Paco de Lucía was one of the greatest guitarists in the world. He was born Francisco Sánchez Gómez in Algeciras, a port city in the province of Cádiz, in the southernmost tip of Spain on December 21st, 1947. His stage name (Lucia’s Paco) is a tribute to his mother Lucía Gómez.
His father, Antonio Sánchez, a day laborer, played guitar at night as a way to supplement his income. His father, Paco’s elder brother Ramón de Algeciras, and flamenco guitar master Niño Ricardo were de Lucía’s main influences. His first performance was on Radio Algeciras in 1958.
The training ground for a flamenco guitarist, de Lucía once said, “is the music around you, made by people you see, the people you make music with. You learn it from your family, from your friends, in la juerga (the party) drinking. And then you work on technique. Guitarists do not need to study. And, as it is with any music, the great ones will spend some time working with the young players who show special talent.
You must understand that a Gypsy’s life is a life of anarchy. That is a reason why the way of flamenco music is a way without discipline, as you know it. We don’t try to organize things with our minds, we don’t go to school to find out. We just live… music is everywhere in our lives.”
In 1958, at only age 11, de Lucía made his first public appearance and a year later he was awarded a special prize in the Jerez flamenco competition. At 14 he was touring with the flamenco troupe of dancer Jose Greco. He worked with Greco for three seasons.
It was while on tour with Greco in the United States of America that de Lucía met the great Sabicas, an influential guitarist whose name became synonymous with flamenco in the United States, who encouraged him to pursue a more personal style. De Lucía would follow Sabicas’ advice a few years later in his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1970.
“In flamenco, the guitarist first and foremost, must not get in the way of the singer,” de Lucía once explained. “There is a dialog going on. The cantaor (singer) sings the words. There are no songs per se in flamenco, just short lyrics, so the guitarist follows the call of the singer. Part of the tradition in flamenco is not playing too hard or too much. You need to support the singer, help him.”
Back in Spain, de Lucia joined Festival flamenco Gitano, an annual flamenco showcase tour that lasted for seven years, and recorded his first album in 1965, at the age of 18.
With La Fabulosa guitarra de Paco de Lucía, released in 1967, de Lucía began to distance himself from the influence masters such as Niño Ricardo and Mario Escudero and by Fantasia Flamenca, recorded in 1969, he had defined his own style. His superb technique was displayed in well-structured pieces that departed from the flamenco tradition of theme and variations.
In 1968, he met Camarón de la Isla, one of the leading flamenco singers at the time. Their association was chronicled on more than 10 records. Their album Potro de Rabia y Miel (1991) was perhaps the last studio release by Camarón de la Isla, who died in 1992.
Next came Almoraima (1976) which some consider a masterpiece. These albums were followed by Paco de Lucía Interpreta a Manuel de Falla (1980), a superb tribute to the iconic Spanish classical composer who was an admirer of flamenco music, and, in 1981, Solo Quiero Caminar.
Paco de Lucia was criticized by flamenco die hards for his ventures into other styles. His own sextet, formed in 1981, included bass, drums, and saxophone. Paco also had high profile collaborations, especially with jazz musicians, most notably with pianist Chick Corea and fellow guitarists John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell and Al DiMeola. The remarkable results of these collaborations have been documented in several releases including the guitar trio albums Castro Marin (1979), Passion Grace and Fire (1982) and Friday Night in San Francisco (1981).
Paco de Lucia also recorded soundtracks for films such as Carlos Saura’s Carmen, Borau’s La Sabina, and the ballet Los Tarantos, presented at Madrid’s prestigious Teatro de la Zarzuela in 1986.
However, as if to make a point, de Lucía returned to pure flamenco in the spectacular Siroco (1987), a brilliant outline of his style, and then twist and turned back towards fusion with Zyryab (1990) that featured his sextet enhanced by pianist Chick Corea.
Through his Brazilian percussionist Rubem Dantas, Paco de Lucía introduced the cajón, a previously unknown Peruvian instrument to flamenco. Since then, the cajón has become a standard feature in most flamenco ensembles. Spanish instrument makers have created cajón variations, developing what is now known as cajón flamenco or caja.
De Lucía shrugged off the complaints or the concerns that he might lose his roots or betray the essence of flamenco. “I have never lost my roots in my music, because I would lose myself,” he once said. “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.”
“There was a time when I was concerned about losing myself,” he once said, “but not now. I’ve realized that, even if I wanted, I couldn’t do anything else. I am a flamenco guitarist. If I tried to play anything else it would still sound like flamenco.”
In 2004, Paco de Lucia won the 2004 Prince of Asturias award of the Arts. This is the most important and prestigious award of its kind given in Spain. The other contenders were American rock musician Bruce Springsteen, French dancer Maurice Bejart and British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
In 2004, after living several years in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Paco de Lucia moved back to Spain. He chose the ancient historic city of Toledo, which is near Madrid, but is much quieter.
In 2010 Paco de Lucia was presented with an honorary doctor of music degree from Berklee College of Music, recognizing his achievements and influence in music, and for his enduring contributions to American and international culture.
* Los Chiquitos de Algeciras, with Pepe de Lucía (1961)
* Dos guitarras flamencas en Stereo, with Ricardo Mondrego (1965)
* Doce Exitos para dos Guitarras Flamencas, with Ricardo Mondrego (1965)
* Música Clasica Transcrita para Guitarra, with his brother Ramón de Algeciras (Polygram, 1966)
* Canciones Andaluzas para Dos Guitarras, with his brother Ramón de Algeciras (Polygram, 1966)
* Dos Guitarras Flamencas en América Latina, with his brother Ramón de Algeciras (Polygram, 1966)
* La Fabulosa Guitarra de Paco de Lucia (Polygram, 1967)
* Fantasía Flamenca de Paco de Lucía (Polygram, 1969)
* El Duende Flamenco de Paco de Lucia (Polygram, 1972)
* Fuente y Caudal (Polygram, 1973)
* Paco de Lucía en vivo desde el Teatro Real (Polygram, 1975)
* Almoraima (Polygram, 1976)
* Paco de Lucia plays Manuel de Falla (with the group Dolores) (Polygram, 1978)
* Solo Quiero Caminar (Polygram, 1981)
* Castro Marin (Polygram, 1981)
* Friday Night in San Francisco (Polygram, 1981) with John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola.
* Live…One Summer Night (Polygram, 1984)
* Hispanoamérica, a collection of Latin American pieces recorded in the 1960s and 1970s by Paco De Lucia and his brother, Ramon De Algeciras (Polygram, 1984)
* Siroco (Polygram, 1990)
* Zyryab (Polygram, 1990)
* Concierto de Aranjuez (Polygram, 1991)
* Live in America (Polygram, 1993)
* The Guitar Trio (Polygram, 1996)
* Antologia (1996)
* Luzia (Polygram, 1998)
* Cositas Buenas (Universal Music Spain/Verve-Blue Thumb 80001939-02, 2004)
* Paco de Lucia and family: The master plan by D. E. Pohren (Bold Strummer Ltd, 1992)
* Paco de Lucía, Scores Book 1: The Fabulous guitar of Paco de Lucia, transcribed by Jorge Berges. Ventilador Music, 2003.
* Paco de Lucía, Scores Book 2, Fantasía flamenca de Paco de Lucía
* Paco de Lucia Scores Book 3 Fuente y Caudal
* Paco De Lucía Scores, Book 4 (Almoraima)
* Paco de Lucia en vivo by Juan José Tellez. Plaza Abierta, 2003. 620 pages.
* Directo Alemania (1996) DVD
* Light and Shade (Arthaus Musik, 2001) DVD
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.