Paco de Lucía. The revolutionary Spanish flamenco guitarist, composer and producer

Francisco Gustavo Sanchez Gomez is the brilliant Spanish virtuoso flamenco guitarist, composer and producer better known by his stage name, Paco de Lucía.  

From his first official release in 1967, La Fabulosa Guitarra de Paco de Lucía, through to his final album Canción Andaluza (’14) I became enthralled in Paco's playing after one of my favorite guitarists, death metal and heavy metal virtuoso, Ralph Santolla posted a comment to his Facebook timeline about a Paco performance he wanted to attend in his youth. 

I certainly hear the inspiration in Santolla’s outstanding guitar solos, particularly across the album cuts on Deicide's career-best offering from 2006, The Stench of Redemption. Artists like Paco did not create music for commercial adulation, as a consequence, one can choose almost any aspect of his career and start an odyssey listening to some of the most inspiring guitar performances you are ever likely to hear.  

He is an extraordinarily versatile guitarist known for his lighting fast picking technique known as the ‘picado’, combined with the ‘rasgueado’; which is the identifiable sound of rhythmically strumming the guitar strings so synonymous with flamenco guitar playing. Paco collaborated with vocalist Camaron de la Isla, guitarists John McLaughlin, Al di Meola, and then there was keyboard player Chick Corea in the late 1970's. This saw him gain wider popularity outside of his native Spain. Later collaborations included a commercially successful track with Canadian rocker Bryan Adams “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” charted around the world in 1994. 

There is an entry in Wikipedia that states that Paco is a leading proponent of the "New Flamenco" style, that he helped legitimize flamenco among the establishment in Spain, and that he was one of the first flamenco guitarists to cross over successfully into other genres of music such as classical and jazz. Sounds about right.  

Paco is noted for his excellent technique in the mechanical sense. A writer for US-based jazz and blues production Downbeat described him as;

"The portrait of studied concentration and pristine perfection. Stiff-backed and stern-faced with the distinguished air about him that some might misread as haughtiness. He is proud and majestic, like a regal Arabian steed prancing with grace and elegance and able to reveal great power."

It may surprise many to learn that Paco was not formally trained. In regard to a tour with McLaughlin and Corea in 1980 he is quoted as saying;

"Some people assume that they (McLaughlin, Corea, and later di Meola) 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 do not have the discipline. Playing with McLaughlin and di Meola was about learning these things. 

Well before he died of a heart attack on the 25th of February 2014 in Mexico, Paco was widely considered to be the world's premier flamenco guitarist. He was also considered by many to be Spain's greatest musical export ever.  

His influence on flamenco music both as a composer and performer was honoured through the posthumously issued Latin Grammy Award for Album of the Year for, Canción Andaluza, at the 2014 award ceremony.

In 2017 I find Paco's music to be an excellent accompaniment to family occasions. It is great driving music as I traverse long distances through regional Queensland, and I am partial to selecting it as background music if I am performing a task that requires a level of studious dedication.

Entre dos Aguasis was taken from the 1975 compilation LP of the same name. If you have access to a streaming service, I suggest you check it out.

Early life and career

Paco was born on the 21st December 1947 as Francisco Sanchez Gomez in Algeciras, which is in the province of Cádiz, in Spain. 

His father was Antonio Sánchez Pecino who was also a famed flamenco guitarist. His mother Luiza Gomez was Portuguese and it was through his mother that he derived his stage name. Paco's brother, Ramón de Algeciras was also a famed flamenco guitarist and he was a frequent collaborator throughout Paco's career.

It was likely through his father's strict tutelage that Paco developed his astounding technique. Forcing a very young Paco to practice for up to 12 hours a day, I can imagine that the Pecino household was not a place for unworthy pursuits or time-wasting endeavours. Ramón and Paco were close through their formative years; indeed, it was Ramón that would show Paco how to play complex falsettos.

Alongside his other sibling, flamenco singer, Pepe de Lucía, that Paco would release his first record, Los Chiquitos de Algeciras, AKA, The Kids of Algeciras in 1961. I particularly enjoy one of the first recordings from Paco titled “Qué Grande el Castillo”, taken from the album.

Another favourite cut is “Danza Ritual del Fuego” from the 1978 album, Interpreta a Manuel de Falla. This is a collaboration with guitar playing brother, Ramón, however it also featured the vocal talents of his other sibling Pepe de Lucia. I am a big fan of the great bass playing on that track from Alvaro Yebenes, and the percussion from Brazilian icon Rubem Dantas. Dantas was a frequent collaborator with Paco throughout his career.

Success and the public eye

 It is unfathomable to think that flamenco was not a legitimised form of artistic expression by the mainstream in Spain during Paco's early years, but that is one way of describing how the country viewed the artform. Spain gifted the world the modern guitar and much of the technique attributed to playing it was invented in the country as far back as 1200 AD.

Paco is essential to the breaking down of barriers associated with the perception that people in Spain viewed the guitar. Such was his prodigious talent he managed to obtain a place for the guitar on par with traditional chamber instruments as far as critics were concerned. By the late 1960's Paco had toured Europe and was beginning to achieve success.

It was through his many tours throughout Europe that he would meet flamenco singer Camaron de la Isla, and they would go on to collaborate from 1968 to 1977, indeed it would be almost impossible to say that their fates were not entwined during those years. The 10 albums recorded during this period are held in high regard by fans and critics of flamenco music. An excellent track to listen to is Camina y Dime which featured on the first collaborative album between the pair, Al Verte las Flores Lloranin (’69) and “Caminito de Totanaby” from the album Caminito de Totana (’73).

Given the significance of Camaron de la Isla to Paco's career, let’s look into some factoids about the man.

Born Jose Cruz on the 5th of September 1950 in San Fernando Spain to a gypsy family, he would eventually adopt the stage name Camaron de la Isla, which cryptically means, Shrimp of the Island. Because he was fair and had blonde hair, his uncle nicknamed him ‘The Shrimp’, hence the evolution of the stage name. He is considered to be the apex of male flamenco singing and his work is also unique as his albums pioneered the presence of the electric bass in flamenco. Many see this evolution leading to what is now termed ‘Nouveau flamenco’. Check out “Como el Agua” (’81) from the album of the same name.  

Paco was a proud Spaniard, so, I can imagine he was immensely pleased when he looked back over the body of work that he co-created with Camaron. He is quoted as saying;

"I don't wanna be a star or a rich man. I am working for my village, for my country, for my music, for the tradition of the artform and I want to make the music better. Always better." 

Check out the recording En Vivo- Conciertos Live in Spain (’10) particularly the beautiful cut, “Mi Antonia”.

Siroco

 What can possibly be said about the 1987 release Siroco? This is the sound of a flamenco guitarist, one of the music world's greatest six-string innovators performing solo, stripped back and raw, except the album is anything but sparse.

Rich colours and waves of energy emanate from Paco's performance. It is an engaging album. From a purely technical perspective there are far too many ‘how did he do that?’ moments to mention. Siroco is and possibly always will be, one of the ultimate guitar hero albums ever recorded.

By 1987, Paco had almost 20 years on the clock as a studio musician. One of the highest compliments that can be afforded to a musician is for the perception that their music has managed to transcend the limitations of the studio environment. 

A performer as spontaneous and as present as Paco needs both the right songs that match his emotive state and also the right environment to capture his performance in a manner that can live through the ages. One can randomly select any of the tracks on Siroco as their starting point to the musical icon. The track order can be rearranged, and it will still tell a wonderful story.

Collaborations with Al di Meola

 The next musician to discuss in the Paco de Lucía discography is the great Al di Meola, Di Meola was born on the 22nd of July 1954 in Jersey City, New Jersey (USA). He studied music at Berkley College of Music in Boston. While studying there, he received an invitation to join Chick Corea in his band Return to Forever. So what is there that can be possibly said to further articulate the genius of Al di Meola? He is possibly best known as the world's premier fusion guitarist, that is, he combined jazz, blues, and rock.  

Paco and di Meola's collaborations included the 1981 release Friday Night in San Francisco, 1983's Passion, Grace and Fire, and finally, The Guitar Trio from 1996.  

When informed of Paco's passing di Meola stated;  

"Paco de Lucía was viewed in my mind, and the world of Flamenco as the most important of the newer generations of guitarists embodying the most advanced Flamenco approach the world has ever known.  

Whilst I was a part of Chick Corea's Return to Forever at the ripe old age of 19, we toured together, it was there that the buzz around him prompted my research and I purchased several of his recordings. I saw the potential of us collaborating one day. His technique far surpassed any other in the realm of Flamenco type players and I envisioned an amazing collaboration between us. His influence was major, and the legions of followers in that world are for sure quite many.

However, it was the courage of Paco to break the mould and venture into a more unconventional, harmonically challenging, highly interplayable duet role. He was ready for a challenge that was deemed risky in those days when most, or all other flamenco guitarists would never have the guts to go."  

Check out the following collaborations between the pair: “Manhá de Carnaval”, the song writing credit is to Luiz Bonfait and it is taken from the 1996 album The Guitar Trio (featuring Al di Meola, Paco de Lucía and John McLaughlin) and “Orient Blue Suite” from the 1983 album Passion, Grace and Fire; the song writing is credited to Al di Meola and the recording features John McLaughlin, Al di Meola and Paco de Lucía.

Collaborations with John McLaughlin

 McLaughlin was born on January 4, 1942, Doncaster, South Yorkshire (UK). He is still active as a performer and producing new music.

Also known for his solo material and collaborations with Miles Davis on his electric jazz-fusion albums In a Silent Way (’69), Bitches Brew (’70), Jack Johnson (’71) and On the Corner (’72); McLaughlin received massive acclaim when Pat Metheny referred to him as “the best guitarist alive”.

Paco and McLaughlin collaborations mirror that of di Meola; the 1981 release Friday Night in San Francisco, 1983's Passion, Grace and Fire, and finally The Guitar Trio from 1996.

Check out "Frevo Rasgado" from Friday Night in San Francisco (’81) for a prime example of the pairs collaborative efforts.  

 When informed of Paco’s death, McLaughlin proclaimed that;

“Paco de Lucía was as good as Miles Davis and Stravinsky”

Collaborations with Larry Coryell

Coryell was born Lorenz Albert Van DeLinder III on April 2, 1943 in Galveston, Texas. He passed away from natural causes on February 19, 2017. Coryell enjoyed a long career performing with other notable artists. 

He is certainly best known for the albums recorded under his name and for his performance alongside Paco and Jon McLaughlin as the genesis of The Guitar Trio.  

Coryell appeared on the 1981 Paco de Lucía recording Castro Marin. I could not find a quote attributed to Coryell about Paco however, I did find an obituary for Coryell in The Rolling Stone. In the article the author states;

"In the mid to late '60s, Coryell broke down genre barriers with his eclectic fluid playing and experiments with melding, plotting rock rhythms and spacious jazz chords. His breakthrough, 1969's Spaces, featured a who's who of the jazz fusion genre's innovators.

This includes guitarist John McLaughlin, pianist Chick Corea, and drummer Billy Cobham, all of whom would play on Miles Davis' landmark 1970 fusion LP Bitches Brew. 

He would later play with McLaughlin again in The Guitar Trio, an ensemble that also featured Paco de Lucía, and would later include Al di Meola after Coryell was forced to exit due to a drug addiction."

Have a listen to Palenque, from the 1981 album from Paco de Lucia, Castro Marin. This recording also features John McLaughlin.

Collaborations with Chic Corea

The final name in the quintet of notable collaborators is Armando Anthony "Chick" Corea. Born June 12th, 1941 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Corea is credited with producing numerous jazz standards.

He is proclaimed to be the major jazz piano icon in the post John Coltrane world. He is also well-known due to his membership of Miles Davis' band in the 1960s. He would record the 1970 release Bitches Brew, as has been mentioned earlier alongside Paco alumni, John McLaughlin. Corea, like di Meola, is a towering figure in the world of music. A recipient of far too many awards to mention, Corea continues to release vital compositions and he is well into his 70's.

On learning of Paco's death, Corea said this;

"Paco inspired me in the construction of my own musical world as much as Miles Davis and John Coltrane."

I do not think a comment can be issued any higher than that. Paco and Corea appeared on the 1990 album by Paco and his sextet, the album was called Zyryab. Check out the cut “Soniquete”. The song writing is credited to Bulerías.

Andrew McKaysmith