Chris got interested in music after seeing Fiddler on the Roof as a third grader in San Antonio, Texas. He thought the fat guy on the roof playing the fiddle was cool. He wanted to play the clarinet, but the band was full. Later, in 1977 at the age of 14, he started playing guitar.
He played his brother Bart’s guitar until his mom bought him one, a Supro, at age 15. He began to play a lot more seriously, practicing heavily and sitting in with others. He formed his first band, the Z-lots, at this time. In 1978, Chris auditioned for the Jefferson High School Talent Contest but was turned down. Dropping out of high school at age 16, Chris moved in with Clark Ellison, a schoolmate who was also a bass player.
In 1979, Clark struck out for Austin to pursue a career in music. Later that year, on December 1st, Chris went to Austin and moved in with Clark. By 1980, Clark Ellison was in MAINSTREET, a jazz/fusion band. In March, Chris auditioned with them and, since he could read music and knew chord changes, joined the band. His first paying gig was during this time, at age 17, for $35 at the Zilker Park Clubhouse. Chris and Clark got day jobs as delivery drivers and also worked in a warehouse. Chris moved out in May and got his own place. He played with MAINSTREET through October of 1980.
One of Chris’ early influences was David Murray, a guitarist who showed Chris the ropes and introduced him to some key people in the Austin scene. This led to Chris and Clark Ellison both getting slots in Bobby Mack?s band, NIGHT TRAIN, early in 1981. In addition to Bobby Mack, Night Train included Chris, Clark, and Jessie York on drums. After playing together a year, Jessie York and Clark left the band and Larry Eisenberg came on board on bass and Jimmy Pate, another of Chris’ biggest influences, replaced Jessie on drums.
This was a wonderful learning period for Chris. He had always been very much into jazz – Weather Report, Coltrane, McLaughlin, Parker, and now he was being exposed to the blues and R&B in a big way. Listening to the blues is one thing, but playing it is another, and Chris found he had a lot to learn.
Jimmy Pate taught Chris the shuffle and how to be a good support player. Chris played with NIGHT TRAIN for over three years. This was Chris Duarte’s first exposure to the road as they toured Texas in their band uniforms. As a sideman, Chris cut his teeth on a wide variety of musical styles. On any given night, Bobby Mack might belt out anything from Sea Cruise to Treat Her Like A Lady to Crawling From The Wreckage. By 1984, NIGHT TRAIN had a recording contract and Chris got his first taste of studio work. Chris appears on four cuts of Bobby Mack’s album Night Train, recorded at Cedar Creek Studios in Austin. It was released in 1985 and soon afterwards the band broke up.
Chris was starting to make a name for himself in Austin and was asked to do some session work for others. In 1985, he worked with TERRY WARREN & THE TEXAS TIGER BAND and cut a single with JULIE BURRELL. By mid-1985, Chris and Clark Ellison were playing in THE DIANA CANTU BAND. In addition to his strat, Chris would sometimes play a guitar synthesizer on cuts like the Talking Heads? ?This Must Be The Place as well as Alan Parson’s I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You. Chris quit his delivery job and stayed at home to practice, practice, practice! Focused and free to experiment, Chris’ musical knowledge and range expanded quickly.
One day in 1985, as Chris was filling out a loan application, the loan officer, Paul Babb, recognized him. Being a bassist, Paul asked Chris if he would like to jam sometime. Paul knew a drummer, Jeff Hodges, and they got together. At first they played jazz and R&B covers. After three months as a trio, they brought in keyboardist Sandy Allen, a friend of Jeff’s, and became THE BAD BOYS early in ’86. Jeff Hodges knew a popular sax player, Harold Breno Brown, and, because Breno could get local gigs, they became BRENO & THE BAD BOYS.
Throughout 1986, in addition to gigs with the DIANA CANTU BAND, JULIE BURRELL and Harold Breno Brown, CHRIS DUARTE & THE BAD BOYS continued to rip it up in Austin clubs like the Black Cat Lounge and Steamboat. Chris began to showcase his own compositions with THE BAD BOYS. Sammy Watson and Ben Blank, the owner of SRS Studios in Austin, really liked their sound and offered to put up the money to record an album.
At this time, fate pushed a key influence in Chris?s direction. One night while at The Black Cat Lounge, Junior Medlow Williams, former frontman for the influential Austin band The Cobras, heard Chris perform and was really impressed. Chris, of course, had heard of Junior, who was very well known throughout Texas. The two jammed together and really hit it off. Chris asked Junior if he would sit in on the album he was recording with THE BAD BOYS. From June through September, CHRIS DUARTE & THE BAD BOYS recorded their self-titled album at SRS Studios. It featured many of Chris?s own songs, but Chris was not singing lead vocals at this time.
Shortly after recording the album, Junior Medlow Williams joined the band and they became JUNIOR MEDLOW & THE BAD BOYS, one of the hottest bands to ever come out of the Lone Star state. When not with Junior, THE BAD BOYS continued to back up Harold Breno Brown and Julie Burrell, in addition to their own gigs, on into 1987. In 1987 JR. MEDLOW & THE BAD BOYS tore up Austin. From rippin covers of I’ll Go Crazy and Standing On Shaky Ground, as well as original classics like Cleopatra and You Really Make Me Happy, to Chris Duarte’s jazz explorations on ?Blue Rondo A La Turk and Moment’s Notice, JUNIOR MEDLOW & THE BAD BOYS covered a lot of musical territory. Chris also began to incorporate more Hendrix and John Coltrane-inspired sounds and effects into his music, sending the music up into the heavens.
In 1987 Paul Babb gradually left the group and Jeff Hodges again had a hand in fate, introducing John Jordan to Chris Duarte. John would end up by Chris’s side for the next 13 years. John Jordan also kept busy playing gigs in his other popular Austin band, THE VANGUARDS (at right). Their over-the-top funk/rock and outrageous live shows were unique.
Chris Duarte also occasionally sat in with them. Chris was very busy in 1987 and 1988. THE BAD BOYS had stopped backing up Julie Burrell and Harold Breno Brown in 1987 and had plenty of gigs on their own. Chris played in a wide variety of bands that he created with different members of THE BAD BOYS. He would hop back and forth between these different bands, even from day to day. One day it might be a jazz gig with Sandy Allen and the next a funk/soul show with Junior Medlow. This was also typical of the other members of the band and in Austin musicians in general.
Rent was cheap in Austin during this time and musicians would pick up $10 here, $15 there at numerous pick-up gigs in pick-up bands. When he had the time, Chris passion for jazz had him playing in various jazz settings. Chris had always listened to a lot of jazz – McLaughlin, Coltrane, Bird, Miles – and he loved to play it. Chris jammed in the SANDY ALLEN TRIO with Jeff Hodges, which also became the SANDY ALLEN QUARTET or QUINTET if John Jordan or Alex Coke joined in.
In 1988, keyboard player Bob Coleman formed JUSTUS (at left) with Chris Duarte, John Jordan, Alex Coke on saxophone and Chris Massey on drums. JUSTUS played jazz in an intense improv style. Chris would play Coltrane solos on his guitar and combine it with Hendrix, pushing the music up and up in intensity. JUNIOR MEDLOW & THE BAD BOYS also won Best Funk Band that year in the Austin Chronicle Music Awards. JUNIOR MEDLOW & THE BAD BOYS were very popular throughout 1987 and 1988. Donny Silverman and Lenny Hilboldt had also joined the band. It was during this time that Chris started touring with Junior outside of Texas, up into the Midwest and Chicago.
By January of 1989, JUSTUS had shook off its corny name and and the band became ARSON. Keyboard player Bob Coleman left the group and John Mills, a second saxophone player was added on alto sax. ARSON became a lethal quintet with Chris Duarte’s sonic guitar backed up by twin saxophones, bass, and drums. A combination of two R&B guys (Chris Duarte and John Jordan) playing with three jazz cats (Alex, John Mills, and Chris Massey) created innovative musical dynamics and ideas that heavily influenced all of the players involved. Chris Massey eventually slid out of the group and was replaced by other drummers such as Jeff Hodges and John Mambo Treanor. ARSON played together for only a year, but it was the most challenging and intense of these later bands that Chris was in.
ARSON won the prestigious Austin Chronicle Music Awards category for Best Jazz Band, all the while playing in rock/blues clubs, not jazz clubs! Both of the talented sax players in ARSON were in demand and sometimes couldn’t make the gigs, so Chris Duarte, John Jordan, and Jeff Hodges would play anyway – this was the beginnings of the Chris Duarte Group trio format and was the initial line-up of the Chris Duarte Group, too.
Chris kept constantly playing throughout 1989, not only in JUNIOR MEDLOW & THE BAD BOYS, ARSON and occasionally THE VANGUARDS, but also in different side gigs, many with spur-of-the-moment names like DON’T ASK, DISMISSED AS COINCIDENCE and THE ATOMIC MEATPACKERS. Says Chris, ?When you have a weekend gig at a club in Austin, the clubs don’t like hearing about you playing somewhere else during the week, for the door, for cheap, because then people won’t come out to see you on the weekend!
Even though 1988-89 was an incredibly creative period for Chris, it was also a destructive one as drugs took their toll. Chris lost gear to pawnshops, borrowing equipment to make gigs. By early 1990 JUNIOR MEDLOW & THE BAD BOYS had ended. His brother Bart, now in New Hampshire, offered Chris a place to stay to sort things out. Chris left Austin in July of ’90, his ’63 Strat in a pawnshop, with only a ’75 Fender and a briefcase with some cords and pedals. Chris worked at a summer camp and did odd jobs, but was really there to refocus and practice hard.
Chris joined in jam sessions at the Boston Trading Co. in Manchester and played Thum?s in Concord. He soon was booking himself 20 or more gigs a month. His wife and daughter also came up to New Hampshire, as did drummer Jeff Hodges for a brief time. By November he had formed REBOP, with Eddie DeCapua and Don Saviano. Chris worked hard on his singing and tried to narrow his wide range of styles into a more singular vision.
By May of 1991, friends in Texas had scraped up some money to fly Chris and the band, now known as THE CHRIS DUARTE BAND, back for a 5-date mini-tour, including Steamboat in Austin. The crowds at these shows were enthusiastic and helped to convince Chris to come back. Upon returning to New Hampshire, Chris continued to play through September. He called Cleve Hattersley and asked him if he would be his manager and book gigs in Texas. Chris also called former bandmate John Jordan, whose band THE VANGUARDS had broken up in 1990, and Jeff Hodges, who was now back in Austin, about forming a trio. Chris played his last show in New Hampshire on 9/14/91 and went back home to Austin.
Within only a week of arriving home, Chris had booked rehearsal time at the Austin Rehearsal Complex (ARC) and had his first gig soon after that. Chris Duarte, John Jordan and Jeff Hodges- THE CHRIS DUARTE GROUP – got to work and Chris hasn’t stopped since. Chris’s extensive roadhouse and sideman experience, a rarity for young musicians today, has given him a deep foundation of styles and musical knowledge.
This combined with his passion, intuition and heart, has given the Chris Duarte Group’s music a fire and purity rarely seen in music today. The current line-up with Chris Duarte on guitar and vocals, Robert Kearns on bass, and Jason Patterson on drums is best experienced “live” – in your face! Their live shows are unique each night, never the same show twice.