Simply irresistible

By Tom MacIntosh

The performance one Friday night in December of 1981 at San Francisco’s Warwick Theatre by Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paco de Lucia is considered to be the event that launched the acoustic guitar into the collective global conscience. Three virtuosos, ‘The Guitar Trio’ put on a show of dextrous plucking and picking with such energy and humour, the crowd was loving it, calling out and them responding, screaming and laughing.


The result was the monumental album Friday Night in San Francisco. A summit of the 3 best acoustic guitarists in the world in a loose free-spirited setting wow the audience with 5 heavy numbers, starting with duet by De Lucia and DiMeola on  Di Meola’s  Mediterranean Sundance. It is a vigorous 11 minutes of incredible chops and licks rarely ever seen in one setting. The two complement one another on solos with driving rhythms and rapid-fire picking delights the crowd onto their feet. De Lucia plays his legendary 1971 Flamenco Guitar by Sobrinos de Domingo Esteso, and Di Meola on a ‘48 Martin D-18, (or quite possibly a Sigma SDR-28MLE). This first rousing track sets up the album perfectly, the audience is now completely spellbound.


Although this is considered a jazz album, there are flares of jazz-rock, fusion, flamenco, and post-bop. Track 2, Short Tales of the Black Forest, is another duet with McLaughlin this time and Di Meola, and again, just inhuman technique, and is something like a heated conversation between the two that turns into a rock/bluesy back and forth. Full of fun and laughter, thumping the guitar body for static percussion points, and they actually quote the theme from the Pink Panther. McLaughlin has a Gibson J-200, which he describes as “Perhaps the greatest steel string guitar ever built: on condition you like that Gibson sound, Martin Guitar players will no doubt disagree with me…”

The album’s real treat is when McLaughlin teams with De Lucia on a Egberto Gismonti opus Frevo Rasgado. It simply explodes with De Lucia breathing fire on his opening riff that defies gravity, scary talent and technique here in just 3 seconds, the rest goes without saying (but we will) is pure magic; a masterpiece of acoustic expression.

The record comprises 3 duets and 2 trios, and presents each maestro in the peak of their outstanding careers.The final track Guardian Angel is a beautiful melody played by the trio, each soloing over the lush strumming of the other two; heavenly. Friday Night in San Francisco is perhaps one of the most influential live acoustic performances ever cut. Although a few critics thought it a bit busy and muscular, the audience was certainly enthralled, which was one the reasons they decided to wrap and sell it.

In 1981, in a world stuffed with electric guitars, this event had spectators popping off over acoustic guitar strumming, something that is more common today, largely thanks to this absolutely once-in-a-lifetime concert.