Heh… The 19th guitarist is being published on the 19th of the month! This means something!
Wait, no it doesn’t…
Well, it does mean that I’ve been at this for a while. In Internet Years, this site is now a grizzled old man. I publish these once per week and skipped just two weeks. That’s a long time, considering I expected to list just a few before I got bored.
I must say, it has been fun. You can read the list of featured guitarists (all of whom are better than Hendrix) by clicking this link. That link isn’t always updated as well as it should be but it’s pretty close and I try to get to that updating thing every week. Sometimes, I just don’t have the time.
Now, what is this list about? I’ve told you this before, but this could be the first time you’ve ever visited – so I’ll tell you again.
The unwashed mental midgets at Rolling Stone have made a number of lists. They’re not the only group of people who should have their fingers smashed with a ball-peen hammer and forbidden to type again. Lots of people make these lists. They’re just the ones I dislike the most, ’cause people consider them an authoritative source.
At the top of these lists, they put one Mr. Jimi Hendrix. That’s horrible. This mistake has permeated through society and now people think he was a great guitarist. They’re wrong. They’re horribly wrong.
The term greatest guitarist is a technical term. This should be measured objectively. The qualifications are ability to master the various techniques, understanding of music theory, versatility, innovation, ability to compose sound complex works, and consistency of quality – both in the studio and live.
It hasn’t got a damned thing to do with who we like best. It hasn’t got anything to do with who our favorite artists are. Those are subjective criteria and the term is “guitarist” and not “artist.” I’d have had no complaints (or at least far fewer) had they called him the greatest artist. But, when they call him the greatest guitarist, it’s personal and they’re doing many other actually great guitarists a disservice.
Many of the people on my list, and to be featured in the future, don’t get nearly the accolades they deserve. They’re overshadowed by the looming figure that is Hendrix when they are, by objective measurement, better than he was on his best day.
It’s not about who we like the best. It’s not about who we prefer to listen to. It’s not about who had the most hits. It’s not about popular sentiment. It’s about greatness defined as a technical skill and trying to be objective as humanly possible.
And, our next guitarist is just that. His worst day was more technically adept than Hendrix’s best day. And, like many on this list, you can change him around and place him higher or lower on the list. One thing that I don’t think is deniable is that he was a far more adept guitarist than Hendrix was.
#19 Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gómez
On the off-chance you know who he is, you probably know him better as one Paco de Lucía, the flamenco guitarist. And, you’d only be slightly wrong.
While he was quite adept at flamenco, he was actually (mostly) a neuvo flamenco (new flamenco) guitarist and was very innovative in that space. New flamenco is a mix of traditional flamenco with more modern styles – such as jazz, rumba, Latin, Middle Eastern, rock, Cuban, swing, etc…
Paco was was born in Spain, in 1947. In 2014, he died while vacationing with his family in Mexico. His father was Antonio Sánchez Pecino, who was also a famous flamenco guitarist and the father of Ramón de Algeciras and Pepe de Lucía, both well respected flamenco musicians and composers.
I think it’s safe to conclude that he was born into a musical family and was certainly influenced by the friends and family he was surrounded with. It’s also safe to say that his father was a major influence, to put it mildly.
Ol’ papa was a bigger stickler for practice than even TheBuddha is. Paco would be forced to practice for up to 12 hours per day, every day. His father wanted to ensure Paco’s success in music and, for what it’s worth, it worked. At one point, he even pulled his son from school so that he could concentrate on his musical education.
If you think the Classical Guitar Cabal is a big proponent of tradition, then you’d be correct. However, almost as big a stickler is the establishment of Flamenco Fanatics, and this establishment would be bucked by Paco. They wanted no part in this New Flamenco nonsense and some parts of flamenco were considered nearly sacred – until Paco arrived on the scene.
Though, I suppose some credit should go to his brother who taught Paco the complex falsetas of Ricadro. Paco, liking them very much, learned them relatively easily and then promptly decided to change them. This would piss people off, but then folks realized that this was actually pretty awesome and that it wasn’t quite the sacred cow they had previously assumed it was.
That’s a bit of a trend.
Not a whole lot of traditional flamenco players initially enjoyed Paco’s changing things up, mixing styles, and ‘fuera de serie’ (out of the ordinary) music. But, Paco was anything but ordinary and his skill was legendary.
Needless to say, by the time he was just 12, Ol’ Paco was winning national competitions and he was already on the radio when he was just 11 years of age. I suppose that being withdrawn from regular school and forced to practice for 12 hours a day will tend to do that. Go figure?
Paco was known for his picados being both fast and smooth. Picados are a runs, played not entirely dissimilar to arpeggios but are slightly different, and he was able to make them faster and smoother than most any other flamenco guitarist. He’d mix the picados with rasgueados (types of flamenco strumming) and make complex rhythms, often known for their staccato and seamless blending with abstract chords.
What are abstract chords? Well, think of ’em as chords that make sense with music theory, but nobody ever thought to put ’em together like that. Basically, he was inventing chords – though not the notes that went into them. He was inventing where and how they were played.
See, today we have vast amount of compute power and we can hit a button, wait a few seconds, and the computer will spit out every possible combination available on the fingerboard and tell you what the chord is and probably even tell you the optimal way to finger the chord. (Ha! I said finger! Yeah… I’m pretty much a five year old.)
Back then, they didn’t really have that option and there’s something like 113,000,000 possible combinations of fingerings on a 21 fret fingerboard – and that’s without adding in fancy things a double capo and only uses your 4 fingers! So, he was inventing shit as he went along – stuff that, to this day, still is as complex and novel as the day it was discovered/invented.
By the way, if you don’t want to add such constraints, you could possibly come up with a way to play something like 380,000,000,000,000,000,000 combinations with 24 frets but I’m pretty stoned so I’m not going to double check that math. The point is, it’s a lot and they didn’t have cell phones with built-in calculators back then!
Remember how I mentioned the Flamenco Fanatics? Well, they were none pleased. None. None pleased. Flamenco was to be played a certain way, with certain styles, with certain notes, and this system was perfect in every way! There shall be no tampering with this system.
Paco pretty much said, “Fuck you, bitches. Imma do what I want!” Well, presumably he said it in Spanish but I’m sure it’s a quote. I’d like to assume he then gave ’em the finger and proceeded to do just that – which is play what he wanted.
And he did…
Well, eventually he did. He had to get there before anyone would take him seriously. Around the age of 12, he was able to meet Sabicas. Just a few years later, he’d meet Ricardo Modrego. Both of them would be his mentors and would make music with him. Both of them should also probably be on this list of guitarists greater than Hendrix. Considering that I see no end of this list, it’s entirely possible that they’ll be featured.
In the 1960s, Paco was touring and performing with a flamenco troupe, playing for the famous dancer Jose Greco. It was there that he bumped into Sabicas again, while in New York, and was first introduced to Modrego. They’d not only be his mentors, but they’d all be great friends. It was they who urged Paco to start writing his own material. In fact, he’d record three albums with Modrego.
It was during this time that he’d spend touring that he got to have his earliest encounters with other flamenco greats – and not just guitarists. There quite a bit to what we call flamenco and I highly encourage people to spend some time learning about the dances, the singing, and the meaning. It’s a bit like what we call “classical music” and there’s lot of subtleties and variations that are encompassed by the term ‘flamenco.’
Seriously. Use your favorite search engine and learn about flamenco. It’s a lovely study and the exposure to the music will do you good. I damned near promise that it will do you good and I will explicitly promise that it won’t cause you any physical harm. Specifically with the guitar, it shares many of the techniques with what we call classical guitar and it’s a wonderful study.
I’d get into it deeper, but that’d take a whole book. In fact, there are books on the subject! However, you needn’t dust off your library card, you can just start here at Wikipedia. Flamenco has a long history and much of what you’re probably familiar with comes from Andalusian and Romani (gitano) peoples of Southern Spain.
By 1967, he’d released his first solo album and it was fairly traditional stuff BUT it was exceptionally well received. This was better than many other artists get, ’cause it pretty immediately got his skill recognized by other people in the flamenco world. He got many lucrative offers to tour as an individual but actually turned those down because he preferred to tour as a member of a group, which is something that makes sense when you realize that (as indicated above) flamenco is more than just a guitar.
Then came the 1970s…
In 1972, he released El duende flamenco de Paco de Lucía (The flamenco soul by Paco de Lucía) which was considered groundbreaking within the flamenco community and it was just as he was beginning to fuse flamenco with his love of jazz.
It’s hard to tell but that may not have gone over so very well, except he followed that up with Fuente y caudal on which his most popular song (Entre de aguas aka Between Two Waters) was initially released. And, oh my… This was not just a rumba, but it also featured an electric bass guitar. And, as it turns out, was insanely popular and this meant that the Flamenco Fanatics couldn’t really complain in public about it. And, at that point, he was truly embraced by the flamenco establishment. (Probably because he was selling lots of albums.)
Sort of related, his album titled Entre de aguas was one of the first commercial CDs sold, in like 1981. Not just one of the first music CDs sold, but one of the first commercial CDs sold. Given the cost of CD players back then, I’d be pretty surprised if it sold many copies.
Either way, he’d go on fusing and jazzing the fuck out of flamenco. He’d not just mix ’em all up, he’d encourage everyone else to do the same. He didn’t just start one genre – he started many genres. These days, people will fuse flamenco with anything and it all goes back to him and to the influences he had who told him to buck the trend, write his own stuff, and to keep playing.
You’ll hear flamenco influences in many things, from neo-classical metal to Cuban swing music. You’ll find it mixed in with a whole bunch of genres and you’ll find people taking the techniques and expanding them to their own genres – even making up whole new micro-genres as they go along.
And, little did you know (probably) that you can thank one Mr. Paco de Lucía for that. Of course, that’s not actually enough to get onto my list of guitarists better than Hendrix. No, that’s not nearly enough. I’ve invented countless styles of music and they all sucked. Paco, on the other hand, distinctly didn’t suck.
I can cover him but it’s a lot like work. Many of you have heard me cover his most famous track and there just isn’t much call for it at the types of shows I play. Still, if someone in the audience ever cries out for some Paco, I’ll be ready. Yes, yes I will be…
But, let’s actually hear why he’s on this list. That’s why you’re here, right?
As he’s not well known, this may be the only song of his that you’ve ever heard.
Well, you’ve probably never seen it played – unless you’re really into discovery or have some sort of interest in either Paco or flamenco. So, even if you have seen it before, you can still feast your eyes and ears again:
If you’re curious, that’s a brilliant Brazilian rosewood solo flamenco guitar made by one of the Conde family. I believe that specific model was made by Faustino Conde in 1975 and carries the number 7 on it. I’m not sure where 1 through 6 are, but #7 has not (as far as I know) yet come up for auction from the estate, nor is it in a museum.
Anyhow, if you watch him play, you’ll see the speed and fluidity of his picados that I mentioned early on in this article. He appears to be deceptively unhurried and still plays exceptionally fast. How does he do that? He does that by having confidence in his ability because he’s also put exceptional numbers of hours into practice.
Next up is one of my favorite pieces. It’s just a short piece but it’s insanely complicated. It’s called Tico Tico and you’ll get to see his famous mix of picados and rasgueados.
Go ahead, Jimi. Let’s see you play that. I’ll wait…
Seriously, that’s difficult. If you dedicate many years to learning to play the guitar, you might just be able to learn to master one of Paco’s songs. Just one… So, if you’re going to master one song from Paco, I recommend that one.
Next? Don’t believe BBC, they’re a bunch of damned liars. They gave it the wrong title, but that’s okay!
Now, you get to see him bringing it all home. You’ll see him playing with all of the above, throwing in golpe, and pushing the flamenco boundaries – while still retaining the flavor that is flamenco and throwing in some of his bizarre chord shapes for good measure.
And Hendrix played an off-key version of the Star Spangled Banner…
So, there you have it. Yet another guitarist who’s better than Hendrix. You might not even like flamenco but, again, this isn’t about what you (or I) like. This is about people who’ve mastered their instrument and done things with it that have made them tower over all other guitarists. And one such person, is Paco.
I hope you enjoyed this and, like usual, I’m going to leave you with one for the road. I’d like to show you a quick blurb about flamenco techniques by one of my favorite modern flamenco guitarists, Ben Woods. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!