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Farewell: Paco de Lucia

12.21.47-2.26.14

Paco de Lucia
Paco de Lucia (left) and John McLaughlin, 1987

Paco was a radical. He never broke the rules of his musical traditions, but he definitely bent them to accommodate his new perception of harmony and rhythm; he was the first guitarist to integrate improvisation into the mainstream of flamenco. He was heavily criticized by the purists for playing with me, but purists are idiots, and subsequently Paco was lauded for further developing flamenco. He was on the leading edge and had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. What truly impressed me about his playing was his impeccable sense of time and rhythm, and the imagination in his falsetas.

I’ve loved flamenco music since I was 14-the opening piece on the very first Mahavishnu Orchestra album (“Meeting of the Spirits”) is heavily influenced by flamenco-and I actually wanted to become a flamenco guitarist. Where I lived, in England, this was impossible. I was introduced to Paco by hearing him on French radio and I was able to contact him, and we actually met shortly after. I saw the other side of Paco then, that he was a genial person with an irresistible sense of humor. When I had the opportunity to play with Paco in 1978, it was one I couldn’t ignore since I had been unable to find a teacher in flamenco when I was young. I proposed the idea of using three guitarists, the other being Larry Coryell. Paco loved the idea, and we began work right away.

Paco was aware of my love and admiration for his traditions. From the very beginning it was a dream collaboration. I believe we brought a certain complicity to the music, which was from the outset a kind of fusion. It combined Paco’s flamenco brilliance with the jazz side of acoustic guitar from Larry and me, and brought Paco into the world of improvisation, which is what he was truly searching for. We had some fun times too. Once in 1979, when Larry was in the trio, we were somewhere in Europe on tour, and the three of us were onstage. The music was just amazing this night, all three of us were really burning, and it got so good at one point that Larry stood up from his chair and started dancing! It was so spontaneous and funny, Paco and I started laughing out of control!

Paco was a deep, funny, spontaneous human being. Traveling together we talked about everything. I spoke to him about my research into the “inner world,” the search I’ve always had for self-discovery, and he would speak to me about the unspoken traditions in flamenco and the world of the Gypsy in Andalucia. Of course he would speak about his continuing search into music and his desire to enrich the flamenco traditions, in particular the harmonic possibilities. An indication of how I revere Paco is in one of my tracks to be released on an upcoming CD. The title is “El Hombre Que Sabia”; translated, it means “The Man Who Knew.” To me it has real depth.

I know this sounds very cliché, but in the end I believe only love knows how to find the way, and that was it. That was the excitement, the risks, and the affection and admiration that existed between all of us.

Originally Published