Most Influential Flamenco Guitarists
Most Influential Flamenco Guitarists.
In this article I am going to talk about my most influential flamenco guitarists.
That is to say those flamenco guitarists who have been the key influences in my approach to flamenco.
Thus, it is a very personal account.
I am not one to tell other people who is or is not the most important flamenco guitarist.
There is in my opinion something of a tendency nowadays for people to expect absolute truths in flamenco and in life in general.
That’s OK but it is not the way I feel.
OK so let’s jump in.
First boyhood flamenco guitarists.
I must have been about 8 or 9.
My father sang flamenco and accompanied himself with a few basic chords.
He never tried to influence me.
On the contrary he let me go my own way.
He had quite a few records of flamenco singers.
I was already beginning to like the sound of the accompanying guitar.
At that time steel strung and electric guitar was starting to be all the rage, as was American style music.
The pop culture was taking off in Spain just like everywhere else.
But it didn’t speak to me.
Flamenco on the other hand was working its way into my system.
Best virus I ever got!
Sabicas maestro of Flamenco
Well, my father returned from one of his trips to the big city with a very special record indeed.
The cover title was simply “Flamenco Puro” and the guitarist had a simple one – word name: “Sabicas”.
Unlike our other flamenco records, this was solo guitar.
Lots of solo flamenco guitar tracks.
I don’t know if I can put into words the impact that Sabicas had on me.
It wasn’t just one thing.
So many things in that record started to cause quite an impact.
The very last thing was his extraordinary technique.
The music was reaching me in an immensely powerful way.
In several pieces there were waves of deep tragic emotion.
Conversely in the light hearted pieces you could feel the joy jumping out of the record player.
We had a very basic record player with its own built – in speaker.
It was all we needed for it gave me the music of Sabicas.
I listened to the record repeatedly and gradually I started to take in the virtuosity of his playing.
It felt to me as if Sabicas had no limits.
And yet this was very secondary.
Technique was most definitely at the service of the music and not the other way round.
I was extremely fortunate to see Sabicas live a few times and I even got his autograph.
I play a short section from Zapateado en Re by Sabicas on my Videos page
Alberto Velez, Juan Jimenez
About that time there was a fantastic and massively popular Spanish singer.
Her name was Marisol.
I would not say that she was a pop singer but she sang very popular Spanish songs in addition to flamenco.
Alberto Velez frequently accompanied Marisol.
Especially when she sang flamenco.
Alberto created introductions that perfectly suited each song.
Each variation or falseta as we call it was unique and clean and straightforward.
This influenced me.
I understood that what you do should be purposeful.
Everything that you play on the guitar should be meaningful.
Juan Jimenez is related, apparently.
Well, not really.
In flamenco we tend to refer to each other as cousin.
Juan was different to many other flamenco guitarists.
His playing was often quite delicate.
I remember specifically his Media Granaína which was gentle and sensitive.
Flamenco Guitarist Paco Peña
Paco Peña is absolutely one of the most influential guitarists for me personally.
When Paco first appeared on the concert stages it was clear that he was not just a flamenco guitarist.
Paco wanted to promote the entirety of flamenco not just the solo guitar.
Therefore, although his very first recitals may have been as a soloist very soon he presented his own flamenco group.
I say group rather than flamenco company.
This because his group which he called Flamenco Puro included Barrilito Flamenco Singer, Marga de Castilla y Faiquillo de Cordoba dancers and Paco himself.
So, it was a small group often called cuadro flamenco in Spanish.
The performances were, shall we say intimate.
Flamenco Puro was showing flamenco to the world very much in the style that people would perform in Andalusia.
I mean to say in gatherings of friends or in small venues.
It was not a great big highly polished show.
Flamenco as influential protagonist
Paco’s attitude was very humble.
He did not have a big stage personality.
Especially when playing solo he seemed to disappear.
I understood very quickly that Paco Peña was bringing flamenco to people and not bringing people to Paco Peña.
In a way you could say that Paco was not a big start.
Flamenco was the protagonist of his work on and off stage.
Now this worked very well for me.
It felt true and honourable.
I came from a family that had principals forged from the harsh life they had experienced in the wars.
In that environment Paco Pena’s comitment to authentic flamenco captured my interest.
The influence of Paco’s tone and compositions
As you know flamenco is not composed.
We understand of the structure and meaning of flamenco forms.
Each guitarist puts together their own arrangement based upon the form.
I guess you could say that Paco’s works were somewhat more organised than was typical.
Certainly, he improvised but at the same time the resultant music all made sense.
Paco’s tone was another magical element.
His guitar sounded both bell- like in the trebles and tremendously deep and gutsy in the bass.
These textures were an essential element of his flamenco guitar music.
In short, I found Paco Peña mesmerising.
In any of my sound tracks the influence of Paco Peña and my debt to his work is surely very obvious.
Other influential flamenco guitarists
The first names that spring to mind are Ramon Montoya and Niño Ricardo.
I never heard them live and it took me some time to find their recordings.
They were especially famous before I was born.
Nonetheless, Paco Peña included many of their falsetas and recordings.
Due to this I say that I came to know their music indirectly.
Likewise there were several very good guitarists who I was lucky to hear from time to time.
Mario Escudero, a contemporary of Sabicas was a very advanced concert player.
Indeed, many guitarists borrowed from his compositions.
Andres Batista was another very high standard flamenco guitarist.
He created very compelling compositions and I have studied several of these.
Paco de Lucía Key Influencer
I was and I wasn’t influenced by Paco de Lucía.
For many people Paco will be not just on of the most infuential flamenco guitarists. Rather they consider hi to be the most influential flamenco guitarist of all times.
He had been on the flamenco scene in Spain for quite some time before he became internationally famous.
Much of his early work was accompanying flamenco singers, notably his own brother Pepe.
However he was also building his reputation as a unique soloist.
While still in his teens he was a guitarist in the Jose Greco flamenco company, touring many countries.
At that very early time his stage name may have been Paco de Algeciras, after his birth place.
Internationally he hit it very big with his Rumba Entre Dos Aguas, recorded on his major solo debut album Fuente y Caudal.
The Rumba was popular, people could understand and enjoy it.
Sweet melodies and a velocity and virtuosity that few people had hitherto experienced.
Just about all flamenco guitarists set about trying to learn it from the recording.
I did so too under duress and rather half- heartedly.
I was convinced then that I would never have the sheer skill and crazy speed to be able to do the piece justice.
Indeed, I had no doubt that I would do this superlative piece an injustice.
At that time, we did not generally have the technical preparation for this kind of playing.
Paco de Lucía’s playing was so absolutely in advance of his time both in terms of skill and ideas.
I find it difficult to express to guitarists nowadays how impacting his work was.
My own position on the influence of this guitarist.
What I did do is listen to his recordings endlessly and travel significant distances to see him live.
I was understanding his message while acknowledging my limitations.
We must remember that was then.
Nowadays there are some extraordinarily virtuoso players and, in my opinion, they do a very good job of copying Paco’s pieces.
When I say that I am not influenced by this guitarist I mean that I do not dream of being him.
Furthermore, I do not focus exclusively on this technique.
Paco has explained many times in interviews that you can play much better flamenco that simply being fast and clever.