Duarte Rocks The Rabbit / "Tailspin Headwhack" album released

by Sean "Bif" Claes, Galaxy magazine
an interview with Chris Duarte at the White Rabbit, San Antonio, TX, 9/4/97

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How to put a new spin on an old subject is the driving force behind Chris Duarte's music.

"Music is always going to change. It has to in order to survive," Duarte said. "That's what I'm trying to do with blues right now. I'm trying to put in hip-hop influences along with R&B and Rock. I'm just trying to stretch the boundaries of Blues." Consider the boundaries stretched. The Chris Duarte Group has been rocking the bars since 1991. Its first album, Texas Sugar/Strat Magik was released in 1995. On Sept. 4, it played the White Rabbit in San Antonio in promotion of its new release Tailspin Headwhack.

The new recording is a departure from the first one. "The first album was pretty much roadhouse blues. This one, we got into the studio, and we brought out some of our more elaborate compositions and used the studio for what it was intended. It's a funkier departure," Duarte said.

After recording, usually comes the tour. But the road has never been foreign territory for Duarte. His band has been touring non-stop for a long time. "Last time I had a vacation was two years ago when I had two weeks off. I'm really lucky because I enjoy playing. I enjoy my job," Duarte said. "It's not like I have this big yoke around my neck: 'Oh, I've got to go play.' It's more like, 'All right! I've got to go play.' So it's a good thing."

With all of this traveling, it is intriguing to know that Duarte is a dedicated husband of 15 years and father of a nine-year-old girl. Traveling is something that his wife and daughter (Celeste, named after Celestian speakers) have gotten used to over the years. "I'm very proud of my marriage," he said. "[The touring] was tough the first year or two, but now they understand that this is my work. This isn't me going off on some wild party vacation. I take it very seriously."

Seriousness pays off. With songs on his new album, which hit the stores Tuesday, he rocked the White Rabbit and pumped up the crowd into one huge mass of swaying bodies. People pumped their arms along with his first release, "Cleopatra," as well as other staples from the album, such as the funked-out B.B. King cover, "The Thrill Is Gone," and "Crimino." Capping off his performance were some great renditions of songs from the band's first album. Along with his live show, his albums have portrayed a great variety in musical styles for which he sites a great number of musical influences. "I look up to a huge cross-section of bands. Kings X, Weather Report, Steely Dan, a really well-oiled symphony orchestra, Sonny Rollins," he said. "I'm just trying to find my own voice in all of these influences. I try to have all of these influence me in my playing."

Armed with his two bandmates, bassist John Jordan and drummer Erick Tatuacka, Duarte has been an almost unstoppable force in the new blues movement. Jordan and his seven-string bass has played with Duarte for many years, while Tatuacka has just finished his first year with the group. "I really like the way this unit has jelled. We've had Erick now for over a year, and this unit is the best-sounding unit that we ever had," he said.

While Tatuacka lays down the beats, Jordan rocks the bass with an intensity that even gives Duarte a run for his money. "That is his job. That is my musicians job. That's what it's all about," he said. "That way, we can keep ascending and keep getting better. I do not want to get to one level and stay there. I want to go out and play better than I did the night before."

Along with playing the music, the Chris Duarte Group sets up for the gigs itself. "I am my own roadie, tech, driver, loader. It doesn't bother me. It's almost like therapy," Duarte said. "I go up and set things up on stage and fans will come up and ask me questions. I always want to seem approachable and available to my fans. I'm a real fan-friendly guy."

Though not scheduled to come to town, Duarte looks forward to playing in San Marcos again. "I like San Marcos very much. I consider that one of my prime jump-off stations. I've always had a great time playing San Marcos, and it has been great to me." Tailspin Headwhack is a great addition to any collection, and a ticket stub from one of Duarte's concerts will fill your mind with great memories of the night that Texas blues hit you in your heart and made you shout out loud. "I've always said I don't want to stand still. I want to keep moving ahead in music," Duarte said.

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