MADRID: Paco de Lucia, one of the world’s greatest guitarists, has died in Mexico. The virtuoso performer, who dazzled audiences with his lightning-speed flamenco rhythms and note-bending finger work, passed away Wednesday, aged 66. Family members in de Lucia’s native town of Algeciras, Spain, were quoted as saying the artist died of a heart attack. He began to feel unwell while on a beach in Cancun and died while en route to hospital.
A family statement published in several Spanish dailies said “Paco lived as he wished and died playing with his children beside the sea.”
Francisco Sanchez Gomez, de Lucia’s birth name, was best-known for flamenco but also experimented with other genres. One of his most famous recordings, “Friday Night in San Francisco,” was recorded with guitarists John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola in 1981.
During the 1960s and 1970s, he formed an extremely popular duo with late flamenco singer legend Camaron de la Isla, with the two working together on 10 records. His 1973 rumba “Entre Dos Aguas” (Between Two Waters) became one of Spain’s most popular recordings.
De Lucia was awarded the Culture Ministry’s Fine Arts Gold Medal in 1992 and the prestigious Prince of Asturias prize in 2004. He was granted a Doctor Honoris Causa degree by Berklee College of Music in 2010.
His last studio album “Cositas Buenas” (Good Things) earned him his first Latin Grammy in 2004, while his 2012 live recording “En Vivo” (Live) received a second.
Born Dec. 21, 1947, he was immersed in flamenco music from an early age, with his father, Antonio, and two brothers playing guitar and a third brother an accomplished flamenco singer. He took his artistic name from his Portuguese mother, Lucia.
Thanks to his impoverished upbringing, de Lucia’s formal schooling ended when he was 11, and he was soon out playing flamenco in local bars. At 14 he made his first record with his brother Pepe, “Los Chiquitos de Algeciras” (Kids of Algeciras).
Although de Lucia had no formal musical training, from an early age he impressed people with his remarkable dexterity, hand strength and technique that allowed him to produce machine-gun-like “picado” riffs.
Arguably the most influential flamenco artist ever, he infused new life into the form and modernized it by introducing influences from jazz, bossa nova, classical and salsa. Although this drew criticism from flamenco purists, de Lucia defined his own sound by staying true to his flamenco roots no matter what he played.
Formed in 1981, his own sextet includes bass, drums and saxophone. In addition to his work with McLaughlin and Di Meola, his high-profile collaborations included work with guitarist Larry Coryell, and pianist Chick Corea, who joined Paco’s sextet for the album “Ziryab” in 1990.
“I have always found that the more technique you have the easier it is to express yourself,” he said in 2004. “If you lack technique you lose the freedom to create.”