Feb 25, 2014- Paco de Lucia was born Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gomes on December 21, 1947 in Algeciras, Southern Spain. He was the youngest of the five children of flamenco guitarist Antonio Sánchez Pecino and Portuguese mother Lúcia Gomes; his brothers include flamenco singer Pepe de Lucía and flamenco guitarist Ramón de Algeciras (deceased).
Playing in the streets as a young boy, there were many Pacos and Pablos in Algeciras, and as he wanted to honor his Portuguese mother Lucia Gomes, he adopted the stage name Paco de Lucía. In 1958, at age 11, Paco made his first public appearance on Radio Algeciras.
His father Antonio received guitar lessons from the hand of a cousin of Melchor de Marchena: Manuel Fernández (aka Titi de Marchena), a guitarist who arrived in Algeciras in the 1920s and established a school there. Antonio introduced Paco to the guitar at a young age and was extremely strict in his upbringing from the age of 5, forcing him to practice up to 12 hours a day, every day, to ensure that he could find success as a professional musician.
At one point, his father took him out of school to concentrate solely on his guitar development. In a 2012 interview de Lucía stated that, “I learned the guitar like a child learns to speak.”
Flamenco guitarist and biographer Donn Pohren and record producer José Torregrosa compared Paco’s relationship with his father to the relationship of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Leopold Mozart in the way both fathers “moulded their sons” into becoming world-class musicians, and both continued to dictate even after they became famous.
Paco’s brother Ramón idolized Niño Ricardo, and taught his complex falsetas to his young brother, who would learn them with relative ease and change them to his own liking and embellish them. This angered Ramón initially who considered Ricardo’s works to be sacred and thought his brother was showing off, but he soon began to immensely respect his brother and came to realize that he was a prodigious talent and a fuera de serie, a special person. Like his brother, Ricardo was Paco’s most important influence, and his first guitar hero; Paco said “all of us youngsters would look up to him, trying to learn from him and copy him.”
In 1958, at age 11, Paco made his first public appearance on Radio Algeciras. That year, he met Sabicas for the first time in Malaga. A year later, he was awarded a special prize at the Festival Concurso International Flamenco de Jerez de la Frontera flamenco competition. A year later, he was awarded a special prize at the Festival Concurso International Flamenco de Jerez de la Frontera flamenco competition.
At the age of 14, he made his first record with his brother Pepe, “Los Chiquitos de Algeciras”/Kids of Algeciras and in the early 1960s, he toured with the flamenco troupe of dancer José Greco.
Then in New York City in 1963, at the age of 15, he had his second encounter with Sabicas and his first encounter with Mario Escudero, both of whom became his mentors and later close friends.
The 60s and 70s were a period that Paco deLucia introduced the world to flamenco and he recorded with singers and his brothers may albums that found more and more appreciation. He was encouraged and managed to take the old Spanish art form into new and fascinating directions, increasing his popularity as one of the great guitarists of all time.
Becoming a Rock Star
In 1977, he released his final voice driven album, Castillo de Arena with Camarón de la Isla, The lyrics were written by Antonio Sánchez, with the exception of the bulerías Samara, which Sánchez and de la Isla wrote together. This would be his last LP with a singer for at least 15 years. He reportedly said that the human voice is “naturally too limited” and that he prefers the exploration of different instrumentalists; he also said a busy schedule was the reason for lack of recordings with singers. He performed extensively across the US and Europe during this period, increasing his popularity outside Spain and the flamenco community in Europe, and met many jazz, Latin and other musicians who continued to have an impact on de Lucía’s evolution as a “Nuevo flamenco” player. He began to show a very keen interest in jazz fusion and rock, and in 1977 performed with Carlos Santana in the Plaza de toros de las Arenas bullring in Barcelona. He was invited by Al Di Meola to record on his “Mediterranean Sundance” piece for his album Elegant Gypsy. Despite considerable new interest in flamenco and de Lucía’s playing generated by the album, traditionalist flamenco critics did not approve of the piece and hated that many people considered Mediterranean Sundance flamenco music and frowned upon de Lucía. Di Meola informed the critics not to worry and that “Paco is not leaving flamenco, but expanding it.”In 1978, Paco and his brothers recorded Interpreta a Manuel de Falla, a classical effort of compositions by Manuel de Falla.
In 1979, de Lucía, John McLaughlin, and Larry Coryell formed The Guitar Trio and together made a tour of Europe and released a video recorded at London’s Royal Albert Hall entitled Meeting of the Spirits. Pohren said that de Lucía’s decision to work with musicians like McLaughlin, Di Meola, Coryell, and Chick Corea must have been an “exciting and stimulating” experience for him, given their technical musical knowledge and ability to improvise and said that they carried him “so far afield that at times he must have been profoundly confused, a man running the risk of losing his musical identity.” This concerned de Lucía, who said in a late 1990s interview, “I have never lost the roots in my music, because I would lose myself. What I have tried to do is have a hand holding onto tradition and the other scratching, digging in other places, trying to find new things I can bring into flamenco.”
The Guitar Trio continued touring in 1980. De Lucía reportedly suffered from headaches and backaches while performing because he found it difficult to improvise and follow McLaughlin and Coryell’s advanced knowledge of jazz improvisation. Paco professed, “Some people assume that they were learning from me, but I can tell you it was me learning from them. I have never studied music, I am incapable of studying harmony—I don’t have the discipline, playing with McLaughlin and Di Meola was about learning these things.” In 1981, Coryell was replaced with Di Meola, and The Guitar Trio released one of their most successful records, Friday Night in San Francisco, which sold over 1 million copies and generated a significant interest in flamenco music in America and Europe. It featured an extended combination of Mediterranean Sundance and Río Ancho; this became arguably the piece most associated with the musicians. De Lucía also formed the Paco de Lucía Sextet in 1981 (which included his brothers Ramón and Pepe), and released the first of its three albums that same year. On 30 August 1981, de Lucía performed a solo set at St. Goarshausen in Germany, where he performed Monasterio de Sal and Montino among others and later performed with The Guitar Trio. The event was broadcast on national WDR television.
In 1982, Paco put on a series of concerts with jazz pianist Chick Corea. Corea was a considerable influence on him in the 1980s and he and McLaughlin adapted a version of his piece Spain, performing it live together several times in the mid to late 1980s. He released a “Golden” double compilation album in 1982, La Guitarra de Oro de Paco de Lucía, covering Paco’s earliest recordings with Ricardo Modrego of Federico García Lorca songs to date, and featured two siguiriyas, a flamenco form in which he hadn’t indulged in his recordings since 1972. In 1983, the Trio released Passion, Grace & Fire, and he had an acting role in Carlos Saura’s highly acclaimed film Carmen, for which he was also nominated for a BAFTA Film Award for Best Score. De Lucía composed original film scores for several films in the 1980s, including The Hit, a 1984 film in which he provided the soundtrack with Eric Clapton, with a minor contribution by Roger Waters.
On his 1984 album, Live… One Summer Night, De Lucía not only played guitar, but also filled the role of producer. Paco de Lucía has also appeared as himself on television in documentaries and TV shows and accepted a position as a judge at Seville’s 1984 Biena.
By the mid-1980s, both the Sextet and the Guitar Trio had reached its plateau and stopped performing together, although de Lucía would continue to perform with McLaughlin as a duo across Europe in 1986 and later. In a 1986 interview with Down Beat magazine, Di Meola said that the reason for the breakdown was that their performances were designed to “drive the audience berserk” with a display of astonishing virtuosity and that they had run out of new spectacular fast runs to impress the audiences. Di Meola remarked that the music had become too “wild and crazy” and that he preferred to explore the quieter side of music, something Paco also felt, saying that he preferred “controlled expression to velocity.” In May 1986, he performed at the Centro de Bellas Artes Rock music festival alongside the likes of Earl Klugh, Spyro Gyra, and Dave Valentin. In 1987, de Lucía performed for the first time in the Soviet Union, and went back to his roots with his highly successful release, Siroco. Siroco is often cited as his best album and one of the greatest flamenco albums of all time.
His compositions La Cañada, the opening track, a tango called La Barrosa, an alegrías named after the Playa la Barrosa in the province of Cadiz, and Gloria al Niño Ricardo, a soléa, received considerable attention and are considered modern flamenco classics. Eric Clapton and Richard Chapman described La Barrosa, a sweet alegrías played in B major, as, “full of effortless delicacy with cascading phrases.” “Gloria al Niño Ricardo” is dedicated to Niño Ricardo who was de Lucía’s “first hero” of the guitar. Several of his compositions from that album form the staple of his contemporary concert performances, and he often begins his concerts with La Cañada. In 1989, de Lucía refused to perform at the bullring in Seville with Plácido Domingo and Julio Iglesias.
Although the sextet had declined after 1986, in 1990 they got together to record Zyryab, a groundbreaking Arabic flamenco/jazz album with jazz pianist Chick Corea and fellow virtuoso flamenco guitarist Manolo Sanlúcar. The album is named after Ziryab, an 8th–9th century Shiraz-born poet/musician at the Umayyad court in Córdoba, credited with introducing to Spain the Persian lute, which evolved into the Spanish guitar—and according to some, established flamenco itself. One track on the album, a tarantas, is dedicated to Sabicas. The album was critically well-received; Jazz Times praised the passion and rhythm of the musicians featuring on the album.
Until asked to perform and interpret Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez in 1991, de Lucía was not proficient at reading musical notation. Biographer Pohren, however, at the time of writing his biography in 1992, said that he was still not proficient and had found a bizarre way of learning the piece, locking himself away. His performance with the orchestra under Edmon Colomer was highly acclaimed, a sensitive, atmospheric rendition that composer Rodrigo himself praised, describing it as “pretty, exotic, inspired” … I might add that Paco plays it with a great deal of feeling, far more than is normally heard. And that goes for the orchestra that backs him up.” In 1992, he performed live at the bullring at Seville Expo ’92, and a year later on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, playing “La Barrosa”. In 1995, he and Bryan Adams recorded the hit song and video Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman on the soundtrack for the American film Don Juan DeMarco.
In 1996, his first “golden hits” album, Antología, was in the top 20 in Spain for at least 16 weeks, selling over 65,000 copies. In 1997, de Lucía performed in a tribute show to the assassinated Spanish politician Miguel Angel Blanco, alongside the likes of Julio Iglesias and Los Del Rio. In 1998 he released and produced “Luzia”, dedicated to his mother (whose name is spelled phonetically). It is considered to be one of de Lucia’s most complete and mature artistic statements.
De Lucía lived for five years in Yucatan, Mexico, but returned to his native Spain in 2003 after professing to have become really tired with spending his whole life touring for six to eight months a year, getting up at the crack of dawn and living in hotels. He continued to keep a holiday home in Mexico though and regularly visited with his family.
In 2004 he toured the United States and Canada with Seville flamenco singer La Tana, but subsequently greatly reduced his live performances in public. He retired from full touring, and would only give a few concerts a year, usually in Spain and Germany and at European festivals during the summer months. Pohren described de Lucía as “extremely timid and retiring”, saying that, “Being a very private person, [he] was dismayed at the ensuing popularity and lionization, and the increased pressure fame placed upon his shoulders, demanding that he constantly innovate and work harder to achieve technical and revolutionary perfection.”
In 2003, de Lucía released Integral (2003), a 26 CD Limited Edition Box Set, and Por Descubrir, a compilation album. In 2004, de Lucía released Cositas Buenas with Javier Limón. It was released on Blue Thumb Records by Universal Music Spain S.L., and features four bulerías, two rumba tracks, a tangos and a tientos. It won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Flamenco Album 2004.
In 2005, he was nominated for producer of the year by the Latin Grammy for La Tana’s “Tu, Ven a Mi”, which was De Lucía’s first recording where he directed another artist since working on Camarón de la Isla’s Potro de rabia y miel.
In 2004, he won the Prince of Asturias Awards in Arts, and on 23 March 2007, the University of Cadiz recognized de Lucía’s musical and cultural contributions by conferring on him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa. In 2010, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Berklee College of Music in Boston and performed at the Montreux Festival. However, he is known some years to select countries where he doesn’t usually perform and played in Pula, Croatia in 2006 and 2010, and in Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia in 2013. He appeared at the 49th Carthage International Festival on 31 July, playing at the Roman Theatre.
De Lucía died of a heart attack on 25 February 2014, while on holiday with his family in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. His remains were buried at a cemetery in Algeciras, Andalusia, Spain.
De Lucía posthumously won the Latin Grammy Award for Album of the Year for his album Canción andaluza at the 2014 awards ceremony.
Even though not a true rock and roll musician, Paco de Lucia was one of rock and roll’s super stars. I was lucky enough to see him twice in concert; once in the late 1960 when he performed flamenco with Festival Flamenco Giano in my hometown, featuring Paco de Lucia, his brother Ramon de Algeciras and numerous other artists including singer Camarón de la Isla. It was been described as “a showcase of the hottest flamenco talent at the time”, and Paco was billed as “The Paganini of the Flamenco Guitar” at age 22.
I saw him again a world away after I had just moved to the States, when I visited San Francisco with a friend on December 5, 1980, who had tickets to the Warfield Theatre (made famous by Dylan and the Grateful Dead) for the performance of Al di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, a concert that was recorded and became a super hit album under the name “Friday Night in San Francisco”.
In my humble opinion he was just the greatest guitarist I have ever seen in concert.