I received the shocking news before the international media became aware of it that my dear friend and major guitar innovator Paco de Lucia had passed away. His manager called me immediately, and the reality of his passing was devastating! Paco and I had an incredible history and a warm friendship that I will always cherish.
Paco de Lucia was viewed in my mind—and in the world of flamenco guitar—as the most important modern innovator embodying the most advanced flamenco approach the world had ever known. While I was part of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever at 19 years of age, we toured Spain, and it was there that the buzz about him prompted my buying several recordings of his. It was then that I saw the potential of our collaborating one day. His technique far surpassed any other in that realm of flamenco-style players, and I envisioned an amazing collaboration between us.
That day happened in 1976, and we made history with that one single cut. The challenging unconventional mix that started with my inviting him when I was 22 (he was almost 28) to New York City to record on my second solo recording, Elegant Gypsy, at Jimi Hendrix’s studio, Electric Lady, on the duet “Mediterranean Sundance,” which became the equivalent of a major pop hit around the world. It was constantly played on the radio everywhere, which was unheard of in non-vocal music up to that point in music history.
Paco and I had the idea, as we discussed several times after this recording became well known between 1977 and 1979, to tour together. When the moment came for this, I was already touring heavily and fully committed, so the first guitar trio emerged with my friend Larry Coryell. Later, I replaced Larry, and we added John McLaughlin to our collaboration, and the trio recording, Friday Night in San Francisco, sold seven million copies. The success was astounding, with crowds of between 5,000 to 10,000 per night, as we were the first guitarists to ever attempt such an collaboration from three different worlds!
From left: John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola and de Lucia.
Paco’s influence on flamenco 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 mold, and venture into a more unconventional (for flamenco players) harmonically challenging, highly inter-playable duet role as we started on “Mediterranean Sundance.” He was ready for a challenge that was deemed risky in those days, and he went where most other flamenco guitarists would never have the guts to go.
I knew Paco well, and can imagine him saying that in actuality he had lived a quite full life most people don’t get to experience in two lifetimes! I will cherish our thousands of great memories and camaraderie and all the great musical bridges we crossed! Rest in peace, my dear friend.