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.