Chris Duarte - Biography
Throughout it all, fans have hungered for the ferocious blues stylist to dig into some Texas blues with his own unmistakable magic. For his 15th album, his first since 2014, he does just that: The Austin, Texas blues guitar slinger teems up with Texas Sugar Strat Magik producer-guitarist Dennis Herring for the first time in 22 years. The resulting album, the gritty and sexy Ain’t Giving Up, out September 2022 on Provogue Records, isn’t a calculated return to roots affair, though. Recorded live on the studio floor with vintage gear and with minimal overdubs, this is a raw and revved-up showcase for the blues virtuoso’s jaw-dropping chops; his mastery of the elusive Texas shuffle; and his deep love and commitment to the blues.
“I planted my flag with Strat Magik, and on this album I am pushing the music forward. I’ve explored lots of different facets of my playing, but this album says, ‘I’m here, and I’m not giving up on blues or my career,’” Duarte says. He continues: “And I’m not playing it safe, either—the solos were all tracked live.”
Duarte has been known for his physical and athletic playing style—he often plays so hard his fingers bleed while he’s onstage (there are photos to prove this legend). Because of this fiery dedication, many fans and critics have playfully referred to his music as “punk blues” or “rockin’ blues.” “My style is super aggressive and physical,” Duarte affirms. “These days I’m a bit older, but I still put as much heart into my playing as I ever did—I still love playing.”
The guitarist, singer, and songwriter came up as a force to be reckoned with in the 1990s Austin, Texas roots and blues scene. He rose to prominence in the wake of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s passing, and was noted for his muscular playing style; his jazz and rock n’ roll-infused blues solos; and his command of the Texas blues tradition. Because of these soulfully virtuosic qualities, Duarte was often compared to the beloved modern blues icon, SRV. “I wish I was the whiz people think I am,” he says with a good-natured laugh. “Whatever skills I have, have taken years to gain—I practice a lot.” He continues: “I still want to be great and make my mark. I listen to SRV, Jimmie Vaughan, and others, and I always get inspired to carry on the Texas blues tradition.”
Since those early days, Duarte has carved his own niche through a series of beloved blues-flavored albums, and a calendar of more than 150 dates a year which includes performances billed as Chris Duarte and as The Chris Duarte Group. In both of these contexts, Duarte has headlined major festivals and clubs throughout the US, Canada, and Europe. A series of explosive North Carolina shows were filmed for the PBS television show, The PBS Project. Apart from his solo career, Duarte has performed with Julie Burrell, Diana Cantu, Bobby Mack, Tracy Conover, Indigenous, Omar & the Howlers, and the Americana band Beth Lee & The Breakups. Incidentally, Beth is Duarte’s girlfriend, and she co-wrote many tracks on Ain’t Giving Up.
Reunited with Herring who produced his best-selling record, Duarte instantly found a lot hadn’t changed with the two men. “There’s more grey hair and creases in our faces,” Duarte says with a chuckle. “But we have that same music connection we had years ago. Dennis’s approach is to capture raw emotion, and, because of this, he records literally everything, even snippets between songs.” Duarte continues: “I brought my guitar with me when we tracked vocals, and he said I didn’t need it—the guitar parts were all done. He used the solos I played on the fly during the basic sessions. They were fun, off-the-cuff, and the tone and grooves were great. I was really dialed in.”
Ain’t Giving Up siphons from the same spirit as Texas Sugar, but the new album is definitely its own monster. The album was tracked live as a trio with Texas Sugar drummer Brannen Temple, but it also features a rhythm machine with some raw, looped beat patterns Duarte plays over, much like the same funky groove stylings as on J.J. Cale’s iconic 1971 album Naturally. “This album explores a wider spectrum of musicality,” shares Duarte. “I love Muddy Water and Howlin’ Wolf, but also feel like it’s part of me to introduce some unexpected influences. For this album, I didn’t feel scared to explore beyond hard driving blues. I view this as expanding on the format that I love.”
Ain't Giving Up is intimate and gritty, but it also boasts pristine fidelity, as if we the listener are in the studio with Duarte and his buddies. The album opens with a bang on the super-charged Allman Brother-style riffy blues-rocker, “Nobody But You.” He follows this up, swaggering into some Fresh-era Sly and Family Stone-style funk. On “Can Opener” Duarte digs into a slinky Texas shuffle conjuring the instrumental magic of classic Freddie King.
With “Gimme Your Love” and the title track, Duarte conjures Jimmy Reed with some breezy, blues shuffles, each song is fitted with little tags and musical motifs that make these musical forms truly Chris Duarte songs. Duarte flexes some rockabilly chops on “Look What U Made Me Do” and slips into a Stones-y hip-shaking groove on “The Real Low Down.” Ain't Giving Up concludes with a tour de force on slow blues of “Weak Days” which features some tasty Albert King-style stinging leads, and a heavy Zeppelin-esque musical interlude.
Ain’t Giving Up is a reset for Duarte that shows his resilience and his undiminished love of the blues. “I am so grateful to be signed to Provogue and to work with Dennis again—it’s been a dream come true,” Duarte enthuses. “I have been so fortunate to play music and do my thing for almost 30 years, and I couldn’t ask for a better life.”