now.

Didn’t you study music when you went to school?
I was a composition major at North Texas State University in Denton. There were some great musicians while I was there. The composition department in those days had a strong avant garde electronic music program.

Were you playing bass at the time?
I was playing electric bass and wanted to learn the upright bass, but didn’t have money to get one. I started playing at a dinner theater in Ft.Worth and got exposed to seasoned, professional musicians every night. We would do 2 shows a night, 3 on weekends. I got this immersion with players that were way better than I was. So that was it for school and I went back to Austin.

What drew you to the bass in the first place and what kinds of music
were you listening to growing up?

I always heard the groove and I always loved the drums. The first thing I loved about music was that it made me want to dance. When I was a little kid I just loved to wiggle. I must’ve come to the subconscious realization that if it’s this much fun wiggling, then making music must be even better. That’s probably the basic division between musicians and dancers, those that prefer to wiggle and those that prefer to make you wiggle! I listened to my parent’s record collection. A lot of big band music, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald records, Duke Ellington. My mom’s a great fan of Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. A lot of soul music. I was growing up in South America, in Trinidad. You couldn’t really get a lot of American music.Calypso was big, too.

So when did you first see Chris play at a club?
Jeff invited me to go check out the Bad Boys and so I go down to the Black Cat Lounge. I walk into the Black Cat and at the very back of the room, up on these ridiculous tiers, practically up to the ceiling, in front of a giant ventilation fan, is Chris playing John Coltrane’s solo from “Moments Notice”, note for note, through a Marshall. It blew my mind because Coltrane, to me, was the preeminent musician of the 20th century and to hear it out of this modern day electric guitar sound...! Chris has always been a genius with a Marshall, it’s like they’re made for each other. It was just stunning! I felt I just had to play with him. But it wasn’t until about 8 months after that that I started playing with the Bad Boys.

Did you sit in that night at the Black Cat?
No I didn’t, and all I can remember from that night is Chris doin’ that incredible Coltrane solo. I stuck around until Junior Medlow hit the stage to see what the gig was like. It was finally the Vanguards that brought me out again. They had reformed with a new drummer, John “Mambo” Treanor, and started changing directions. Chris and I started going back and forth a lot. He would come to the Vanguards gigs and sit in and I would go and sit in with Jr. Medlow & the Bad Boys. The Vanguards were your classic Austin band. In between songs, while the band was deciding what to play next, Chris and I would be off to the side playing “Teen Town” by Jaco Pastorius or trying some weird thing out.

How long were you with the Bad Boys?
I was with the Bad Boys for about a year. I remember the first gig I had with the Bad Boys was in Houston and they taped me! That was my audition. I was dimly aware they were taping the show, but didn’t realize they were going to review my performance. When I first joined the Bad Boys they were real serious and thought they still might get a record deal. So they were taking the prospect of bringing me into the band seriously. I remember Chris saying to me, “Why are you playing so much?”, like I was playing too many notes. “Oh? Which notes would his majesty have me take out?” Of course, Chris would tell you, take that C out, get rid of the G, that’s no good... I was the last of many bass players in the Bad Boys. I even kept playing with them after Chris left the band. Chris had stared doing a trio thing. When we couldn’t get all of Arson together, we’d do a trio. A trio makes such economic sense, and there’s a purity to it that’s appealing also.It was with Arson that we really started playing together. It was called Justus originally. Sometimes he would use me and other times he would use Paul Babb on bass. Sometimes we’d have a sax player and sometimes we wouldn’t. Alex Coke was usually the main call guy. Different drummers. Justus was originally with Bob Coleman on sax. When Bob left it became Arson. It became the band that was the memorable thing. It settled into this form that was real intense with two sax players and a rhythm section.

Justus and Arson both won the Best Jazz Band category in the Austin Chronicle Music Awards in 1988 and 89. Did they draw big crowds?
I wouldn't say we drew big crowds, but we did well. Especially for what we were doing, which was real challenging and difficult. We won those awards because we were playing such intense music and, really, we had the best musicians in town. Myself excluded! But everybody in the band was good and we played, totally, to the limits of our capabilities. We were playin’ Coltrane like it was the last music on Earth. Totally committed. Really serious. And we were playing it in rock clubs, never in jazz clubs. We were playin’ the Black Cat Lounge, Steamboat, whatever.

I am amazed at how easy Arson would go from hardcore jazz right into Jimi Hendrix.
To us there was no difference. There’s no difference between Coltrane and Hendrix. They both came from that same primal scream. There was no difference between playing “Little Wing” and “Impressions”. They both involve all your emotions.

Arson’s jazz fusion really stands out as kind of unique in Austin, during that time of Stevie Ray and the T-Birds.
Austin really didn’t give a damn about Stevie Ray until after he was famous. The influences in Austin were these new wave bands with keyboards, funny haircuts and bad attitudes and stuff. Probably one of the reasons there’s so many good musicians in Austin is that they really get ignored. That’s my whole theory on American musicians. It’s one of the things that makes us world-class. It’s widely recognized that American musicians are the best in the world. In many ways. And Texas musicians are the best! Even if you suck, you're gonna' get the benefit of a doubt, because you’re from America. But that’s what makes us so good. There’s no subsidies for us and there’s no subsidies in general for poor people. And it forces us to scuffle. And the other thing about Chris and I, and our generation and before us, is that we all came up where we were the night’s entertainment. And so we played every night, night after night, all night long. In the 15 to 20 years since I’ve been coming up as a player it’s completely changed. Bands hardly ever play all night anymore. Almost every club runs several bands through. You just don’t get that kind of roadhouse experience and I think that’s where a lot of the brilliance of Texas musicians comes from. We just had to play so much. Stevie Ray would play all night long. We would play all night long. You were the night’s entertainment. You had to know enough songs to get through that night, but you also had to know more songs than that so you wouldn’t get bored.

Then all this stuff happened and Chris moved to New Hampshire for awhile. I kept working in the Vanguards. Then one day he called me up and said he was coming back and would I play with him. For awhile we were actually talking about him joining the Vanguards. That was rejected by all the other guitar players in the Vanguards as being silly — of course, they were right!
He came back and Jeff Hodges was playing in the Vanguards, so there was this natural trio that was already experienced together. He had enlisted Cleve Hattersley via the telephone, too. We got right to work. A day after he was back we were at the ARC rehearsing and our first gig was the Friday after he got back, at the Continental Club. And I played in the Vanguards that night as the opening band. I played both gigs that night. After that it was just work, work, work!

Was it a big switch going from Arson to the Chris Duarte Band?
No, because we’d been going in and out of a trio for awhile. Chris and I had more R&B experience than anything else. Being a player in Austin meant learning the Rhythm & Blues book inside and out. And both of us had. We both knew Freddie King songs long before we ever played together. It’s just the stuff you learn in Austin. I was with the Vanguards one time when we were playing at the China Club in Los Angeles. It was jam night for musicians. These were studio players from L.A. It was so funny, because their standards were, like, “It Keeps You Running” and other studio stuff. That was their tradition, to work in Los Angeles you had to know all that stuff. That’s the language they work in, the studio sort of thing. And they were great players. It was interesting to observe. Other music towns, too, have their unique repertoires. Chicago would be a certain kind of blues. Austin is such a guitar town. I think I understand guitar players. I've played with many around town. I think one of the reasons that Chris and I have had a successful time together is that I’m sympathetic to the guitar and I kind of understand how it works and how they think. I’m a guitarist myself.

You have played together so long, there’s an obvious non-verbal
visual communication that goes on between you two as you play.

It’s really like learning a language. I don’t know how many gigs we’ve played together, but it’s over 1,000 for sure. Definitely. If you count all the Arson, all the Junior Medlow, all the strange unknown trio gigs and duo gigs and everything else, it’s over 1,000 gigs together. Which is a lot for any musicians to play together. That’s 10 or more years in musicians’ lives. And they’re really compressed, a really small period of time. So many nights I’ve played with him — and it’s never, ever been boring. Never. I’ve never been bored. And that’s why I play with him. I’m a real emotional player. That works well with some players and not with others. Its way easy for me to play with Chris, and for him to play with me, too, because music is, for us, this raw undefined emotion. A feeling, that’s how it appears to me anyway. The main thing that happens to us is this pure powerful feeling when we’re playing. It’s not like “Oh, I’m feelin’ sad” or “Oh, this is where I’m happy”, it’s just this raw feeling, beyond any names or labels. A swelling sort of emotion. And that’s how I feel music. And that’s how he feels music, too. We have a lot of the same influences in people we listen to. It’s kind of a natural relationship. To me, the ideal music made is when divisions between all instruments cease. You simply experience the music and there’s not a kick drum, or a bass guitar or a singer. What you’re experiencing is this mass. Like a really good orchestra playing Beethovens Ninth. I’m not sitting there going, “Oh, here come the oboes now!”, it’s just bathing me. Just like Jimi Hendrix. I don’t hear a man or a guitar, it’s just the music getting me. And so when I’m playing my best, in my most musically conscious self, really I’m trying to become the drums and I’m trying to become the guitar. I’m trying to make everything lose all of its seams and become unified. And just try to disappear into it. When it’s like that, it’s not one person anymore, and then the audience gets caught up in it, too. Then it’s not just the band anymore. Occasionally you have nights where everyone kind of “frums” to the same frequency — and that’s why you keep doing it. For those rare occasions, when it all comes together.

When did you start writing your own songs in the Chris Duarte Group?
Did you bring some with you?

“Scrawl” was the first song I contributed. It was an Arson tune and was an instrumental. It had the same melody, but it didn’t have the bridge, which Chris adapted, and the chord progression, which was a modified blues thing. Really the idea of “Scrawl” was imagine if Jaco and Jimi had been in the same band together. It was having this real tough kind of groove with a real cool guitar playing over it. In fact, on the intro, I just told Chris to do a Hendrix sharp nine kind of thing, and he came up with the intro which is still played that way today. A Hendrix-inspired sort of thing. So he took that off with him to New Hampshire and it became a song up there. He wrote the bridge and the words and chorus to it. He wrote as much or more of it than I did. That was the first song. After that it’s really more coming up with grooves and stuff. I feel like I’ve always been a writer. I didn’t start writing until we needed songs.

All of the songs on Texas Sugar have been performed live for quite awhile.
“Just Kissed My Baby” was one of those tunes we rehearsed with Jeff when Chris moved back from New Hampshire. It didn’t come together until Brannen was in the band. He played it in a certain way, it was just so cool. We did “Shiloh” back in 1990. It’s kind of a cross between “Dirty Pool”, “Tin Pan Alley” and also the many minor blues that Coltrane did, in the way it has this emotional arc to it. That’s really inspired as much by Coltrane as Stevie, even Elmore James, the way it gets so furious and nuts.

On the album, "Shiloh" kind of sounds like an outtake.
What happened was Chris was playing it and Brannen sat down and was sort of tapping his drums in time and then I sat down and we just started playing it. This was the very beginning of the day, when the recording people would still be hooking their stuff up. It was knob-twirling time for them. I had just put new strings on my bass, which I did every morning before we played, and we just kind of wandered in.

How did it get distorted?
The reason it got all distorted was they had a talk-back mike set up in the middle of the room. We were in the recording room and they were in the control room, so they had this mike set up so they could hear us talk to them between takes. Anyway, they liked what they were hearing and in this mad dash to get everything up and running they forgot to turn off the mike. So here’s this raw, open, nothin’ fancy mike in the middle of the room getting washed by much larger sound levels than what it was set for. Naturally it distorted and went straight onto the tape. We just played it and didn’t think it was anything spectacular. We hadn’t even thought of it being on the record because it was just a B-minor blues, you know? I put my bass down and we all walked into the control room to see if they had gotten their act together so we could start recording. We walked in and our producer, Dennis Herring, is laying on the couch. It’s like he fainted there or something, his arms thrown across his head. He looks up at us and his hair is all tussled and he says, “You’re gonna’ have to kill me to keep that off the record!” He did what he could to it and tweeked it, but it was just this raw thing that happened. He wasn’t even interested in another performance of it.

So you didn’t record any other takes of it?
No, that’s the only take of it. We were like “You know, we can do it better and cleaner!”, but he basically said “Over my dead body, literally. Forget it. This is it.” That’s what he wanted.

That’s the one cut that sounds real different than the rest of the album.
I think it’ll be the underground classic off of “Texas Sugar/Strat Magik”, in my opinion. As the years go by, that’s gonna be the one that people will remember the most because it’s just a pure performance. There’s nothing artificial about any of it. It’s just guts all the way.

Does Chris constantly surprise you?
It’s constantly a gas! Sometimes I start laughing and sometimes I get choked up, and it’s not even a sad subject, and I’ll get choked up or all teary-eyed. It might be “Big-Legged Woman”, you know? I truly believe he’s one of the best guitarists on the planet. Chris is not the easiest artist for some people, because he’s so intense. It’s not slick or pretty, its rough and it’s jagged. I’ve been out with him many years and I see how he affects people. There’s a sizable portion of any audience that we play in front of that he’s just gonna’ grab by the throat. It’s thrilling. It’s thrilling to play with a musician of that power. And it elevates your playing. When I play with other musicians now, I keep looking around thinking “When is this gonna’ start goin’?” It may be cookin’, it may be groovin’, sounding great, but when does the blood start flowing? When do the bats start pouring out of the cave? The earthquake, you know? To me, it’s like this cataclysmic experience because Chris, he never quits. And that’s unique.

I remember you once said that you hope to just make enough money to record another album. Are you excited about this second album?
Yes! I’m even thinking third album. It’s not that I’m thinking past this album, I’m really anxious to do it and move on to the next one. Soon, really. I believe we should be recording constantly, in my opinion. If I was a record executive and I had us, I guarantee you we would be in the studio anytime we were off. I would have hundreds of hours of tape. It would be expensive, but I would just try to find a way to do it. I mean, thank God they recorded John Coltrane that much. Thank God they recorded Miles Davis that much. They’ll be releasing Miles albums, from all periods of his career, thirty years from now. And Coltrane — it’s astonishing. Even Jimi Hendrix, in his short span as a recording artist, recorded a ton of stuff. And some of it’s just unfinished, but still, that’s what I would do. I would have Chris in the studio, multi-tracking, strangling chickens and running it through phase shifters underwater! Just experimenting — doing the while thing, because one of the greatest things we got from Hendrix was not only his experimenting and songwriting, but these wonderful studio discoveries that everyone has benefited from. And Chris should be treated that way, that’s what I think. Just put him in an 8-track studio whenever he’s home. He deserves to be documented. And then, after we’re all dead rock stars and everything, they can make a billion dollars, you know? Get with the program! So now my ambition, beyond making the 3rd record, is I wanna’ make some money and buy some of my own equipment and just start doing it. Because not only do I think they should be putting Chris in the studio, but it think the same about me. “THEY”, and I don’t mean just our record company, I mean all record companies, should cultivate their serious artists to the fullest extent that they can. Most of them don’t. It’s probably as much the artist’s fault as it is the record company. But, like I said, thank God they recorded so much Coltrane, you know? Because it’s all valuable as it turns out. Coltrane was constantly moving. One of the reasons he was constantly moving is he was constantly in the studio and was constantly hearing what he was doing and building on that. And that’s what you should do with an artist like Chris. And an artist like me, too. Encourage them. Make them produce. Get ‘em going. The tool of the modern day composer is the studio. The modern day composer does not write for symphonies. Some of them do, but I mean the art form and the medium of composing is the studio. The manipulation and layering of sounds. You know, the Beatles. “Live” is such a crapshoot. Every night is different. You’re dealing with different equipment, the sound of the room. There’s so many things that go into it. It’s an incredibly subtle thing. Sometimes we get out of the van after driving forever, pour out of the van, set up and start playing. You would think it would be just the crappiest gig. You’d think we’d be burnt, tired, don’t feel good — and we’ll get out and just roar. Just get out and wail. Sometimes you’re totally rested, everybody’s feelin’ good, and you just sound terrible. Who knows!

The kind of music that we play is derived from jazz and blues. And both of those types of music are about playing what you feel. It’s that approach to making music that’s as natural as breathing to us. It’s what we naturally believe about music. That it’s got a greater force. You’re just sort of channeling it and following the dictates of it. It’s not like we’re in charge up there. It’s like, on a good night, the music is passing through us. I’m sure almost any serious musician would say the same thing. The perfect musician is the perfect conduit. I don’t know what the greater force is, but I think of it as music. When it passes through you. And your own self is not interfering with it. It’s just passing through you and who you are. Like Miles Davis said, “It takes a long time to sound like yourself.” In our society we worship youth and are real interested in young things and young players. We like the feeling of youth, but real music only deepens with experience and age and wisdom. You listen to someone like Horowitz or Sonny Rollins and you hear what the years do and how these guys became to sound like themselves. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be young, but it’s not so bad to get old. I turned 39 yesterday and will be 40 tomorrow, and I’m just looking forward to the next decade to see what happens to me musically, because I’ve only barely scratched the surface in my understanding of music, for me personally. So I’m really looking forward to this next 10 years of learning. I hope to be a good piano player and I hope to be a great bass player by the time this next decade is up. And I hope to be playin’ upright bass really well by then. To be writing music for all different sorts of ensembles. I’m looking forward to it, it’s an exciting time for me. And playing with Chris is the perfect, the perfect, environment for me. There’s only one Chris Duarte, and there's only one John Jordan. There’s only one of any of us. You’re lucky if you get to play with other people who have a similar feeling about it. I’m lucky in that I’m playing with a musician who’s not only a great, great player, but is a serious, dedicated, want-to-learn-more player. I think that we egg each other on a lot, and that’s real great. A lot of people are not in bands that are like that. Where the focus is on something else. I consider Chris to be one of the nicest and most wonderful people I’ve ever known. That’s sincere and true. He’s an incredibly nice person, very bright and funny, enthusiastic about things, he’s Chris!


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