Duarte's blues a lesson in interpretation, evolution

Chris Duarte is known as a hard-edged guitar player who, as a profile on Tennessee's Bandit Blues Radio Web site put it, "attacks his guitar with a vengeance -- bent over at the waist, long hair flying in his face, playing monster licks at a decibel level that would make Quiet Riot flinch."

But get Duarte talking about music, and his new passion is Beethoven.

"I like more flowing pieces, like Schumann," he said. "Right now I'm working on Beethoven's 'Pathetique.'"

The Austin-based musician has been playing professionally since he was a teenager. He grew up in San Antonio but dropped out of school at 16 to pursue a musical career. He moved to Austin alone.

"I don't recommend that path for anyone else," he said. "I don't want my daughter to drop out of high school. But I took my music to Austin, and I worked on it and I worked on it. I wanted to be good. From the age of 15, I knew that's what I wanted."

Duarte joined a blues band at 16.

"I was always a jazz snob and thought that blues stuff is so easy, but once I tried to sound like Muddy Waters, I came nowhere near his sound," he said. "It's the tone, the feeling, the attitude. What I heard coming off the records, I wasn't sounding like that."

He listened to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Cray, Little Walter and John Coltrane and tried to play like them.

But now, at 40, he's working on his own sound instead of striving to imitate music already made.

"I'm emerging with my own voice," he said. "I'm starting to sound like myself."

When he first appeared on the national scene, critics regularly compared him to Stevie Ray Vaughn.

"But there's only one Stevie, and one was enough," Duarte said. "Now, I'm trying to pick up what Stevie, Hendrix, Coltrane left for us, but I want to interpret it differently.

"If my music outlives me, I would like musicians to pick up where I left off and interpret it their own way."

Duarte is trying to push blues forward, he said. "I want to keep it rocking and fresh, not just stay in the old stuff. Music needs to evolve to survive."

Steamboat music lovers may remember Duarte from his gigs at the Inferno. He's returning for two shows Wednesday and Thursday, this time at The Tugboat Grill & Pub.

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