The Matchless Guitar Trio: Paco de Lucia / Al Di Meola / John Mc.Laughlin

“Guitar Player” (March, 1980) Interview


Fragment 1


1) Paco, do you think that your participation in this tour signals a possible new path for flamenco in general?

de Lucia: Yes, it's what I'm trying to do. I'm very glad to be here, to try to further my music.


2)Have you succeeded in being influenced musically by this association?

de Lucia: Yes, because I play guitar not for me, but for flamenco. I don't want to be a star, or a rich man. I am working for my village, for my country, for my music, for the tradition of the art form, and I want to make the music better, always better. These two are helping me do that.


3) Can you specify the way in which they are influencing you?

de Lucia: The harmony. In my music, we are very simple. In the phrygian mode, there are simple scales and harmonies with heavy emotion and tradition. With these two I am learning all kinds of new harmonic and melodic forms. We do not have as much time as we would like on the road to exchange things, except during performances, but I will put it in my head, and go home later, and I will play what I have learned.


4) What do you see for the future of flamenco?

de Lucia: I cannot see ahead two meters you know? I live the moment, the second. To make the future is to live every day, every second. But joining these two men is a step. They asked, "Do you want to do this?" and it was a very quick decision for me to say yes.


5) Do you think that there will be a resistance among flamenco traditionalists to this sort of experimentation?

de Lucia: Of course. There are two kinds of flamencos, the old, traditional flamenco, and the new, young kind. The old ones cannot accept the change, and they say their way is pure. But pure remains for me to play what I feel at the moment, always with respect for the roots. It's not a problem for me whether they accept it or not. lt's something I forgot a long time ago.

Di Meola: I think a lot of them are jealous that he's taken this step. He's not leaving flamenco; he's expanding it. He was the first one to do it successfully, and it took a lot of guts. Paco and I first recorded together three-and-a-half-years ago. If any other flamenco player has really stepped out of the traditions since that time, I'm not aware of it. Paco told me that he'd never done anything like that, so there must have been some fright involved. I was frightened, too, but that makes me want to do it even more. I want to learn from Paco. I want to learn from John. It can be frightening, because we think so highly of one another.


Fragment 2


6) With the support of bass and drums, a guitarist can usually backoff and relax once in a while. Is it more difficult for each of you playing as a trio? Do you have more responsibilities?
de Lucia: Not more responsibilities, but a different kind of responsibility.
McLaughlin: There is none of what you say, the taking a break.You cannot relax in the sense of taking time out. Yes, the solo is extremely important, and one must be inventive, but at the same time, the accompaniment is at least as difficult to do well. And what we're doing would only work with acoustic guitars.
Di Meola: It's something that you don't get a chance to do as often when you're playing electric in a band.
McLaughlin: In a sense you have to concentrate more in the art of accompaniment. In a solo you have only pure ideas, but in accompaniment you listen to ideas and, at the same time, play something that can support and encourage the soloist to go further. There is no letting up. But that's very good. The rhythms are there, but they're more subtle.

7) What does it take to play this kind of music?
McLaughlin: I think it takes more intelligence than other types, but it also takes more heart. Playing acoustic music in a group is [searches for a word], man [laughs]. Most of what we're doing involves interchange, interplay. rapport. Interaction -that's really what it's all about, isn't it?

8) Why is all of this being done with guitars? Why not with flutes?
Di Meola: Something similar has been done before with piano. Like Herbie Hancock and Chick did something like this. But what we're doing is visual- you can see what we're doing. That's one thing. And the sounds are created with the actual flesh. On a piano, something is hitting the string other than the actual flesh. There's something about seeing that direct contact in a guitar performance.

9) John, you mentioned that this collaboration could only work with acoustic guitars. Why is that?
McLaughlin: Because the acoustic guitar has a quality that does not exist in any other instrument in the world. It embraces another guitar, from anywhere, from any style. That just cannot exist with electric guitars-it wouldn't work; it's as simple as that. The timbre, the sonority-I can't really say the name for it because the word doesn't exist, but it's a unique quality. You can get any two guitar players together, and they will take each other in. People do this all the time, simply because it sounds good.
Di Meola: You can't strum an electric the way we strum acoustics. You can switch from rhythm to lead very comfortably on acoustic, but not on electric. It's easier to have a conversation on acoustic.
McLaughlin: That's it-the acoustic guitar listens well.
de Lucia: This tour is a victory for the acoustic guitar.
Di Meola: With acoustics we develop more of a feeling. Like I'm not a flamenco guitarist, and Paco's not a jazz guitarist, but we can feel each other's feelings. I feel Latin music.

10) Could you generalize about how much of your performance is improvisation?
Di Meola: Percentage-wise? Sixty percent, maybe fifty.
McLaughlin: I'd say more. Even with the written things, there is a constant modification going on, variations on the themes. This is taking place on different levels. On a solo it's more evident, but every night there are variations being made on the accompaniment as well, on the small things. It's at a very subtle level, and it's constant.

Fragment 3

11) Each of you holds the guitar as if you've known it for a long time.
McLaughlin: The guitar is the hardest woman I ever knew, the most challenging- every night, really. It's the most demanding.

12) Have any of you made many suggestions to the others about playing things in different ways?
Di Meola: Yeah, at various times during the tour we've sat down and fought [laughs]. I think we all feel free to express ideas.
McLaughlin: You have to feel free, but within the context of taste-empathy, to use that much abused word. The interaction is certainly changing us as individuals, and I welcome it. Paco and Al play in their own ways, and they're very different than me. But they play things that are very beautiful, things that affect me, thlngs that are completely other than myself. It inspires me.
Di Meola: I could hear John's background-not just his musical background, but where he comes from, and it's the same with Paco.
McLaughlin: Al and I had the same idea-to play with Paco. I heard Paco on the radio, and it was love at first hearing. I said, "I have to play with this man, and that's all I know." And so I looked for him until I found him.

13) Paco, before you started playing this new music, were you listening to fusion players- John McLaughlin, or Al Di Meola?
de Lucia: I never listened to other kinds of music, only flamenco. My philosophy of life was around flamenco only, a very closed tradition. I looked at it not so much as music, but more as a kind of life, a way of living. It's something strange, but I never used to think of myself as playing music. I was living a special kind of life, flamenco. I thought of myself as a guitarist, but not so much a musician. I come from a long tradition in my family of people immersed in flamenco, and it's only been recently- about seven years ago-that I've considered myself as a musician, beyond guitar.

14) What happened at that time?
de Lucia: I worked with a jazz musician, a saxophone player. I played flamenco, and this guy played jazz, and we kind of made a blend. Doing "Mediterranean Sundance" with Al on Elegant Gypsy [Columbia, 34461] was the first time I really became aware of the possibilities. On this tour I had to learn a lot, and I had to start thinking about harmony, and chords, and many scales, and I didn't always sleep well. Now I can sleep, I'm more free, more comfortable. Now I don't have to think. Thinking is the worst thing in improvisation. You need only feeling. Forget everything. Only feeling. Try to fly.

15) Al, if Paco had been a more traditional flamenco player, would you have sought him out?
Di Meola: I'm not sure. I did know that his technique was a lot better than most.

Fragment 4

16) Are there limitations to the group?
de Lucia: We are playing all this time to see if, maybe on one day out of a month, we can play completely free. The limitation is how much you have to work to get that one moment of really being happy.
McLaughlin: What are the limitations? Your own inability, your own incapacity, your own lack of inspiration-as Paco says, you work, you fight against these limitations in the hope that you have one night where you fly like an eagle. And when that happens, it makes everything worthwhile. That moment of feedom is the happiest thing in the world, the most satisfying, the most of everything you can think of.
Di Meola: You work all your life to get that moment
McLaughlin: Worldwide, there are so many factors involved. You feel tired, or the moon is in Venus or somewhere-who knows? I don't know, but I think that there must be a million factors that we're not aware of. There's the problem of totally forgetting all your knowledge and experience, so that you play totally spontaneously. The most difficult thing to do is to forget everything you know, and that's what's necessary for those nights. The muse will come when she wants. If you're there, and you can share it, that's the most beautiful thing.

17) Would you consider that state to be the essence of true improvisation?
McLaughlin: To really improvise, to say something that you feel at the moment, is the most difficult thing in the world. If you play what you know, then it's not real. To truly improvise requires you to not know anything, in a sense. It's a very difficult and obtuse point. You want to have your knowledge available to you, but the most beautiful thing is to play something for the first time in your life. In this state of mind you see everything before you, every possibility, and you feel that you have the ability to move down any avenue you wish. All avenues suddenly open to you. Music opens the avenues, places you've never ever been. That can happen in your imagination, but when It occurs in music it's wonderful, because it happens not only inside, but outside at the same moment. When it happens for any one of the three, we all know, and that's the most beautiful thing. It's exciting. All of a sudden-listen to Al! Listen to him. He's there! It's magic.
Di Meola: If the first solo-whoever takes it-is fantastic, you feel a little bit of that pressure to really play well, and you usually do. It raises you up a bit to think-whoa, I've got to top that?
McLaughlin: The three of us play for each other. The audience is important, but secondary. Most important to me is that I want to give something to these two men. The last thing I want is for them to get bored. Life can be very hard, right? Full of all kinds of anguish that we all go through. But we can give something to make life happy, something beautiful. That makes everything right.
Di Meola: And when it goes right, you feel like you can do anything. You start playing things you've never played before, and it seems like you have no limitations.
de Lucia: You feel like you know all there is to know.