Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin
The Guitar Trio Returns
By Matt Resnicoff
(Reprinted from Guitar Player magazine: February 1997)
After reconvening for the tune "El Ciego" on John McLaughlin's The
Promise in 1995, Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucia decided to take their super
trio on the road again for the first time in 15 years. In 1981 their
million-selling live recording Friday Night in San Francisco documented
some of the most breathtaking guitar performances ever; the three have
since explored countless musical forms but never abandoned the acoustic
guitar or the hope of re-forming this beloved group.
The three maestros approached their new self-titled Verve record and tour
with characteristic passion, grace and fire, although the project did
sustain its share of heartache. With no advance time to compose, Paco came
off a tour and headed into a studio with John and Al, where the flamenco
master recorded for ten hours a day and then stayed up until 6 a.m.
arranging music on a PowerBook. Despite the inevitable stresses of joint
leadership by three unforgiving, highly developed musicians, the new record
and tour represent a triumphant creative success.
Do you each still view this band as an opportunity to learn?
Di Meola: If that wasn't a factor, I wouldn't have done it. Playing with
these guys, you have to reach, and you grow-no two ways about it. I find
myself in hotel rooms coming up with stuff I might not have come up with,
composition-wise and maybe soloing-wise. I'm in an inspired time; my mom
passed away over the summer, and that may play a part. Deep music comes
from depth of emotion.
De Lucia: It's nice to play with leaders so they won't play for you,
because in these 15 years we've been accustomed to leading our own bands,
and even if the sidemen feel free onstage, they are still your musicians.
It's great to fight every day to make the best solo of the night. It's a
push to be better. And it's difficult, because improvising is not my way,
but Al and John have been improvising since they were kids.
McLaughlin: The trio is a special form, not mine or theirs. Paco might be
struggling, but we're all fighting. To play acoustic is an effort. You
really play it physically. And the way Al and Paco play, it's new. You can
feel it in the way we interact with each other on the record and onstage.
The chemistry has always been a mystery to all of us, but something
Can you hear the results of working with so many other styles in the interim?
Di Meola: Absolutely. There are stronger pieces. Friday Night almost
doesn't count, because it was a big blowing session and our chops were
really hot. But the composition is going to give the new record lasting
value, because the blowing's always going to be there. I like that. I
started out with one of the great composers, Chick Corea; there was another
boost from my association with Astor Piazzolla. I credit those guys for my
development in composing for this record.
De Lucia: Flamenco is anarchic-we sit as guitar players and see each
other's hands and face; we go together and nobody knows where. In jazz it's
organized improvisation where everybody knows the harmony, it's much more
sophisticated. You can play many scales. I don't know how to read or write
music, so this opens your mind harmonically. That's why I did this the
first time. I got crazy because I wasn't prepared. I suffered until I
figured it out. But suffering is good to grow and create. Any musician,
classical or any style, should improvise. In flamenco we never know the
note we play. Soul makes you play. But in improvisation, you have to think
at the same time, and this is my problem.
So I take it you've hit some wrong notes with the trio.
De Lucia: Thousands. [Laughter.] Every night. I try to make it coherent.
If you have the tranquillity and stability to create from that note
something beautiful and find a way to go out with elegance, this is very
good. You make a wrong note and stop playing, make a bad face-that is not
Has it been easy to gel with one another after years leading your own
groups? There have been rumors that you aren't getting along so
De Lucia: I thought that as you get older you lose your defects because
you've refined your personality, but I discover when you get older, the
defect multiplies. [Laughs.] We work worse than 15 years ago, because the
defects are worse! No, we are okay, but we're not like three monks. We have
strong personalities, and sometimes it's difficult. But we can live with
Di Meola: It's going great. It wasn't going great this summer; it was so
hard to get used to one another again. I can't begin to tell you the
differences in the personalities and the clashes, compromises.
Di Meola: Musical too! [Laughter.] It got so bad, it was almost a
cancellation, but we returned to our senses and realized we're here to
play. We've grown as leaders and become more difficult in how we like
things, and it got to where the communication onstage wasn't good. But we
were blessed with a turnabout-we've got good communication, and real magic
is happening every night.
McLaughlin: As soon as you put human beings together you get some
conflict, but what's wrong with it? Existence is chaotic and we're looking
to find order. Chaos and conflict are synonymous; personalities clash, but
isn't this necessary? In my opinion it's essential to finding something,
and maybe the greater the conflict, the greater the creation.
I'm surprised at your candor about the one-upmanship.
McLaughlin: Look, the only egoless persons in this world are saints. And
you don't find saints playing guitars. Vanity and pride-we're born with
that. This is part of the impetus in the soul, so we shouldn't denigrate
ego with a connotation of "me at the expense of others." Why did I dedicate
my life to music? It's because I love music and guitar more than anything.
But at the same time, what is the search for excellence? Can you answer
that? In my opinion, it's tied to vanity and pride. We see egoism
everywhere, but the good side is in humanity, the search, in spite of not
knowing what it's about. We are compulsively moved in that direction.
So did this reunion match your expectations?
McLaughlin: Whatever you can dream up, even write, will never turn out
the way you imagine it. Never. But this is part of the deal. It's perfect
in your imagination, but the reality's something else, and the reality is