|Francisco Sánchez, a/k/a Paco de Lucía (picture: ABC)|
Francisco Sánchez's passing will leave us without any new adventures of Paco de Lucía, the shivers when he appeared on the stage, the ecstasy at the end of a concert. It will divide music lovers between those of us who saw him live and those who didn't. These will have to make do with a sizable amount of recordings and video footage he leaves behind, evidence of the several lives that Francisco Sánchez was able to fit in Paco's: Francisco Sánchez was just 66 when he died, but Paco had been a working musician for over fifty years. So much for Andalusians being lazy and all that.
For me, a child in the Seventies, my first impression of Paco, on TV, was that of a charismatic, handsome, and very serious-looking guy. He had long hair, parted on the side, and although he dressed in a contemporary way, he seemed to follow Seventies fashion from a prudent distance; still in his twenties, he was young too. And he played very fast.
Paco turned Flamenco from a black-and-white, gloomy, funny-smelling music, played and sung by old, stern people, into something more colourful and brighter. Musically, he was heavier than the rumba and Flamenco-lite bands of the time, but, interestingly, his big leap into the public arena did come with a little rumba. "Entre dos aguas" (a reference to De Lucía's hometown of Algeciras, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic), a tune that Paco had been working on for a while, was a last-minute filler in the LP Fuente y Caudal, with prominent electric bass and bongo — then a rarity in Flamenco —, and an opening phrase that seems to sing Las Grecas's “Te estoy amando locamente”, a popular hit at the time (which he quotes again in another tune from the same album). Interestingly, if another hit of that time, Los Marismeños's "Carambita", had some similarities with "Entre Dos Aguas" too, it's because Paco actually plays in it.
|Paco on TVE|
|Carnegie Hall bill (1972)|
|Camarón looks in awe at|
a falseta by Paco
In 1970 Paco played solo at the Palau de la Música in Barcelona, as part of the celebrations for Beethoven's bi-centennial and the 25th anniversary of Bartok's passing; in the following year, he would play the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid. Still in his early twenties, he shed a few conventions which may seem trivial today, like growing his hair and performing with no jacket on, and some others that actually affect the music, such us playing with his right leg crossed over the left, or dropping the guitar neck to a horizontal position. It is also at this time that he changed his instrument, from the usual Flamenco-style guitar to a sort of hybrid of that (in size) and the classical (as regards wood types), always through the expert hands of guitar makers Hermanos Conde.
As Paco himself has told, things changed dramatically after "Entre dos aguas" was released. There were more gigs, more money, more public visibility, fame. In those circumstances, he was invited to play Teatro Real in Madrid, an event loaded with a symbolism as absurd as it was real. This was Spain in 1975, when a young Flamenco player entered a house of musical chastity and order, in a country whose ruling classes were certainly more about chastity and order than about music. That, besides the patronizing glare of the classical music world towards this peasants' music. Only two years later, he would get Al di Meola's invitation to play on his Elegant Gypsy followed by the collaborations with John McLaughlin and Chick Corea. This would turn him into an international star, the kind of musician that drags crowds into venues regardless of their preferred musical style, people like Piazzolla or Keith Jarrett, whose audiences have wanted to hear them, almost regardless of what they do.
|Paco gets some help from his older brother, Ricardo, at Teatro Real, Madrid, on February 18th, 1975.|
The theatre was so overcrowded that the audience flooded the stage.
|Yepes's harsh words for Paco's|
take on Concierto de Aranjuez
El Cultural-ABC, 20/12/91
(Click to expand)
Even so, Paco got over all this, and also managed to leave an important legacy behind, giving worldwide relevance to Flamenco, creating a demand for this kind of Flamenco guitar virtuoso, and establishing a type of band, with electric bass, Peruvian cajón — which he actually introduced in Flamenco — and wind instruments, which, as conventional as it may look now, it didn't exist before him. With no formal music education at all, only with his very capable hands and ears, an staggering amount of work, and clear and fast intelligence, he blazed his own trail. His luck, and ours, is that there are so many of us ready to follow him and enjoy those musical worlds. Or, like his colleague Manolo Sanlúcar said, "listening to Paco, the novice listener will be enchanted, and the expert will go crazy".
The second aspect would be his intelligence. As much as he insisted that everything that happened to him was due to sheer chance, there are things, from the careful staging of his concerts, to the realization, early in his career, and perhaps because he was a keen fisherman, that to hook an audience you need to give them some bait. His remarks about the shows with McLaughlin and Di Meola, "sometimes it felt like a circus, and that was very appealing to people", are significant in that respect, and he can be seen laughing at the end of "show-off" fast passages. Comments about his shyness are many too, but there are quite a few interviews where Paco doesn't bite his tongue, and speaks frankly about delicate issues (even if he doesn't go as far as the 1976 interview with Jesús Quintero, after which a bunch of fascist extremists tried to break his hands in a busy street in Madrid).
Finally, there's his amazing virtuosity as a guitar player. On the one hand, he is an extremely expressive player who almost sings on the instrument, probably due to his frustrated childhood dream of becoming a cantaor (listen to what he does on "Río Ancho" from 1:06 onwards). His innovations harmony-wise are also talked about, but they seem to be only in the context of Flamenco, like in these sevillanas. Personally, where I think Paco is really astounding, is in the rhythmic side of his music. This is especially evident when he plays accompanied only by palmeros (hand-clappers) or percussionists. Just they way he moves on the chair makes it clear that the beat was his first priority. Attached to this, there's the almost super-natural facet of his playing: his hand coordination. At whatever speed he played, even though his right hand was usually close to the bridge, where strings are harder to play, and regardless of whatever he did with his left hand, he always sounded impossibly clean.
This is a cliché, and possibly one to avoid at all costs, but it is true that Francisco Sánchez is gone and Paco de Lucía is still here. In a few months, there will be a new, posthumous CD, devoted to copla, an old genre of Spanish song. If Paco could remove Flamenco from its touristy, stale odour, he could well do the same with copla, and give the final push to what Carlos Cano started before him, and wash off the presumed, and sometimes real, cosiness of this genre and some of its artists with Franco's regime. In any case, it will be almost impossible to judge this record with any sort of fairness.
After that, all his disciples and his fans will have to get used to a new landscape, to a new kind of light, to the absence of an absolute, almost infallible reference in a musical genre that is the result of centuries of slow simmering among different peoples, in southern Spain, between the last bit of the Mediterranean and the beginning of the Atlantic, and which Paco de Lucía took, in such a masterful way, to the world.
Rest in peace, Francisco Sánchez. Eternal thanks, Paco de Lucía.
Alternative compilation of Paco's music on YouTube
There's a new documentary on Paco by his own son, Curro Sánchez, coming later in the year. In the mean time, there are three titles worth seeking on line:
Note: the chronology in the article is based on the book included in the boxed set Integral de Paco de Lucía (Universal 0602498653914, 2003), by José Manuel Gamboa and Faustino Núñez.