Chris Duarte has had the blues for at least three decades.
After years of honing his craft in relative obscurity, the Texas native burst onto the national scene in 1994 with the release of his Texas Sugar/Strat Magik album, earning his name a mention in the same breath as blues icons Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and B.B. King. A 1995 Guitar Player magazine reader’s poll put him fourth behind those gods in a list of “Best Blues Guitarists.”
The Chris Duarte Group bring their brand of Texas blues-rock to Toledo’s Club Soda on August 10 in a show presented by the Black Swamp Blues Society.
“Each city has its own vibe to it. Toledo, coming up from an old factory town, an old blue-collar town, is going through a transition. I’m watching Toledo change, because we’ll go through it on our way to Columbus or Dayton from Detroit. But we still pop in to Toledo. I’ve always had a nice appreciation of Toledo,” Duarte enthused.
Blues and blue collar
Years ago, Duarte graced the stage of the Stranahan Theater with blues-rockers ZZ Top and B.B King. “I like Toledo a lot — I’m glad we’re getting back there. Toledo does have an appreciation for blues and they have a workingman’s attitude.”
Speaking of work, Duarte says he lives for the stage. “I really like to keep a busy schedule,” he said from his Austin home. “Eight gigs a week is not too bad for me.”
The 54-year-old Duarte still likes being on the road and bounces between small cities like Blawnox, Pennsylvania and Lima, New York and Toledo on his way to stops in Chicago, San Francisco and Phoenix.
“I’ve seen some cats that are really hard partiers and they’re not going to be around very long,” said Duarte, who had his own struggles with drugs in the ‘90s. “I stopped partying after gigs a long time ago. Now we just get down to the gig, do our thing, go to the hotel and see what terrible movie HBO’s put on for us. Some people are pretty let down when they hang out with us after a gig. We’re just three quiet guys.”
Duarte and his band come to life on stage. Although the Austin, Texas guitarist was often compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan— who died four years prior to the release of Duarte’s debut album— some may be surprised to know he has a strong affinity for jazz music. Not that he tries to conjure up thoughts of his idol John Coltrane up there.
“My leanings toward jazz are just an indulgence,” he said. “I’m not a jazz player by any stretch of the imagination. I try to be, but I know I’m not. I’m just trying to be an all-around guitar player. For some reason, the blues just spoke to me. What I like about blues is the visceral feeling you can put into it, and also the way it relates to the audience. They get it.”