All descriptions fall short
when talking about Francisco Sánchez,
Lucía's son; the source and flow of the best flamenco of the last century. His
name will be engraved in stone next to that of other teachers and renovators of
the six strings. Names like those of Andrés
Segovia in classical music, Django
Reinhardt in jazz or Jimi
Hendrix in rock, the greatest exponents and innovators of their style. There
will be others later, just as there were others before, but when speaking of
the flamenco guitar, these three words must be mentioned: Paco de Lucía.
Francisco Sánchez came to the world in Algeciras on December 21, 1947. Since there were so many Pacos in Cádiz, he became known as Paco de Lucía (Lucia's Paco), because of his mother. His father, a flamenco guitarist, brought all his children to the world of music with the following philosophy: "The basis of music is rhythm". Before picking up a guitar, little Paco proved to his father that his hearing was exceptional. His father was playing a falseta on the guitar when the boy said, "Dad, that measure does not sound right". His father could not believe it, a brat giving him lessons, but after checking that he was not mistaken, he could see that the child had a gift. One day the father was giving a guitar lesson to his son Antonio, the eldest, while little Paco watched. Antonio was unable to reproduce what his father did, but his little brother did not think it was so difficult, and so he said "but that's very easy". Antonio angrily shouted: "if it’s that easy, why don’t you take the guitar and do it"; Paco did not hesitate, he took the guitar from his brother and reproduced, note by note, what his father was playing. He was 7 years old and it was the first time he had played the guitar. His father stared at him, sent Antonio out and started teaching Paco. From that day the boy did not let go of the guitar until the day of his death, on February 25, 2014.
In 1961 he began his professional career with his brother Pepe, with whom he would record several albums calling themselves Los Chiquitos de Algeciras. In 1962 the dancer José Greco took them on tour to the United States. It was there where people first began to be shocked by his talent and where he met Sabicas, one of the greatest geniuses of the flamenco guitar. Always nostalgic for his home land, the guitarist had decided to meet all Spaniards who passed through there. This time they told him, "there is a child who plays very well" so he did not hesitate to ask the child to play. Paco began to play in the style of his greatest idol, Niño Ricardo, without knowing that he was Sabicas' greatest rival in flamenco guitar. When Paco finished playing, astonished but with his pride a little hurt, Sabicas said: "you play well, but a guitarist has to play his own music". It was the sting that Paco needed to forget everything and start developing his own style as a guitarist.
Back in Spain he became one of the most highly demanded guitarists in the country. In 1964 he formed a professional partnership with guitarist Ricardo Modrego, with whom he would record three albums; in 1967 he began his solo career with La guitarra fabulosa de Paco de Lucía; and, also, collaborated with his older brother Ramón de Algeciras, with who he would record four albums between 1967 and 1969 (and who would become one of his closest collaborators throughout his career). It was also in 1967 when he came across jazz and was invited to the Berlin Jazz Festival with Pedro Iturralde’s group, that would produce an album, Flamenco-Jazz, which would not see the light of day until 1974.
But the most important meeting of his artistic career would be another. One day he was recording for Bambino when the singer introduced him to a boy of his age whom he had sent for because he wanted to record an album. Paco stepped forward and said "I will play for you". Fate had been fulfilled and the pair that was going to revolutionize flamenco in the following decades had formed. However, the magic was not instantaneous; that day it seemed to Paco that Camarón did well, but was not special. Everything changed a few months later, in Jérez, when they met again. The singer saw the guitarist and invited him to go out with him on the town, and that night they got drunk and the next morning Camarón went to the house of a girl who liked to sing to her, which was when Paco could not believe what his ears were hearing, his first reaction was one of disbelief, nobody could sing like that, it was a moment of absolute reverence, "the Messiah has arrived". He did not hesitate and approached the 'cantaor' and said, ‘Camarón we have to record, when you come to Madrid, come to my house to make an album’. In 1969, under the auspices of Paco's father, the pair recorded their first album together, Al Verte Las Flores Lloran. Many years later Paco would remember, "the most beautiful thing that could have happened to me in my life as an artist is having met Camarón. No artist in history has moved me more than him."
In the world of flamenco there was no talk of anything other than these two revolutionaries who were giving a new air to the genre. But their influence did not extend much beyond the connoisseurs. However everything changed in 1973 when Paco recorded his album, Fuente y Caudal. The guitarist had almost finished it but there were not enough songs. So at the last moment he decided to call the musicians who accompanied him in the studio and record one last song. There was his brother Ramón on rhythm guitar, percussionist José Sánchez (who was known as Pepe Ébano) and bassist Eduardo Gracia. These latter two had participated in one of the biggest hits of that year in Spain, Te Estoy Amando Locamente by Las Grecas. It was a song that mixed gypsy voices with rock instrumentation and an irresistible melody. To the purists that seemed an abomination but Paco was impressed and did not hesitate to add a bassist, giving a totally new electric element to flamenco. So with that influence he played some rumba chords and started to improvise, in the manner of a jazz musician. The result was Entre Dos Aguas, one of the universal peaks of the guitar.
When the album was released, nobody seemed to pay much attention, but a famous Spanish radio and television broadcaster, Jesús Quintero, decided to strongly promote Paco. He did not think anything would happen but in a few months Paco’s music began to be heard everywhere and when in 1974 Entre Dos Aguas was released as a single, it spent 22 weeks among the top of the charts. There was no disco where it was not played, no radio station that did not put it on. Suddenly something unprecedented happened, a flamenco guitarist was a pop star. That enormous success caught him by surprise and generated a guilt complex before those he most respected, the flamenco musicians. He could not understand how he was so popular and Camarón was not. But, little by little, he saw it as an opportunity to make the genre more visible and achieve respect in the same terms as other genres. That is why his 1975 concert at the Teatro Real in Madrid was a true milestone, both in his career and in flamenco in general. That February 18 Paco de Lucía took to the stage with one of his guitars from the Conde brothers. It was a real revolution to see flamenco playing in the temple of classical music and the concert was a total success; later released as an album, entitled En vivo desde el Teatro Real [Live from the Teatro Real]. But not everyone was happy, the greatest giant of the classical guitar of the 20th century, Andrés Segovia said of him contemptuously "Paco de Lucía is neither flamenco nor musician, he only has agile fingers". Paco answered him in his own way, "I can play the Concierto de Aranjuez but he does not know how to play a buleria" - something that connected with the fundamental lesson instilled by his father, the importance of rhythm and measure - to which he added his lapidary phrase "the classics have a very nice sound, but they have no idea of rhythm".
1976 saw another one of his great classics appear, Almoraima; an album that contained the popular Rio Ancho. 1977 was one of the most important years of his career, his fame had already crossed borders and he played in Barcelona with Santana. In addition, Al Di Meola called him to collaborate on the legendary song Mediterranean Sundance. His approach to jazz musicians would lead him to discover the Spanish group Dolores, in whom he saw twin souls to embark on new sonic adventures. He would take them on tour, and he would end up recruiting the percussionist Rubem Dantas and the flautist / saxophonist Jorge Pardo for his band. It was also in 1977 when after recording Castillos de Arena, he separated for a few years from Camarón.
But perhaps the most important event of that year took place in the Spanish Embassy in Lima. There a party had been organized in which Paco, with his new group, shared the bill with Chabuca Granda. The great lady of Peruvian song appeared accompanied by the percussionist Caitro Soto, who played the Peruvian cajón, or box drum. Paco realized at once that this instrument was perfect for flamenco and his intuition was confirmed when Dantas grabbed it and played with Paco. At the end of the night the guitarist bought the instrument from Soto for 12,000 pesetas. When they landed in Madrid and he gave his first concerts with it, the cajón became part of "all flamenco houses in Spain".
His approach to jazz would culminate in 1979 when the first Guitar Trio was formed, along with John McLaughlin, with an acoustic Ovation, and Larry Coryell; Paco explained:"I was always curious to learn but, since I could not go to school, I did it together with other musicians, like jazz musicians ". But it was a hard school, Paco faced those improvisations out of sheer instinct, thanks to an almost supernatural ear. One day he asked Coryell, "Hey, Larry, how do you improvise?" Larry laughed and left thinking he was playing a joke, but Paco grabbed him and said "I'm talking seriously, I'm going crazy and my head hurts after every concert, how do you improvise?". Coryell could not believe it, but went on to explain, "well you know that if we play a chord that goes with this scale and you can play all these notes in this chord, when you pass to another chord you have other notes that go with that". Paco’s head did not hurt again when he learnt the different scales, but Coryell would be beaten forever by that extraterrestrial capable of playing with the leading jazz musicians simply by ear. The knowledge of the scales would give Paco wings and, at times, he seemed to levitate on stage without ever losing his flamenco roots. McLaughlin and Coryell are still wondering what Paco was doing with his right hand...
In 1980 they replaced Coryell with Di Meola and recorded the mythical Friday Night in San Francisco, which sold more than a million copies. In 1981, Solo Quiero Verte Caminar, the first album with his legendary sextet, with Dantas, Pardo, Carlos Benavent on bass, and his brothers Ramón, on the other guitar, and Pepe, on the palms and singing. That same year the reconciliation with Camarón took place and they brought out the magistral Como el Agua, in which the singer new guitarist, Tomatito, also collaborated.
The 80s were those of total consecration, with the live Live... One Summer Night and the magisterial Siroco of 1987, in which he pays homage to his childhood idol on the wonderful Gloria al Niño Ricardo. Paco had imposed his revolution and now he had become the mirror into which all new flamenco guitarists looked, drawing the unanimous admiration of the kings of flamenco, the gypsies. In 1991 he showed to Segovia that he could play the Concierto de Aranjuez, even though he was still incapable of reading a score.
In this final period Paco became untouchable, everybody admired and revered him, but his high demands of himself did not change at all. If after a concert he thought he had not played at his best level, he was destroyed, and the public's ovations fell on deaf ears, because of his worst critic; one with an exceptional ear, no love for anything that does not sound perfect and the person responsible for that measure, himself. His father instilled in him a desire for perfection that he could never forget, and as his fame and international recognition grew, those expectations became difficult to manage. Paco was number one and, therefore, could only play as number one. Something that led him to say that "the guitar is the daughter of the great whore", despite being one of the men who had loved her the most, and managing to transmit that love to the whole world.