Paco de Lucía has died at the age of 66. By all accounts he spent his last moments on a beach in Mexico, where he suffered a heart attack.

There is little I can say that hasn’t already been said about Paco, so I won’t try to recap his career here or write his obituary. I’ve never felt so devastated by the death of someone I didn’t know personally, and that’s because he had as great an effect on my life as he did on the lives of thousands or millions of others.

paco_60sMy history with Paco de Lucía goes back a long, long time. I first saw him play in 1989 or 1990 in a concert at Carnegie Hall that featured Sabicas, Paco, and a 12-year-old (or thereabouts) Jeronimo Maya. It was a spectacular show, and clearly what we were witnessing was the old guard, the reigning master and the next generation.

25 years later Paco’s influence on the current generation is as great as it ever was. As monumental a talent as Sabicas was, by the time of his death his influence was waning. As I write this, though, Paco’s influence can be heard in every living player. As a talent and phenomenon he was to the flamenco guitar what Jordan was to basketball, but he also revolutionized the style and changed it forever.

In retrospect it seems like a logical progression – play the instrument better than it’s ever been played before and write music that’s more sophisticated than what’s been heard before; collaborate with the best young singer and musicians in flamenco; open up your ears to the world around you and play with harmony in a new way; borrow instruments, players and sounds from jazz and rock; change your world. After Paco there was no going back.

paco2When I first moved to Spain in 1991 I had been playing for four years and thought I was pretty good. My first serious teacher there, a young Gypsy guitarist named Juan Fernandez, said to me ‘what you’re playing used to be flamenco, but it’s not anymore. We’ll have to start from scratch.’ Looking back I realize that what he taught me in those first months was the flamenco version of how to swing, and this was a direct result of what Paco had wrought. I had heard Paco’s record Siroco and while I recognized it as flamenco it also sounded like an alien playing some instrument I had never heard before, but listen to any of Paco’s early recordings and then listen to Siroco, which is just Paco and some percussion (and a lot of reverb), and you’ll hear what I mean.

paco3It was Paco that made me want to play flamenco and I think that pretty much every guitarist who wasn’t born with a flamenco guitar in his hands will say the same. But his music didn’t just speak to those of us who love flamenco. He filled halls with people who had no idea what flamenco was. You didn’t have to understand flamenco, or music, to be moved by him. And as a result of Paco’s genius a worldwide audience became aware of flamenco.

I was lucky enough to see him play another half-dozen or so times after that first Carnegie Hall concert, and I always had this strange feeling of awe at the idea that this Paco was a real person. That this music that just blows me away actually comes from the mind and hands of a living man. The last time I saw him play was in Los Angeles. The sound was terrible and I could hardly hear his guitar, which didn’t really matter so much because all the music was already in my head and my brain just filled in the notes for me as I watched the master for what would turn out to be the last time.

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18 Responses to “Remembering a Legend”

  1. Jerry says:

    Kai, nice write-up on Paco. I can only imagine/hope he is now finally reunited with his great friend and singer, Camaron – that would have to be one of the best flamenco reunions. He continued to influence so many people who knew of his music, even up until his untimely passing. His music in every palo, will span generations, without question. Rest in Peace Paco, you will be missed by many.

  2. Michael Rooney says:

    when i heard of Paco’s passing i was quite upset and then after a while i watched and listened to his Aranjuez Adagio with the symphony and wept for this unparallelled artist that touched us all so deeply..thanks for the remembrance Kai…

  3. Fernando says:

    Kai, beautiful words, I am still in shock, I keep watching videos or listening to his music and I refuse to accept his loss. A giant among giants, a humble person with such a sense of “duende”, a real Master. Rest in peace Paco, we will all going to miss you.

    Here is a link to some of Paco’s reflections (in Spanish), enjoy:



  4. La Música, El Arte, El Flamenco y sobretodo la Guitarra están mudos y llenos de dolor.
    Se nos a ido uno de los mejores si no el mejor de los guitarristas de todos los tiempos. Para mi un dios.
    As sido y seras una persona que me as dado alegría de vivir, a mi como a tantas y tantas personas con tu música, con tu creatividad inagotable, con esa sensibilidad que solo tu tienes tocando una guitarra.
    Siempre estarás vivo dentro de cada uno de nosotros los que amamos la música y la guitarra.

  5. Joao Ernani F Filho says:

    The duendes are crying.

  6. Stephen hill says:

    Well said Kai. I remember our travels in Spain in 1988, Paco was pretty present for us both in those days. It came as a shock to me and took me right back to thise years ago when I was learning my flamenco.

  7. Abe Galan says:

    Thank you for remembrance. Your words are more heartfelt than an obituary or recap of his career. His music is all I listened to for months. He defines Flamenco just as much as he defines magic to me.
    His great loss is felt here in Hawaii.

  8. Thanks Kai, beautiful write up .

  9. JRP says:

    I had the same experience in Los Angeles during Paco’s last visit; horrible sound etc. Perhaps it was the same show. It didn’t matter. It was the first and only time I would see this most incredible person. He will always hold a special place in my heart and soul. Rest in peace Paco.

  10. dave blakey says:

    Paco’s death is crushing. Thanks for the well written tribute.
    I may have to disagree with the Michael Jordon or Sabicas comparisons. With all due respect, people are already comparing Lebron with MJ. The Jimmie Hendrix, Charlie Parker, whoever
    of flamenco guitar? He simply outlived and continued his
    supremacy until the end. Really uncomparable and he went out
    on top.


    Dave Blakey

  11. Oscar Valdez says:

    I had the pleasure of seeing Paco in concerts dating back to the late seventies in Mexico City with his brother Ramon and in every concert he gave in Los Angeles, California from 1985 to 2004 . I served as interpreter for John Mc Laughlin and Al Di Meola when they played in Mexico City in 1981. Because of this, I had the pleasure and the honor to spend time with Paco, John and Al during the 6 or 7 days they spent in Mexico. Paco, John and Al were very happy to sign my Guitar Player magazine that had the three of them on the cover . The magazine had come out two to three months before they arrived in Mexico. Al, Paco and John signed some of the records that I had in my collection at the time and the poster for the Mexico concert. Al and John were very nice to everyone in Mexico in 1981. But Paco was very warmly received by everyone in Mexico and it wasn’t necessarily because he spoke the same language. It was his genuine humility and grace that endeared him to everyone he came into contact with. I remember seeing some fans offering Paco an expensive wine or expensive cigarettes and cigars and Paco was very quick to point out that some Delicados (Filterless cigarettes) and tequila would suffice. As the years passed, I continued to see Paco and his wonderful musicians at his concerts and was always fortunate enough to go backstage to say hello to Paco and take pictures with him. When I introduced family or friends to Paco everyone walked away from meeting him in total awe of not only his incredible musical ability but his gente and humble spirit. One of the most memorable moments spent with Paco was when my wife, Blanca, and I were backstage with Paco when my wife was pregnant with our son, Michael. As we took pictures with Paco I remember telling him “Paco, my son will be born soon and he is going to be a guitarist too”. Without missing a beat Paco turned to me and said “Ay, otro loco” (another crazy man) we all laughed and had a great time. The memories with Paco will be with me forever and so will his music. Paco, thank you for sharing your art, your soul with all the world. We are so much richer for having had you in our lifetime.
    Ole para siempre mi querido Paco!!!
    Oleeeeeeee !!!!!!!!!!

    Oscar J. Valdez

  12. Oscar Valdez says:

    Paco’s influence in my life as a guitarist will be with me always ..
    Ole , Paco !!!
    Ole !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oscar J. Valdez

  13. Ravi Bedi says:

    I saw him back in the early 80s in London. I have followed his playing constantly since the late 1970s till today. I feel that I have lost a very close friend because his spirit has been constantly with me through his music. He has in a very real sense been a part of my life. Like many of you I have found the last week a very emotional time and something difficult to explain to others. I am happy that he was with his loved ones when God took him back. He gave his all. He worked so hard and pushed himself too much for us, his followers. We should ask for no more. We hear his smile and see his face as we listen. God bless you our brother Paco de Lucia.

  14. Bob wirtz says:

    Mucho gusto Paco mucho gusto

  15. David Benedict says:

    Farewell our most inspirational friend. God speed.


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