Chris Duarte

Not Mowin’ the Lawn
Chris Duarte
Chris Duarte: Jim Arbogast.

It’s been seven years since Texas blues rocker Chris Duarte issued a new album, but his 15th studio effort, Ain’t Giving Up, sees the singer/guitarist/songwriter reuniting with producer Dennis Herring, who worked with him on 1994’s Texas Sugar/Strat Magik. The results are refreshingly quirky at times, with Duarte refusing to stick with the expected blues licks.

What’s the story behind Ain’t Giving Up?
It started almost six years ago. Mascot had signed me and said, “We want you to do a Texas-blues album.” And for some reason, I wasn’t hearing that right. I was thinking, “I kind of want to stretch out and do something… let me think about it.” I got in the studio and we got to work with Dennis, and he’s my favorite producer since we did Texas Sugar. When he said he was on for the new album, I was ecstatic – that made me dig deeper.

Which tracks contain your best guitar work?
I do like “Can Opener” – that’s an old shuffle that I wrote years ago. It’s actually on the Chris Duarte and the Bad Boys album I recorded in ’86.

I also like “Big Fight” a lot, and “Come My Way.” I forgot how Dennis recorded albums and how he keeps everything. When I came back to do vocals, I’d grab my guitar thinking, “We’ll probably knock off these solos,” because during the session, I would just throw something in there. I walked in the studio and there’s no amps – just one vocal booth. I was like, “We’re going to do guitars, aren’t we?” And he goes, “No. Guitars are done.” He played it for me, and it sounded great.

The opener, “Nobody But You,” is a standout.

I went into the studio with a friend, and we played what started out like an Allman Brothers groove. But, Dennis was like, “This lick doesn’t have enough quirkiness to it. Go in that room and work on that lick – try to do something different with it. Throw a flat 5 or a major 7th in it, or a flat 9.” So, after working on it for 20 or 30 minutes and working on my vocal phrasing, we came up with the rough track.

What gear did you use on the album?
I used my gold Xotic XS-1 and a blond Bandmaster head that was there – it might be a ’63, with the matching 2×12 cab. I’ve always liked those amps. When I plugged in and turned it up, I was like, “Oh man, this sounds great.” It’s just got that tone to it – even when it was clean. It’s real easy to achieve those “Stevie reaches” if you want to reach for Stevie Ray’s tone. Then I just had two Pedal Diggers 819 [overdrive] pedals.

Is it true that you jammed with the Jimi Hendrix Experience rhythm section at a NAMM show in the ’90s?
Yes! Jimi had Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums [with the Jimi Hendrix Experience], then Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums [with Band of Gypsys]; I played with both rhythm sections. At NAMM, it wasn’t Mitch on drums – it was the Hellecasters’ drummer and Noel. With Mitch, we rehearsed to play at a Hendrix tribute festival in 1995, in Seattle. Unfortunately, Buddy got up and rambled on at the mic and pushed us off the program!

With Buddy and Billy, it was at a festival in Saint Paul, I believe. We played two songs. Noel was a soft-spoken English guy, and after we played one song, he motioned to me to come over and said, “Chris, do you suppose we can play ‘Manic Depression’?” I said, “I think we can do it.”

If somebody had told me when I was 15, “You’re going to play with these rhythm sections,” I would have never believed it.

Any advice on how to avoid clichés while playing blues rock?
I always say, “Get a metronome,” because that helps play with tempo and phrasing. Learn how the chords are built, so you can paint with their colors. And learn alternate chords. If you stay in the same idiom the whole night, it creates ear fatigue.
When it’s time to step onstage, apply yourself and create. A lot of cats get up there and “mow the lawn” because there’s nothing but tables and chairs out there – or people who are not responding. But, you’re there to create and try the best you can and apply yourself. That’s the only way you’re going to learn.

This article originally appeared in VG’s May 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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