Paco De Lucia died today.
In public, I remain stoic. I reflect on the fact that the nature of life is terminal and that even though losing Paco is painful that it is a much better alternative to him never having been here at all.
In private though, I am heartbroken and this is a devastating loss to me.
When I was growing up, I saw a transcription for Al DiMeloa’s Mediterranean Sundance that included Al’s (and part of Paco’s) solo. When I finally heard the Friday Night in San Francisco recording, I was knocked out. Much of my senior year was spent getting DiMeola’s wicked picking together but the stuff that really grabbed me was Paco’s playing. It had all the speed and fire of DiMeola and a depth to it that was other worldly.
Years later when DiMeola, McLaughlin and De Lucia toured again I got to see them at Boston’s Symphony Hall. I was six rows back and the tickets cost me a small fortune, but, in retrospect it was a moment I was waiting my whole life for.
DiMeola sat on the left hand side of the stage with his Ovation guitar plugged into a mini-refrigerator sized rack mount unit. McLaughlin sat on a piano bench on the right going into a small Sony digital unit. De Lucia sat in the middle with a mike on the guitar. I understand that privately the men did not speak to each other on tour and I do not know if there was an argument before the show, but Paco came to the stage that day as a matador. He played circles around two world class players and then drove it home. People may have had opinions about who did what before the show, but the only name I heard after the show was Paco (except for my friend Scott Crosby who was on a McLaughlin kick at the time but he can certainly be forgiven ; ) )
In Flamenco, there is a concept called Duende. In its simplest possible description – it’s basically the goosebump moment. The moment that the hair stands up on the back of your neck and all of your attention gets dragged into the moment. Paco could summon duende, and it was always lurking behind every nuance of his playing.
He used flamenco for a vehicle for self-expression and had such a unique voice that, starting with his work with Camarón, he created new forms and new definitions of Flamenco. He is also the guy who brought the cajón to Flamenco.
Paco used technique as a means to an end, “I have always found that the more technique you have the easier it is to express yourself. If you lack technique you lose the freedom to create.” He combined a number of existing techniques in a manner and accuracy that had never been done before. He set a standard by which all other players would be judged. He inspired legions of other guitarists and musicians who all strove for that power.
There is basically Flamenco before Paco and Flamenco after Paco.
There will be many players in his wake who will technically dominate the instrument but there will never be another Paco.
For my money, the greatest player that ever walked the Earth.
Paco De Lucia has left the building. And the building is much smaller than before.