Flamenco Giant Paco de Lucia Dead at 66

February 26, 2014

Paco de Lucia was unquestionably the foremost flamenco guitarist of his generation. Born in the small town of Algeciras, in the province of Cadiz, de Lucia spent his early years immersed in the peculiar amalgam of music, song, and dance found only in the Andalusian region of southern Spain—a blend rooted in the cultures of the Jews, Arabs, Gypsies, and myriad other peoples who have occupied the region throughout the centuries. In addition to this general acculturation, de Lucia’s father and elder brother were also guitarists, providing him with even greater exposure to the instrument.

Francisco Sanchez Gomez (the stage name “Paco de Lucia” was an homage to Lucia Gomez, his mother) demonstrated extraordinary musical aptitude at an early age, performing publicly for the first time on Radio Algeciras in 1958, and winning various regional guitar competitions before landing a three-season tour accompanying the celebrated dance troupe of Jose Greco at age 14. While touring the U.S. with Greco, the young guitarist met the great American flamenco guitar master, Sabicas, who urged him to “move away from imitation” if he wished to have a career in music.

Heeding Sabicas’ advice, de Lucia mastered and then transcended the traditional flamenco forms and repertoire, eventually adding electric bass, cajón (a wooden box drum), woodwinds, and other non-traditional instruments to his ensembles, and incorporating Latin, Brazilian, Afro-Peruvian, and jazz elements into his music. Flamenco purists vehemently derided de Lucia’s “Nuevo Flamenco” as everything from inconsequential to cultural sacrilege, though, in time, all but the most hardened critics embraced him as the legitimate successor to modern flamenco masters such as Ramon Montoya, Niño Ricardo, and Sabicas himself.

Despite de Lucia’s near-mythical stature throughout Europe and Latin America, he was virtually unknown in the U.S. until he teamed up with John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola as the all-acoustic Guitar Trio in 1981 (Di Meola replaced Larry Coryell, who had been the third member during the previous year). The Trio’s onstage pyrotechnics rocketed them to immense critical and commercial success between 1981 and 1983, spawning several world tours and two wildly popular albums, as well as a reunion tour and album in 1996. The lightning-fast runs, arpeggios, and rhythmic flourishes that thrilled de Lucia’s flamenco audiences produced the same response in the more jazz-oriented listeners who flocked to the Trio’s performances.

Later in his career, de Lucia was less interested in displays of technical prowess than he was in expressing his feelings utilizing the vocabulary of “authentic” flamenco.

Paco de Lucia died of a heart attack while on vacation at the Caribbean beach resort of Playa del Carmen. He was only 66 years old.

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