This was a Chris Duarte interview
by Tom Baylor in Hey Joe, a Jimi Hendrix newsletter on 7/8/97.
Chris: I've always been a big fan of Hey Joe and am very appreciative of their efforts. I've met many of them at shows all across the U.S. They've been really good at getting my name out and I'm very thankful for their efforts.
Hey Joe: Hey Joe's number one question is what's your favorite Jimi song?
Chris: My favorite? Wow, it would have to be "Axis: Bold As Love". It's got a great anthem quality at the end. That's what I like best about it. It's so hard to pin down one song. Six or seven months ago I could have said "Stone Free", "Rainy Day, Dream Away" or the stuff he did with Doreille DuFontaine, but "Axis" sticks out as my favorite.
Hey Joe: Are you a big Jimi collector?
Chris: I don't have as much as I'd like, but I have a few notable things. I'm so busy in my career that I don't have the time to really delve into collecting, but I'm a big fan of his stuff. I'll tell you what I'm really after, the video of Jimi Hendrix at Royal Albert Hall when he did a version of "Hear My Train A-Comin'". Somebody gave me a tape, but it doesn't have that one song. It's one of my favorite concert recordings of his.
Hey Joe: Do you see any parallels between the Chris Duarte Group and the Jimi Hendrix Experience? Such as the power trio or both you and Jimi being on stage right?
Chris: As far as being stage right like Jimi, when I was in bigger groups I was always told to go to that side of the stage so it's always been like home for me. I'm trying to create a huge collage of music and sound from just a 3-piece group and that's what Jimi did very well. People couldn't believe all that sound was coming from just 3 guys and that's what I'm trying to do. Another parallel is the chaotic spirit, free spirit, that Hendrix had with such a hard blues foundation, which I'm trying to go for, too.
Hey Joe: I've heard you do "Hear My Train A-Comin'" and "Catfish Blues", do you do "Drivin' South"?
Chris: Yes, I do that one. In fact it will be on the new CD. I've done so many Hendrix songs in my career. I used to do "Manic Depression" and "Midnight Jam", they were regulars of mine. I'm sure you can ask the Hey Joe crowd about "Are You Experienced?". They like the way I do that one. I've never done "Voodoo Child" in my group. I don't want to do the same songs that everyone elde does. "Purple Haze" is another one I don't do. I like "Foxy Lady", but I prefer songs that are more obscure. I do "Little Wing" once in awhile, as an instrumental, and make it more jazzy and do a big cadenza at the opening. I do "Axis". That one's a real challenge, because you're trying to sing and phrase it on the guitar. There's no way Jimi could sing and play that song at the same time in the studio, I know that for a fact. I'd like to hear a live version of it, to see how he did it live. That's another recording someone can help me find.
Hey Joe: Do you try to capture Jimi's sound? Was Jimi your main influence or did you listen to other guitarists, too?
Chris: I've always listened to different guitar players, even horn players. I like trumpet sounds, saxophone, synthesizer, and I try to get as close as I can with the guitar. I like Jeff Beck a lot, he's always messing with tones. Jimi did, too. Tone was a main point of their performance. If you're just wailing away on one note, it'll have more impact if you've got a great tone. But you've got to put that tone in at the right time. I go through many tones in just one song sometimes.
Hey Joe: What's your set-up?
Chris: My basic set-up is 4 amps, all with different tones. Three are on all the time. I have 2 Riveras, one is a Chris Duarte Signature model I helped design, with a knucklehead underneath. That's on the left. On the right I have a Fender Vibro-King and a Marshall JC-900. I used to have a '72 50-watt redhead on the road, but I retired that. It used to get nicked and that's no way to be treatin' a vintage amp! The Fender and the 2 Riveras are going all the time, and I have a foot switch and an AB-Y box to kick the Marshall on, then all 4 amps are going. For big distortion I've got a Boss DSI for a Hendrix sound. I've also got a Fultone DejaVibe, which is similar to the UniVibe that Jimi used. I have an Octavia, too, like Hendrix had. I have a chorus for a true Leslie effect without having a Leslie cabinet. Then I have a little delay down there and I also have an EchoPlex. Especially on Hendrix stuff, I'll plug into that. I have a minimum of guitars on the road: my '63 Strat, a backup American Standard Strat and a Les Paul. Anything else is a luxury.
Hey Joe: What do you guys listen to on the road?
Chris: It's usually personal preferences. Erick will put on his headphones and listen to what's going down now. Everything from the Foo Fighters to hiphop like LL Cool J and Tupak. I'll listen to blues, jazz, Steely Dan. I also like Fiona Apple. A lot of stuff. John will turn on classical music. There's times when Hendrix lives in the tape player, too! In fact, if I were on a desert island and could only have two albums, Jimi's "Axis: Bold As Love" would definitely be one of them.
Hey Joe: I've seen a video of the G3 show in Austin. Did you open the show? Were you considered to be part of that tour?
Chris: I didn't open the show. I was there for the jam session at the end. I was rumoured to be on that tour, but they ended up getting Adrian Legg to open. Kenny Wayne Shepard was picked to replace Eric Johnson because it came down to units sold. That's the bottomline on a lot of business decisions in this industry and that's why he got the nod.
Hey Joe: What was it like to jam with Johnson, Satriani and Vai? Were you awestruck?
Chris: I felt very lucky to meet these guys and play with them. I first saw Steve Vai, when he was 19 or 20 years old in Frank Zappa's band, and was going, "Who is this guy?!" His name started to come up a lot about two months after I saw that show. I've known Eric for awhile, but finally getting to play with him was such a thrill. And I had done a tour with Joe Satriani previously. I was very fortunate, and it was in my hometwon, too! If you watch that G3 tape, we're playing this bluesy song by Joe Satriani and he comes over to me and says, "Don't play behind the beat, play on it. I'm just a California boy, I ain't Texas!" After playing Texas shuffles and blues all the time, I was naturally going on the backbeat.
Hey Joe: At that show you guys closed with "Red House". Do you play that in your show?
Chris: I used to, but that's another one that too many people do. I really like the Royal Albert Hall version because Jimi takes it way out. That's what I like to do, take it way out. Take blues to another level without being too cerebral about it.
Hey Joe: You don't have a set list for your shows, do you?
Chris: That's right. I do my shows like a jazzy thing. People are going to witness my emotions through a window that evening. Every show is different with me, you'll never see the same show twice. If I'm not sensing the crowd I'll set it up musically, play a funky thing, then a shuffle, a rock thing, slow it down, bring it back up. But if the crowd is dancing then I'll keep that going. When I know I've got their attention and they're listening to me, it's time for some Hendrix. That's when I pull out all my pyrotechnic stuff.
Hey Joe: Do you always close with a Jimi song?
Chris: No, not always. It used to be that way, but now that I have more of my material it's stretching out more and more.
Hey Joe: What about your version of "People Get Ready"?
Chris: I've been playing that one for a long, long time. It's grown over 10 years of playing it. Sometimes I take it way out and other times I keep it simple. Sometimes the cadenza in the front isn't long at all.
Hey Joe: What songs on the first CD did you write?
Chris: The songs I didn't write were "Big-Legged Woman", "Just Kissed My Baby" and "Letter To My Girlfriend". The rest are mine.
Hey Joe: Tell me about the new Cd and what's gonna be on it.
Chris: It'll have a Meters tune called "People Say". The first single that will be released to radio stations is a song I co-wrote with Junior Medlow called "Cleopatra". There's a shuffle called "Catch The Next Line", ".32 Blues", "Walls", let's see, "Crimino", "Driving South" and a couple others. "Crimino" is about our stuff getting ripped off. ".32 Blues" is about a real-life experience of a friend of John's. He was a collector and went to collect a drug debt and some woman pulled out a .32 and put it in his face. It clicked and misfired. He was able to walk away and said, "Never again."
Hey Joe: Are you familiar with Jimi's new family business?
Chris: No, not really. The only thing I've had to do with them was the Jimi Hendrix Festival. It might be a little disorganized, but they mean well.
Hey Joe: What do you think of bootlegs?
Chris: You know, bootlegs of my stuff, I don't care as long as someone isn't making money off of them. It's an honor for me to think that people like me enough to bootleg my stuff. It's really humbling to me. The only thing I would have against it are people who aren't into it for the music, those who are in it for money. I think the people who record it in the first place are into it for the music. I used to have a John McLaughlin tape from Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth that I taped myself under a table. Then I taped an Alan Holdsworth show that was pretty cool.
Hey Joe: Did you ever meet Stevie Ray Vaughan?
Chris: I never got to meet him, but I saw him at the Continental Club in Austin when he used to play every Thursday night. He was awesome. The raw power he had when he filled up a smaller place like that. I still remember the version he did of "Sky Is Cryin'", just tremendous. That's why I'll always prefer small places. In the bigger venues, like G3, you don't have that connection with the audience.