The Best of Pata Negro
Nuevo Flamenco artists live to create musical hybrids. They graft contemporary sounds to the venerable music of the Spanish Gypsies. You would think rock would be an obvious place for the movement to explore. Surprisingly, however, they show a certain disdain for rock. While the nuevos flamenqueños added salsa, jazz and African rhythms to their sound, they never brought in rock, the most popular sound in the world for nearly half a century. It might have to do with acculturation or tradition. It could even have reflected the generational bias of many of the nuevos flamenqueños, or the alien tonality of the blues basic to rock versus the more minor key chord progressions that define flamenco. For whatever reason, the electric guitar remained an unknown element in nuevo flamenco until Pata Negra came along.
“No other flamenco musician has ever gotten into rock,” says Mario Pacheco, head of Nuevos Medios records, one of Spain’s leading purveyors of nuevo flamenco. “Jazz, they all like, fusion, salsa or Cuban music.”
Pata Negra rock. They owe as much musically to Western musicians like Jimi Hendrix as they do to flamenco icons like Camarón.
“Pata Negra were the only ones who played rock and roll,” Pacheco continues. “They were very influential, but not among the flamenco musicians. They were more influential in the world of Spanish rock and roll.”
This reflects the background of the group’s heart and core, Raimundo and Rafael Amador. While they grew up with the musicality of their Gitano Gypsy tradition, unlike other nuevo flamenqueños, they do not have a family history in the music. Nor did they get the intense grounding in the different flavors of flamenco.
“They never played ‘proper’ flamenco,” Pacheco remarks. “They always played bulerías. The thing was, they had a new modern sound for bulerías. In a way, Pata Negra were always like outsiders in Flamenco. They were always on their own. For example, the Habichuelas and Jose Soto, the guys from Ketama, they started playing at home and with professors. Juan Habichuela and Pepe Habichuela and the father of Jose Soto, Manuel Soto Sordera, they professional artists stayed all their lives. Raimundo’s father started as a guitarist, but when he became an adult he didn’t play anymore, except at family occasions.”
The Amador brothers went their own way. While married to arranged brides at an early age, in the Gypsy tradition, they did not become traditional Gypsies. Instead, they became Spanish hippies, hanging out in Seville with and odd mix of American expatriate hippies and American Servicemen. From the latter, based at Morón Air Force Base and the Rota Naval Base, the Amadors got records, discs by American artists like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and BB King. From the hippies, the got into drugs. From somewhere or other, Raimundo got an electric guitar. The brothers played in the streets for money.
They also performed professionally. In their late teens, Raimundo started playing and recording with the Montoya family. The group worked with noted Spanish producer Ricardo Pachón. From there they hooked up with Kiko Veneno, often described as the Andalusian Bob Dylan. They recorded a seminal Spanish rock album, Veneno. Veneno took his act solo, and Rafael and Raimundo got back together with Pachón. They called their group Pata Negra, the “Black Leg.” The term refers to the traditional ham prepared from the black Spanish pig. Any Spanish restaurant worth its salt serves a version of pata negra. Since the Gypsies regard this dish as very high class, Pata Negra took the meaning of first class, or something pure, authentic and Spanish.
Certainly as musicians, they played their own first class music, music very pure, authentic and Spanish, but in their own distinctive way. Starting with two rock albums for Spanish PolyGram, they only flavored their chops laden rock with their Gypsy heritage. The original “Blues De Los Niños,” (presented here in a live version) came from their PolyGram days. Moving to Nuevos Medios, the Motown of nuevo flamenco, they recorded two studio albums. Pacheco describes Guitarras Callejeras (Street Guitars) as “two guitars and a voice, recorded live in a room, very interesting and very wild.” The Amadors played a more traditional version, at least in instrumentation, of Gypsy flamenco. Tracks like “Morao Mellizo” recalled the best work of acoustic fusion guitarists Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine. It might not have had the harmonic complexity, but Raimundo’s solo guitar was every inch as amazing. On the jazzy piece for two acoustic guitars and one laughing man “Juan Charrasquedo,” both Raimundo’s guitar work and Rafael’s vocals bridge the gap between the blues, jazz and flamenco. They do this so organically, it sounds totally natural even though there was never anything like it before.
One of the most remarkable and revolutionary records of the 1980s, Blues De La Frontera brought together all the musical elements of the Amadors’ lives in a thoroughly enjoyable and unclassifiable package. “Bodas De Sangre,” with lyrics from the eponymous play by Federico García Lorca, and their home town ode “Yo Me Quedo Sevilla” pick up where Guitarras Callejeras left off. Blues..., however, introduces a smoother, produced sound with far more depth than its predecessor. These tunes percolate over Raimundo’s bass. “Pasa La Vida” brings the acoustic jazz sound to the party, sounding like Django might have with a cantador and sax. The title track sums it up, with Gypsy folk themes and the percussion of Ketama’s Antonio Carmona over Raimundo’s strumming and Les Paul influenced electric guitar work.
At the height of their fame, they recorded the soundtrack to the film Bajarse al Moro. Musically, it gave them an opportunity to bring their music to a new audience. The suite “Bajarse al Moro” reprises the Les Paul informed version of “How High The Moon,” from Blues before exploring more of Raimundo’s prodigious guitar ideas. The theme of the film had overtones of omen, though. Bajarse Al Moro refers to going down to Morocco, a favorite place for Spaniards to score dope.
Both Amadors had heroin habits at one time or another. Although this period found them at their artistic peak, the brothers’ personal lives were in crisis. “I was using for about six months,” Raimundo told La Factoriá Del Ritmo. When he noticed his sexual prowess waning, he quit. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to see my children get older.’ On top of all that... NOTHING worked in bed, so I quit.” He moved to a house in the country, about 15 minutes out of Seville.
Rafael, however, could not keep his habits under control. So they went their own ways. Rafael kept the Pata Negra name, recording the more middle of the road Insparacion Y Locura (Madness and Inspiration). Guitarist Juan Manuel Cañizares almost matched Raimundo’s fire on the bluesy “Anónimo Jerezano,” while las Hermanas Peligro add some Gypsy soul to the backing vocals of “Tu Madre Tuvo La Culpa.”
Before finally falling out, the Amadors played one last concert in Barcelona on February 16, 1989. Captured on the Pata Negra, El Directo album, it displays the fire these two brothers could generate from a stage. “Bulerías Del Moreno” captures snatches of many tunes, including “Blues de La Frontera.” “Camarón,” however, sounds like something that American country bluesman JJ Cale might have written for Eric Clapton. The powerfully electric “Blues De Los Niños” brings the album full circle. A straight electric blues that draws more on BB King that any European Gypsy, both vocally and musically, it shows why, in Spain, Pata Negra were rock stars.
“I remember when Camarón was at his peak,” Pacheco recalls. “They were playing arenas. When it was a double bill with Camarón and Pata Negra, when Camarón finished and the electric Pata Negra set came, all the Gypsies left. They couldn’t stand the volume. The rock and punk fans came in. That’s why they always had huge audiences, because they were rock and roll people.”
Thanks to Mario Pacheco and Javier Diaz for their invaluable help.