The Guitarist’s Guitarist: Paco de Lucia R.I.P.

paco de lucia, album covers, these fantastic worlds

Paco died yesterday. I’ve listened to his exhilarating, intricate and impassioned music for most of my conscious life. He was my mental route out of the suburbs and, immersed in his music, I listened and tapped, whistled and bashed at my guitar in a style that no-one around me liked or understood. Always, he reached deep into the core of what makes me who I am: I picked up my first cheap nylon stringed guitar because of him, I brought a flame red flamenco guitar in Jerez because of him, I chose a cutaway Ramirez stage guitar and played in bars and clubs around London because of him.

Paco inspired me to extemporize, to link passages of melody, to leap from sharp, bright chords into fluid runs, then pause to hear the guitar strings sing through the hollow of the body, resonating into the pit of my stomach. As a white, English male with slow and stupid fingers, I have found it almost impossible to capture the true essence of flamenco, but boy have I tried, and will keep trying until I die.

Impact and Inspiration

Of course, no-one could play like Paco. Juan Martin, Paco Pena and Carlos Montoya, all admirable and worthy guitarists but even they could not scale the heights of de Lucia, especially when he first arrived on the scene, exploding with new sounds, incorporating jazz and salsa stylings into core flamenco soleares. And he grew in stature as experience lent restraint and consideration to his energy: I have many of his records and watched him so many times on stage over the years, with his troupe and on his own; when I close my eyes I can hear the interplay of his percussive golpe with the footstamps of the dancers, the brisk rasgueos counteracting the rhythms of his fellow guitarists, and the subtle melodies that fall into the soulful spaces of the cante.

Like all true artists Paco’s strengths lay not in his speed (which was phenomenal), or his composition (which was broad and enthralling), or his collaborative work (which was humble and graceful) but the synthesis of all his skills, the range of his work, his power to communicate musical ideas with an elegance and sophistication rarely heard today. Paco was instinctive, drenched in the heat and the sounds of Andalucia and so when he played the occasional classical piece such as Concierto de Aranjuez his voice was eloquent and subtle. But make no mistake, this man was a giant amongst the guitar heroes of the twentieth century, perhaps the best-ever guitarist (Jimi Hendrix was rock’s Paco de Lucia) and he played many stunning concerts with others, particular as part of the Guitar Trio with John Mclaughlan and Al di Meola.

So, I’m a fan, you’ll have guessed that and I’m glad to celebrate his music. Of course there are so many memorable tracks to listen to, but at random, here are three to find on iTunes or Spotify, or at your local indie record store: Luzia (siguiriya), Gitanes Andaluces and Mediterranean Sundance with Di Meola and McLaughlin on 1981’s exuberant, outrageous Friday Night at San Francisco. At the end of this post there’s a link to a Youtube playlist with some other great pieces.

Finally, here’s a selection of Paco’s album covers. As you can see, no fancy designs here, he let his music do the talking.