2014 Tour Notes by Chris Duarte...
Hey Everybody out there in CDG World!
We're gearing up for a long, horseshoe-shaped tour and will be driving a lot over the next several weeks. A westward swing it is and I'm always excited to get out there. We only make it out West once or twice a year and so far haven't been able to get up into the Great Northwest. Oregon and Washington - we feel for ya! Actually, I will be in Walla Walla, Washington in March but I'm getting ahead of myself... We're starting off with marathon drive days to Blue Springs, Missouri, and then to Denver, Colorado at Toad's Tavern (each trip being 600+ miles). Then we get a breather with a short drive to Colorado Springs and a leisurely drive to Salt Lake City, Utah. We have a day to get there and a day off so we'll be able to recover our equilibrium from driving. Weather is looking good so I'm not worried about any ice driving (but if it comes - slow down!). Then we move down to Las Vegas, Nevada and play a new place for us, the 702 Club. I'm grateful for the owner giving up a date and allowing me to stay in contact with the fan base down there in Sin City! The Station Casinos we normally play are struggling a bit so we had to go scavenging and found the 702 Club, so c'mon out people! Then it's down to LA at the Arcadia Blues Club (aka ABC in lovely Arcadia). It'll be kind of a busy time to hit the town with the NAMM show going on, but a band's gotta' do what a band's gotta do! No rest for the weary as we'll boogie up to NorCal the next day and perform our first time in Santa Cruz. It's right on the coast and I'm really looking forward to this gig. Then up to the 'Crazy' beautiful city of San Francisco for a two-night stand at Biscuits & Blues. This is always a great gig and Stephen, the owner, goes way back. We're staying in the Bay Area and have two new rooms with Club Fox in Redwood, California, and Yolie's in Ventura. Breaking new ground is always a good thing! Ya' gotta start somewhere, get some interest and draw people in and have the club bring us back. Did I mention we'll be playing new songs from the forthcoming new album? I'm going into the studio in March and I've already been writing tunes for the session. With the addition of John McKnight on drums and his 'sweet' pocket on the shuffle, plus stellar harmony vocals backing me up, I'm really excited to get this machine out on this first tour of the New Year and watch these songs mature and evolve. Once California is done we'll be turning east to Phoenix, Arizona. I harken back to memories of living there when I was in the 3rd and 4th grade. Still a great town and every time I see a photo of some cityscape in Phoenix, I can always call it. No other town looks like Phoenix. We'll then venture across the desert to Albuquerque, New Mexico (infamously known as the town of "Breaking Bad"). I've been playing there a long time and thanx to the Low Spirits Bar for giving us a date. C'mon out people! From there it's back to Texas! We'll rest and refuel in San Angelo, Texas, where I hope to pick up my 3-foot-tall Lady of Guadalupe statue that I had them hang on to when I was there last summer. I left her there cuz' we were just starting a tour and I didn't want to take the chance off it breaking on the road. There is one thing that's certain: the road is unforgiving on equipment and with the repetitive actions of load-in and load-out day after day things get broken. It'll be nice to finally have her home in Atlanta. Then we leave San Angelo and drive an all-nighter cuz' we're gonna' be on TV in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas! The band will be on KABB Fox 29 playing on the morning show "Daytime @ 9". We'll be featured on a song and then we play-out at the end of the show so set your DVR's! Later that night we'll be at Sam's Burgers. If you don't come for us at least check out the burgers - seriously good and big! Then it's up to Ft. Worth the next day at Key's Lounge. It'll be good to reconnect with my fans in the D/FW area. It's a new venue for us so a big thanx to Key's! We'll dart back down the I-35 back to Austin (need I say more?)! Wait I can, I'm playing after Dave Grissom, one of my all-time faves' on guitar. Really. I remember when Dave first came to Austin back in the early 80's, we were all playing on a live broadcast radio show on KTXZ down at the ol' Opry House, at least that's what the venue was called back then. Me, I was with Bobby Mack and Night Train, and Dave was with Lisa Rhodes and it was pretty obvious to me how special Dave was when he started to play. He had his own thing going on and it wasn't long before he ascended the ladder to better gigs. It was like boom-boom-boom and he was with John Cougar Mellencamp. Pretty extraordinary and well deserved. Dave plays the 8 p.m. slot at the 'ol Saxon Pub and then we're on at 10:30 pm. It'll be good to see and hear Dave after so long. We then finish off the horseshoe tour with a gig in Houston at Dan Electro's. We'll be on early at 6 p.m., but before that we'll be on the NPR station KPFT around 3 p.m. playing a bit to get the weekenders off the couch and down to the club (we promise we'll have you back home in time to be ready for Monday, but maybe with your ears pinned back!). Whew, there ya go, a little preview, but of course this is all just the calm before the storm so let's all get out there and come see my new unit I'm sporting. The vocals really sound great and I'm excited about the future of CDG. C'mon along with us and share in it and bring some friends. You know I'll be out there playing as hard as I can and trying to stretch my limits to new horizons. Never will I take my fans for granted. I'm the luckiest guy in the world cuz' I have y'all behind me. Thank you and see y'all out there!
- Chris Duarte
We leisurely made our way into Phoenix, Arizona, after having a travel day. I must admit, the West gives me ample time to meditate in my head while I'm driving. The topography is at times so stunning and thought provoking that I can't help but be awed by it from time to time. While driving in the dead of night you notice the absence of man-made objects confirmed by the utter blackness all around you. With nary a light on the horizon, save the oncoming traffic, it's as if you're driving in outer space. Then you're reminded of the spatial perspective by the ribbon-like oncoming headlights on the unseen pavement ahead when you descend into some vast valley. It never gets old. Phoenix has always showed up for me. I have a bit of history and lived there when I was in the 3rd grade at Barcelona Elementary, and gosh darn it, Phoenix likes me! I have always liked the Rhythm Room and Phoenix has always been pretty good to me. My fans seem to come out and represent strong no matter what day of the week it is. This day was to be tough cuz' it was Super Bowl Sunday, so my being put in one of my good pockets of support was a fortuitous stroke of planning. The staff rules at the club and the soundman is always more than competent. Mona, who's managed this venue for a long time now, and me have formed a good bond over the years, due to her dog. Many years ago on a day that I was playing, Mona rescued a dog from a transient and came straight to the club with her new canine acquisition. She brought the dog inside to the office and it laid down close to my ol' '63 Fender Strat that was my axe at the time. The name Fender came to Mona and thus Fender makes a special trip to the Rhythm Room every time I play so we can enjoy the bond we have once again. The gig at the Rhythm Room was fun as usual, I had a good crowd and people supported me by purchasing some of my wares and merch. Thank you Phoenix, long may I return to your arid sands and your stoic, solemn saguaros!
We left for Albuquerque the next day and rather than bisect the state in a 45-degree angle, which I did last time and got caught on a 'speedcam' in a construction zone, and it's an obviously beautiful drive, but I opted for the quicker 90-degree angle on the interstates to complete this leg. This drive is a bit dramatic geographically and topographically. You rise out of the desert plains of Phoenix up to mountainous elevations above 7,000 ft. in Flagstaff. Whizzing by 16-wheelers as they lumber and struggle up the ascents, you say goodbye to the saguaros as the climate is no longer hospitable for them, and into the pines that are ubiquitous in these mountainous regions. The air thins and the temperature falls and there was snow flurries in the air. Interstate 15 complete and once again the van points east and on I-40 we go. The road was once again this meandering line on the horizon as you pass by the Petrified Forest and then Meteor Crater on the left. I always want to go check them out, but I press on. Then the geological formations that announce you're in Gallup, New Mexico, and then it's a straight shot to Albuquerque, New Mexico. By the way Albuquerque is at its most spectacular when you drive up on it at night. As the city lights sprawl out and inch their way up the base of the Sandia Mountains, it's really breathtaking. But we're coming in at rush hour and I'm just as awed by it laying in the valley as it does. The Low Spirits Bar has been kind to us, with a little help from my good friend Ryan McGarvey, and we usually play here as a stop between Phoenix and West Texas. We've managed to gain a toe-hold of fans here and I was pleased with the turnout. Although the gate receipts didn't seem to reflect what I thought our compensation was going to be, I was grateful for the opportunity to play because when it comes down to it, money keeps the wheels turning but playing keeps my soul happy and I'm out to work on my craft. We'll be back, Albuquerque!
We arrive in San Angelo, Texas and take up in the band
house behind Sealy Flats. We did have a two-night stand here but it was
unfortunately moved at the last minute due to new owners and unfinished
renovations. Too bad, but it happens once in awhile. The road is at times
a fluid routine. We went out to eat with Ron, the previous owner, and the
new owners Jeska and her husband, and had a charming time dining in the
downtown area that is San Angelo. I've decided that San Angelo is going
to get serious consideration from me as a retirement location. It's turning
into this artsy-hippie-cultural oasis with a solid foundation of Hispanics
living there and a West Texas pragmatism towards life. San Angelo, you're
becoming quite beautiful in my maturing eyes.
With another travel day in front of us we took our time to get into San Antonio. At first, before the dates in San Angelo were postponed, we were going to play the second night and pack the van and drive through the night into San Antonio to appear on a morning TV show on the Fox affiliate. It was going to be a daunting endeavor, I am not the young spring chicken that I oft think I am but am oft reminded by my own constitutional make-up of unyielding physical declinations. Alas, fate has intervened. So back in my hometown so we are posted up with a good sleep so as to be bright and bushy-tailed for our TV appearance. So for those who don't know about the normal protocol of morning show performances, you usually always have to arrive at 6 a.m., even though we played closer to 10 a.m., you just have to be there. We did 'Yes It's True' for our feature song and did 'Sweet Little Girl' for the outro and fade at the end of the show. Of course I always wish I could've played better but it wasn't without its moments. Upon review my vocals at the beginning of the song, they were a bit labored and flat but I woke up more as the song went on. There was really no catering or food to speak of on set or behind in the lounge area so me and the boys were starting to get a bit low on the sugar levels and our stomachs let out an occasional grumble to remind us. Show done, we packed up, hit a Taco Cabana for breakfast tacos, then went back to our rooms to either practice or catch up on sleep. Which do you think I did?
The tour is just about over and so it's back to I-35 south to Austin, Texas. My good friend David Cotton, whom I've known since he was a street barker for Steamboat down on 6th Street, has been a prominent talent buyer in Austin for some of the biggest and steadiest clubs for a long time now. So he books me in the Saxon Pub for the 10:30 slot, and that's not all - I've got to go on after one of my guitar faves of all time: Dave Grissom! I've known Dave since pretty much his arrival on the Austin scene way back in the early 80's. He's just an amazing player and his tone is to die for. I get to the club at a little after 8 p.m., Dave's start time, cuz' I want to hear him, this being his new cd release party. The place is packed and his band is sounding great. I can't hear the guitar like I want to so I head back out front and stand on the other side of the wall outside where Dave's amp is on the inside, and it was good. His show coming to an end, I greeted him as he came off the stage out the back door. He recognized me and we had a short pleasant catch-up chat. Dave was busy so I let him go to deal with his throngs and set about to get me stage prepared. To my delight, most of the people stayed and that was all the impetus I needed to go on and be me and show these people that although I haven't seen the view from where Dave has I am still a force to be reckoned with and so we began. The show went really well and we did our job and left an impression - mission accomplished! The 'cherry-on-top' for this gig was that my daughter came to the show and I got to hang with her for a couple of hours beforehand. She's the best!!!With our next drive going all the way up to Fort Worth and we were to play a new club called Key's, winter had yet to relinquish its hold on us and was once again rearing her ominous head with possible freezing rain and snow, especially up north in the DFW area so I was fully prepared to drive slow the entire way. Fortunately it was not to be and the roads were just fine the whole day once we got out of San Antonio. Arriving at the club Key's, it reminded me of the clubs I used to play back in the 80's during my early days. Like stepping back in time it was. The opening band had a good confident swing and feels to them and next up was us with our aggressive elan. Really had a lot a fun and the crowd could see it. Even though people left after our first set we didn't let up on the gas and it was 'flame-on' till the last note. Glad to be back in the Ft. Worth area and thanx for Key's and to all who came out that night.
We had to leave a bit early for a radio show performance at KPFT-FM, a pbs station in the inner loop Montrose area. The only fly in the ointment was that I was asked to perform sans bass & drums. I have always felt that I'm best represented when I have my band with me but for whatever reason, volume?, I was asked to play acoustically and solo. The station had to procure a guitar cuz' I only had my electrics on me for this run. So with a certain amount of intimidation and anxiety, I stepped up and did my best. My show was nothing to write home about but I got through. I'm going to have to work on my solo chops if this is going to happen in the future. Our gig down at Dan Electro's was early, 6 p.m. opening band start, due to the fact it being on a Sunday. Dan Electro's is such an eclectic club and it's right smack in the middle of the Heights. When I was in Houston, I lived not far at all so this is almost like a homecoming, too. Opening this night was another Texas luminary on the guitar, Vince Converse. Vince was in good form and he's learned a new trick or two since I had last heard him. We hit the stage and it was a good night to go out on. This night I feel it was my best musical performance of the tour. Everything seemed to be going my way; the tone, I could hear the amp's colors, my ideas were flowing without too much trouble, and the group was hitting good. Why can't I sound like this every night? All the gigs we had played leading up to this were harbingers of good things to come. I'm really proud of my guys. Thanx Dustin and John for a successful tour.
We finished off the tour with a long drive home and drizzle the whole way. All the while I'm thinking of the landmarks that are on I-10; the bridge at the Sabine River letting you know that you've left Texas, the bridge in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the bridge over the Atchafalaya Swamp, and then it's pretty much the same after that until at last we see the lights of Atlanta. Another tour in the books and so we start to prepare for the next one. See y'all out there!
- Chris Duarte
Well hey everybody out there,
I'm sitting here inside my 'Fortress of Solitude' listening to new tracks from my album that will be out sometime around early October. They're in a rough format, most without melodies and scratch vocals cuz' we just went in with the intention to record only the bass and drums and if time allowed I would be able to tackle some of the rhythm guitar. We only had less than a week but with our nose to the grindstone and our attitudes in a good place we banged out 14 new songs! A few we've already been playing out on the road, such as Angry Man, the 'D' shuffle song I begin some sets with, now called Jump the Trane, but the majority are brand new so that's why I've sequestered myself in my fortress to better focus my attention on completing these new songs. Wish me luck.
We also just came off a long-weekend tour from the Midwest which started at Mojo's in Columbia, Missouri. It's been awhile since I've played the room and Mojo's still has that vibe to it; anything goes there musically. The staff was great and although the crowd was small, they made up for it in enthusiasm. I gotta' mention how nice the hotel was that they put us up in; the Tiger Hotel. With the rep of being the tallest building in town, it certainly lived up to the height (or should I say "haute") for the interior was just like one of those special boutique hotels in the big city. Really nice inside, I was impressed. Somebody spent a lot of money on that renovation. We were happy...
We then sped off to Lincoln, Nebraska for Thursday at the Zoo Bar, one of the original clubs where CDG started touring. We had this straight North/South trajectory; Arlington, Texas; Norman, Oklahoma; Lawrence, Kansas and then Lincoln, Nebraska. Then we'd turn around and go home and do it all again the next month and that's how it all started. The club looks just about the same and a Boehmer still owns part of it as does Pete ("Red" who was a bartender there for years and years). There's nothing like it when the place is packed and people are on three sides of the square stage. Then people sitting against the wall start standing on their chairs and giveg the club a tiered appearance from where I stand on the stage. The air gets thick from all the people in there and the sweat rolls off my arms and drips from my knuckles and hair and I dig deeper and deeper drawing off the frenetic energy of the dancers moving and gyrating to the beat. We didn't have a packed house this night but we had the dancers and it was just as good. Not to forget mentioning that the Ladies restroom is right parallel with the left corner of the front of the stage, and in the course of the evening gig you pretty much get a good sampling of what females are in attendance. The bathroom is a one-at-a-time, so you see them waiting for their turn to relieve the call of Nature. An interesting attribute of the Zoo Bar. We were happy...
A leisurely drive up north on I-29 finds our next destination at the Chesterfield in Sioux City, Iowa. I like the place. It's situated in the downtown area, a long straight club like the Zoo Bar but with modern amenities and a bigger stage. The night we were playing coincided with an event called 'Biker Weekend' outside across the street. The Chesterfield actually had two or three bands going on in its spacious confines. We were the 'inside' band, and across the street was a regular big-size festival stage where the Marshall Tucker Band was the main act for the night. I thought it was funny when we pulled up and upon approaching security and proving our identities one of the girls working asked, "Are they Marshall or Tucker?" We had a local band opening with the name "Premium Draft" which was not conjuring up good expectations, even with the word 'Premium' in the name, but I was keeping my opinions to myself. As they played on for what seemed like an eternity, we wiled away the time by people-watching outside and catching a couple of tunes by the legendary Marshall Tucker Band. The other band we watched play was for a more younger musical palate (Pyschoslobber might've been their name). They were fun. We finally hit the stage and I discovered my tuner was missing. The opening band's guitarist had a tuner just like mine, but I couldn't prove it was mine so I capitulated and asked to borrow it for the show and then promptly returned it to his bag after we were done. I was hoping the guitarist would discover my tuner somewhere after he sobered up from all the 'Premium Draft' and other various libations he consumed during his Après-gig time but I've yet to hear from him. *sigh*
Across the growing cornfields of Iowa we made our way to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the Irish Fest. This was apropos cuz' I actually do have Irish lineage in me; the Tom family from Ulster Ireland. John is McKnight; pretty solid there and Dustin, well he's got red hair (that qualifies right?). Kris Lager had the slot right before us and he's come a long way since the days I knew him as a kid in Lincoln. He's really maturing into a fine player. Later on in our show I got him up on stage with me and we had a good old-fashioned jam session. We were also joined by Kris' organist and then it was on. I went right into a Chicago-style shuffle and just chunked out some horn-like choppy chords. Lots of funand dancing on the pavement, all were happy...
Next we headed off in a southwest direction to Blue Springs on the eastern edge of Kansas City, Missouri, for the Trouser Mouse (I know, the name can be very visual, you don't have to remind me). We had our dedicated following out at the show and I was in a loosey-goosey mood - I quoted Shakespeare as I changed a broken string, beguiled the crowd with anecdotes from lives past and chirped witticisms and observations as the evening rolled on. It was a good way to end the run...and all were happy!
- Chris Duarte
Just back from our short-but-busy jaunt up the Midwest this past ten days. It was go, go, go from the get-go leaving a day early from Atlanta to make the early happy-hour time in Omaha, Nebraska.
The 21st Saloon, formerly the 21st Amendment, was great as usual. I'm so proud that the people in Omaha still come out to see me, and having the early hour show didn't hurt either. A great, enthusiastic crowd and the band was popping for our first gig. I'm usually 'hit-or-miss' on my first gig because I can sit around and practice all day when I'm home, but getting up on stage and playing with the physical ferocity I employ is a whole nuther' matter. I'm pleased that the ideas were flowing.
Up to Sioux City, Iowa, for a quick return to Toddy's
Tap (who were gracious enough to cover the doublebooking the Chesterfield
club had done and though the crowd wasn't as big as our last outing, they
more than made up for it with their yells and hollers. Thanx again, Sioux
Down to the other end of the state of Iowa to Burlington and a bill with Tab Benoit at the Burlington Blues & BBQ fest. Great turnout and great venue and great playing with Tab at the end of the night. It had been almost 15 to 20 years since I've seen him and he was excellent. Lots of fun playing with him, too.
It was a short drive to Cedar Rapids and it was a blast there, too. Parlor City Pub, a small club, and the early hour wasn't a bad thing either. The NFL didn't affect our crowd that day and we were more than glad to give them a muscular, musical substitute to fill in for all the hard-hitting the people were foregoing to see us.
Up to Chicago, Illinois, and our first time to play BLUES on Halstead. It had been so long since I've played downtown Chicago and I was thrilled to be back. Reconnected with a lot of old acquaintances I haven't seen for years and hopefully made new friends and connections so that CDG can make the city a regular stop on our schedule. I will always love the 'City of Big Shoulders'.
Over to the Detroit, Michigan, and Callahan's Music Hall in the northern burb of Auburn Hills. I always have fun at Callahan's because of the great sound we get onstage and the 'no-frills' Detroit musical palate. 'Give it to me straight from the heart and leave the lace off it' is how they like it in D-Town and I'm always happy to oblige. Rock on Detroit!
Back to Dayton, Ohio, and the storied, historical club Gilly's. All the jazz legends that have played there leave me in awe when I step on that stage and I always try to channel my vibe to pick up any of the spirits and emotions that still linger in the air and walls from past performances to inspire me and hopefully add to the body collective. It was great to see Jerry still at the helm there. Our one day off due to cancellation, but a needed respite as a result of the beating my voice takes after 8 gigs in a row. I just chilled and practiced.
Back on the horse Saturday and it was a return to Birdy's in Indianapolis, Indiana. Had a good showing from the people and it was good to be back. Our opener Zack was a young energetic fire-breather on the guitar and it was a joy to watch the next generation coming up on the scene. I told young Zack I expect great things from him in the future!
Well that's a short synopsis of our last run. Send in your questions for any fill-ins or inquiries to the broad strokes I just painted for y'all. Thanx again to all my fans and friends and also to all the people who came out this past tour to see us. You make me the luckiest and happiest man on the face of the Earth.
- Chris Duarte
"Ring silver bells, ring silver bells"......just found out that song was originally written about the people that ring the Salvation Army bells outside various malls and shopping areas. Interesting. Never know where your muse might appear or come from...anyway, Season's Greetings and Happy Holidays and all other observances you wish to partake in. It's me, Chris Duarte, and I'm sending out this last blog about the most recent tour. I've been dealing with van issues. I bought my current one brand new back in 03'. My daughter Celeste and I drove down to San Antonio to get it. I was determined to buy another Ford E-350 7.3L diesel cuz' I put over 520,000 miles on my previous 96' model and this was the last year of the 7.3L so I had to have it. The van had a mere 48 miles on it when I got her and the rest is history. So fast forward to 511K, I've been taking much better care of this van (the other one - bless her heart - was just abused sometimes, poor thing), so when I was told by a dealership that I needed a new engine, I was just incredulous about the news. No way, this van is going to get 750,000, it's not that! So began my expensive lesson learned and the shady practices of some Ford dealerships taking the stance of "the customer is always right' to the utmost reality. Let's just say I had cotton in my ears and they were only too willing to let it stay there so they can do periphery things that were totally unnecessary because a new engine was the fix-all. My bad and I admitted that to them but they wouldn't admit it and so I lost respect for the service manager as a man just to say it to me. I wasn't out for legal recourse; I just wanted him to at least say maybe the situation could've been handled differently. Oh well; life's lessons. Moving on....
So one new engine later and we're ready to put another 500K on this one. Vrrooom!! Tulsa was a trying show cuz' it's never easy to shake out 700+ miles out of you and be brilliant on the stage the same night. If I had my druthers, I'd leave a day early to rest up or knock out most of the drive, but the financial costs weigh against the wage paid and does not figure in the 'cost/benefit analysis formula' so I have to 'streamline' operations sometimes. They did put us in a nice hotel, but it was a bit for naught cuz' the next day was a repeat of the Tulsa day; Get up and in the van by 6 a.m. to drive to Colorado, close to 700 miles, and play that night, too. Always happens - you get the nice hotel and you're there for about 4 hours. The Tulsa show was fun though and the fans were great! My fans are the best cuz' sometimes they'll overlook my technical shortcomings and clue into the emotional struggle I'm having at the gig and seem to derive the same satisfaction from my performance. Love you Tulsa, hope I'm back soon!
Colorado; love the drive. Going out West I enjoy the
big-sky-and-open-range scenery of it all. Very evocative for me and I often
find myself just ruminating about various things in my life past and present,
Shakespeare, poetry, song ideas... All the while I let these ocular impressions
pass into me like a silent soundtrack playing in the background of my mental
wanderings. Lovely. The Buffalo Rose was fun, big place and the crew was
a 'top-notch' affair. Felt like I was on a big show again cuz' of the protocol
during soundcheck. I knew some of the crew from the Fox Theater in Boulder
so I knew I was in good hands. I was still a bit rusty on the show but little
moments were starting to shine through. I believe I won the day with emotion
again but I'm really not satisfied with myself until my ideas and attempts
at music are made more palpable to my critical ear. Not there yet. 'Tomorrow,
I'll try not to think of it 'til tomorrow, because after all, tomorrow is
a brand new day.'
The Crystola Roadhouse; I always have a good time at this club. Now suffice it to say, I get acclimated to altitude in short order. Golden isn't too much higher than Denver, the mile-high city, so it's a bit of a 'huff-puff-huff' routine for a song or two, but since I do exercise on a regular basis it's not too taxing on my efforts. Crystola is at a more lofty altitude so it's about the same for me; 'huff-puff-huff' here and there. I'm starting to shake off the rust better and my ideas are starting to come to fruition, albeit still spotty, but I'm starting to see progress. The crowd wasn't as big as the last gig but lively and festive nonetheless. We also had an Englishman in the audience, a Callum McSherry, from London and he seemed to have a great time. I told him I was to look him up while in London and we agreed to tea or whatever fit the time we should meet in his side of the pond. Great to see all the fans and to move some of the new products. As the thin air left our lungs after the last note strummed, we followed our headlights and descended the twists and turns on the mountain to our hotel.
Taos, New Mexico. It's been a long time, Taos. My agent got us a pick-up gig in Taos after the Crystola gig, as a mainly expense-paying gig and a stopover to get us closer to Phoenix, Arizona. We played the Taos Brewery on the outskirts of Taos proper and it's really a cool place. I like the staff, kind of a young mid 30's and 40's 'alternative', artistically-inclined group that greets you warmly and with a discerning palate for good natural food. A nice looking stage and a retro airplane-looking hangar in the venue. With a pool tourney going on while we played, we weren't distracted in the least as we plowed ahead into our energetic playing. Several of my fans were there and knew of the show and several others popped in just to get a drink or what-have-you and being stunned to find out we were playing there. We had a dedicated, enthralled base there and it was to them that we set our sights on and played like it was a full room of the dedicated. Not a bad show. I had fun. Of course I write about my own playing but it really should be said that my band always plays good. I only wish I had half the consistency that John and Dustin play at. I know I'm out front taking more musical chances with the arrangements but still, I wish I could be as steady as my group.
Down the road to Tucson and I feel a sickness coming on. I stop to get some OTC medicine at a pharmacy and I contact my daughter, a pharmacist herself, for advice and an over-the-phone-diagnosis. I've played through harrowing physical conditions due to my struggles with intoxicants, adulterants and addictions, so in my naive way I thought I'll be fine once I hit the stage. I always did fine in the past. Boy was I wrong! It was all I could do to play as long as I did. My legs got weaker and weaker and there were a few times I thought I was just going to fall over for lack of equilibrium and balance. I really felt like I let my group and my fans down by quitting 15 minutes early. I can easily count on one hand how many times I've done that; quit early due to physical or mental limitations. I just finally fessed' up to the audience that I was sick and apologized several times. I was done. It was all I could do to pack up my stuff, get in the van and stumble back into my room and get under the covers and shiver. In the morning we were just traveling that day and all I did was get out of my bed, gather my stuff in the most perfunctory of manner and crawled in the backseat of the van and slept and moaned to myself; 'I can do this, I can do this, just rest and you'll be better tomorrow for the gig in Ft. Worth. You have this day off, you'll be fine'. They were just 'fever' ramblings of my mind. I wasn't getting better. I was getting worse.
With our next drive going all the way up to Fort Worth,
Texas to play a new club called Key's, Winter had yet to relinquish its
hold on us and was once again rearing her ominous head with possible freezing
rain and snow, especially up north in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, so I was
fully prepared to drive slow the entire way. Fortunately it was not to be
and the roads were just fine once we got out of San Antonio. We pulled into
Ft. Worth and I settled into my room. I felt really sick and decided to
go to a walk-in clinic. I am on the ACA program but hospitals are still
pricey and this wasn't the most lucrative tour we've been on so it's on
to the drive-in of clinics. I get to the clinic and I'm informed they don't
accept HMO's, so much for trying to save money, and I suurender to the fees
cuz' I just drove there and what are ya' going to do? I sit down and proceed
to fill out my life history that new patients must endure when going to
a healthcare provider. Turns out I have a 'sinus infection' and the PA recommends
some steroid shots and antibiotics as a tonic and sends me on my way. I
gotta admit, I wasn't too pleased with the clinic not accepting my HMO but
in the end they were very professional, courteous and very helpful in genuinely
giving me good health care. I admitted to the girl at the front desk that
I was a bit curt about thir billing policies, but told her I was glad I
came. She smiled and so did I. After a few hours I was ready to go. This
was my first time taking steroids in my life and wow, 'Here I come to save
.' I felt normal. My vocal
abilities were still a bit stifled and not-all-there but I wasn't feeling
sick either. Arriving at Key's, it reminded me of the clubs I used to play
back in the 80's during my early days. Like stepping back in time it was.
Turned out that Rusty Burns was opening up the show at Keys Lounge. Rusty
is one of the founding members of Point Blank. Point Blank! I saw
them in San Antonio back in the seventies and they were the headliner. I
was excited to meet Rusty to tell him I saw them back in the day. Rusty
was great. He had a really nice touch on the guitar and great tone. He's
the real deal alright. Here's
a video from the show. Really had a lot a fun and the crowd could see it.
Even though people left after our first set we didn't let up on the gas
and it was 'flame-on' til the last note. We had fun this night but I think
it was because I was just thrilled to be feeling almost normal again. Things
were looking up! Glad to be back in the Ft. Worth area and thanx for Key's
and to all who came out that night.
On to Houston from Dallas via I-45, not my favorite drive in Texas. Just lots of uninspiring scenery. There's the big statue of Sam Houston and the prison, where Texas proudly boasts about their 'busy' schedule. Other than that it's just not my fave. We have to get to Houston early cuz' we've got an in-store at Cactus Records starting at 3 p.m. I've played this event several times so I know the drill. Everybody on staff is cool and takes good care of us. When it's time to start I'm taken with how many people have showed up for our truncated show. I announce if there's a Cadillac give-away that I'm not aware of cuz' this is a good looking crowd. We pull off the show with aplomb and energy and the crowd seemed happy. So we pack up our scaled-down wares and it's onto Dan Electro's. We load in, get our levels checked and we're ready to go. This club has always been good to us and I've played here many times through the years and it's only gotten better.
The short drive to Austin is one that's been done many times by me. Really there are two ways you can choose to get to the Texas capitol, with negligible time differences, I choose the southern approach; by way of I-10 and Texas 71. It's the Roost that we play at tonight this Sunday evening. David Cotton's dream of having a club and he's done quite well to assemble a top-notch venue. Dave and I have known each other for well over 20 years. The club had a professional do the audio planning on the inside and it's acoustically constructed. Not just your "got a building and we'll set the stage down here and then point the PA this way and the tables and chairs", no, this one was thought out. It sounds great on stage and the seats all have unobstructed views; A real performance venue. The place is great but I'm not feeling it in my playing tonight. I think I'm forcing myself this time instead of letting it flow. I'm still not at 100% with my voice and I have started to lay out a disclaimer at the beginning of my shows, 'diagnosed with sinus infection, we're going to be playing a bit more instrumentals and yada ', this does offer me a bit of space to play around and try new things but still it's just not clicking for me like last night. Yes, the pattern here is that I'm still extremely critical of myself every night and don't try to assuage me otherwise. It's my M.O. and its part of my ambition's fuel. I always think I can do better.
The Gulf of Mexico is nice this time of year. Corpus Christi has long been a part of my musical history. The venue is an outside stage and it's unusually muggy this night. We've got 2 bands in front of us and each one is really playing well. I enjoy listening to both. The way I've always seen it is the opening band is supposed to come out and give it their all so as to inspire the main acts or the proceeding bands to 'bring-it' and continue the upward trajectory in quality of performance. The crowd is light but it is a Monday night and people are in the pre-Christmas/Holiday mode so it's understandable that some decide to stay at home. Heck, that's what I'd do! I've had some pretty memorable shows for tables and chairs so my spirit isn't dampened in the slightest. Our show begins and here comes the sweat from being outside in the muggy conditions. Rolling and rocking we attack the songs and do our best to grab the audience. The sweat drips off me and in my immediate area where I stand on stage there's a speckled appearance from the abundance of perspiration that I produce in such conditions. I don't know why I sweat so much, I just do and always have. The show done, I change out of my gig clothes, everything is wet except my shoes, and we pack up and drive to San Antonio.
On the drive through the night I look at the various refineries down here, how eerie and industrial the damp coastal air makes them appear, like a scene from 'Bladerunner' when a cityscape is shown and the fire from the gas flares is visible from miles around. They only lend a more ominous look as to what might foreshadow a dystopian future which many science fiction and literary books have written about. How evocative.
Pulling into San Antonio still brings up a collage of memories in my mind, even to this day. There are the obvious changes to the landscape and cityscape that give me pause from time to time but it's the sense of belonging or not belonging that seeps into me. This trip our hotel was down the street from the last place my family had lived together with our Mom. I discovered it when I went on a grocery run to stock up on fruits and such. Although I didn't go on the property, which now was gated, I could still see down the drive we lived on. It basically looked the same. After all those years and it's still the same, well, as same as can be from my windowside while cruising by at 30 mph can be. That being done, it was time to get to load-in. I brought my giant 'Lady of Guadalupe' I purchased last year at the Tall Cities Music Festival in Midland, Texas. Since it was the start of a 6-week tour, I left her with Ron at Sealy Flats to watch her until I returned. I picked her up in San Angelo and 'Our Lady' occupied her own bunk in the back of the van. In San Antonio I proudly displayed her on stage. She stands about 3-1/2 ft. and is a sight to behold. She's plaster and handpainted in an American Folk style. I can't say enough about my hometown San Antonio and how friends from high school and family came out to show their love and support. Really proud that we've all stuck together and most importantly we're all still here. Love to all of you.
Sam's had a good crowd and we had a blast playing. No opener so it's just us playing. The crowd isn't big but it's respectable for a Tuesday night and being so close to Christmas. Some of my old schoolmates are still showing up and it warms me to no end. The Blues Society also threw in their support for this gig so I'm real appreciative of them for all they do on my behalf. The show went fine and I'm playing OK. Still I have to reach higher. The battle between desire and ambition rages on.
My return to the upper north side of the Dallas suburbs has been a long one. McKinney, my first time in this area, is on par with the same distance as Denton is although you have to admit Denton does carry more gravitas with musicians because of the illustrious college located there and it's fine reputation as one of the country's top music schools. McKinney is standing tall though with the opening of the Guitar Sanctuary. A rather reverent title to give a business, but it has an awesome music store attached to the performance hall there. With high-end custom guitars as well as vintage models on the wall and plenty of couture pedals and effects to pull in the interest and gaze of even the most weary of seekers that have long traveled on their search for the 'Holy Grail' of sounds from a single pedal. It was a short perambulation I took while drums were being dialed in the next room but as I heard the bass booming in the room I knew my time to soundcheck was near so I returned. We ran through a short song and all was fine. We waited for show time. Weather being dismal, plus it's in the thick of the holiday season; the crowd was light from the elements surrounding this show. Although we had our hardcore fans there, we had a few new ones as well and the old adage comes to mind, 'If I can reach just one new fan each time ', so all is not lost. It still goes without saying that I'm going to play just as hard, if not even more intense, because with less people around I tend to take more harmonic chances and risks. I get up on stage and I'm a bit chatty with the audience and engage in some jocular back and forth with a few attendees. It's relaxed and I'm feeling a bit comfortable with my verbal exchanges but I really wanted a good crowd cuz' I don't want the club to do badly. They have a business to run, too. The show is fine and we get through it just fine and I'm still trying to get denser on 'Minefield In My Mind' with the chords I'm working in. My voice is getting better and I try a few that I certainly wouldn't have been able to sing even three days ago so there are some encouraging things to take away from this performance. I sell between the sets and meet some of the new fans and it's been an overall good experience for us. I hope they'll give me another chance here. Can't ruminate too much on the future; have to focus on the next gig, the last gig of this tour.
The rain is starting to subside but the grey clouds prevent the sun from shining through. We're pointed east now and heading to Little Rock, Arkansas. It's Juanita's tonight. We've done this 'horseshoe' shaped route with the start in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and continued west through Colorado and New Mexico with the apex being Phoenix, Arizona, and then turning back east towards Texas and now here in Arkansas! I've got a long history with Juanita's. We've been playing this club since the early 90's when it was located back off Main Street just south out of the downtown area. Known for its Mexican cuisine and live music, Juanita's is the place to play for up-and-coming acts and established ones that pull 250 to 350 people through the door. I had a few good shows here back in my hey-day, but since I've been rarer in these parts and radio play has been infrequent at best, so it's been 'peaks and valleys' in the attendance range and unfortunately I've been in a 'valley' here for awhile. Now Juanita's has been moved the past several years into this 'entertainment' district that's popped up in Little Rock along this strip of dance clubs and music venues located on the immediate north side of downtown. Probably an idea and strategy of the city planners to consolidate the entertainment district in one locale for various reasons I'm sure. They've done an admirable job to spruce it up and make it appealing for clubhoppers. Juanita's now has an expanded 'hall' for events and can accommodate larger groups of 500 people now. Although the flipside is if you only get 50 to 75 people at your show, the enormity of the room quickly swallows them up! Plus, no booths along the walls and just a few tables of the mobile type are set up and this only lends to a more sparse appearance. *sigh* Opening band in tow with us and they do their job and getting a few of their fans out to see us, but it's still very slow. Bring your 'toughskin suit' in the music biz! "Show us here the mettle of your pasture!" (Henry V). Me though, I'm ready to see how my voice is doing. It's been less than a week since I turned the corner from my sinus infection but, to deal with playing every day since last Friday, I've had to bring out old instrumentals to cover some of the songs I couldn't sing yet. We start and I'm feeling confident with my voice and it's not cracking too badly yet. Then near the end of the set I attempt some of the earlier passed-over songs from the new album and I'm almost back to 100% but not quite, a lot better than 5 days previous though. Maybe it's a stroke of good luck that crowds weren't at capacity so they didn't have to hear my awful attempts at singing through my sickness. I've got a sub-par voice to begin with but I guess in my most charitable of opinions I could call my voice 'my own'. The tour done and I've made it through the hard times with the illness and the shortcomings that it brought with it. Goes without saying I couldn't have done it without my group giving me the support and strength musically to switch modes and rely more on my instrument rather than sharing the duties between voice and guitar.
Not the way I would have wanted to end the year but sometimes as we get further down the road in life and indicators pop-up now and then to show us our ever-approaching limits on mortality, it's good to know the gumption is still there to be drawn from. From this tour I carry forward in the hopes I can stay healthy and continue to do what I love doing the most; playing on stage in front of people. Just for the opportunity to create and explore in music and emotion so that I can reach people that are open to receive it. The journey I feel is far from over for me and I've still got a lot more in me to get out. Thank you, my fans, for another wonderful year - to those who came to the shows, those that bought music, those that requested music and to my crew and support group that help keep CDG chugging along. You've all made me happy and whole by supporting me in the good times and bad. When all seemed musically hopeless, you all have pulled for me in my emotional struggles to allow me to give you the best. For that I am truly grateful. Thank you and see y'all next year!
- Chris Duarte