Agustín Castellón Campos, Sabicas, was born in Pamplona in 1912. He saw the first light of day amongst ‘sanfermines’-festival of San Fermin - and gypsies, in the city, which Hemingway didn’t take long to make popular with his journalistic pen. His parents bought his first guitar for 17 pesetas (0,10 euros) and only two years later he started on a stage. It was in the Gayarre Theatre, where he played for a ceremony of swearing of allegiance to the flag. From here on, Sabicas, who had gained his nickname for his early love of eating raw beans, Niño de las Habicas, could no longer tear himself away from the six cords.
However one of the key points of his quick formation coincided with his move to Madrid at the age of ten. Manuel Bonet didn’t take long to discover him and this led him to debut in the Eldorado Theatre in the La Chelitos company. One can’t forget the similarity of Sabicas with the maestro Ramón Montoya, a relative of his mother, if you want to understand the inclination, which Agustín demonstrated towards the solo flamenco guitar.
In his first years as a professional he was a staunch follower of Montoya. However the thirties provoked a radical change in him. He worked accompanying the most relevant singers of the moment, Juan Valderrama, El Carbonerillo, Antonio el de la Calzá..., he carried out numerous recordings, in which he appeared as Niño Sabicas, which helped him to conceive a more personal style of guitar playing. However, the point of inflexion in his artistic and personal trajectory arrived with the Civil War. His exile was nearly obligatory. At this point, his path crossed with no other than Carmen Amaya (“Queen Of The Gypsies”, Dancer and Singer). Together they crossed the pond, destination South America, to offer a tour throughout the continent, which kept them away from the Spanish political confrontations.
However Sabicas started to take a liking to those lands and in the middle of the fifties moved to New York to perform solo concerts where Paco de Lucía discovered him during his first tour with the dancer José Greco. Agustín Castellón had opened his mind in America to the point of recording his first album, admittedly an attempt of fusion, Rock encounter (Polygram, 1966), alongside Joe Beck. The results weren’t satisfactory according to the protagonist himself who even said: ”I don’t like rock or jazz. I did it because my brother Diego wanted to tackle other fields to sell more“.
The relationship which Agustín maintained with masters of jazz the size of Charles Mingus, Ben E. King, Gill Evans, Thelonius Monk or Miles Davis are also very important.
The record companies treated Sabicas as one of them by the record companies and distributed his recordings worldwide. He didn’t return to Spain until 1967 and returned periodically from then on. Twenty years on, his native country paid their first national tribute to him, specifically in Madrid, whose Royal Theatre opened their doors to him.
Sabicas represented a breaking point for the flamenco guitar and he revealed flamenco to the whole world, via America. He was absolutely innovative and revolutionised guitar playing with his speed and polished execution with his right hand technique that is unmistakeable and unrepeatable. His influence has been unquestionable for the new generation of guitarists, passing through the work of Paco de Lucia and Serranito.
Sabicas was already a legend in life. He did not consider himself a follower of any guitar school,of any influence. ”I have never teachers. A proof of this is that I have my brother for whom I never been able to set a single variation. I do not know how to teach, so I do not give lessons, because I was never taught by anyone. I do not know where to start. I do not know music“. He also acted in films. The mastery of Sabicas has brought the greatest praise.
On the 14th of April 1990 Sabicas died in New York.
This record came about as a result of a session that I did with John Berberian, the great Oud player. The producer of that record, Harvey Cowen, thought it would be a good idea to marry Flamenco and Rock after hearing the success of “Middle Eastern Rock” – the name of the album.
I was thrilled at the chance to even meet such a guitar legend, let alone play with him. I assembled the best New York jazz/rock players of the time (Donald MacDonald on drums, Warren Bernhardt on piano, and Tony Levin on bass) and we started the project. Communication was very difficult and we were totally unfamiliar with the rhythmic content of Flamenco as Sabicas was with our music. It was the very earliest stages of fusion and, also, very early in the development of recording technology. Hearing each other was difficult because of the nature of the instruments. Acoustic guitar can be easily overwhelmed by all the amps and loud drums of rock. Sabicas and his brother, who always accompanied him, were very patient and it is a tribute to them both that we got the project done. The session took place at A&R Recording, 799 7th Avenue in New York City. I believe the engineer was Don Hahn. The producer was Harvey Cowen. It was because of this record that I signed with MGM/Verve to do “Nature Boy”. It was a time when we were all searching for a musical identity as well as viable, profitable music. In retrospect, I have to say that I might have chosen to follow a more traditional musical path because the life and times of sixties rock and roll were very taxing. The drummer, Donald MacDonald, did not survive that scene and the intense lifestyle took many others with it.
Joe Beck, May 2006
In the early 60ties Donald McDonald was one of the finest drummers in New York City area. In 1962, he joined the groundbreaking jazz/rock group Jeremy & The Satyrs led by flutist Jeremy Steig. Along with Warren Bernhardt, Adrian Guilery, Eddie Gomez and Mike Mainieri, The Satyrs jammed at New York Club A Go Go, and performed with such monumental figures as Frank Zappa, Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix. During the late 60ties, this small circle of performers grew into what became known as the White Elephant Orchestra, a 20-piece, all-star, experimental ensemble. This jazz/rock big band evolved into a laboratory for experimentation with various musical forms, ideas, and philosophies. From 1969-1972, the White Elephants clan of New York’s finest musicians jammed and recorded at studios throughout the city, and its energy spawned many musical directions for the decades to follow, including Dreams, Ars Nova, Brecker Brothers, Limages and eventually the group Steps, later to be renamed Steps Ahead. Donald McDonald was also drummer with Tim Hardin Band and under contract with Verve. Joe Beck appreciates him as his favourite drummer of all time.
Born 1946 in Boston, T. L. is one of the world finest bass players. He played with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Yes and many others mainly Progressive Rock Bands. At the age of 10 he learned to play Tuba and a few years later he started playing the piano, his then most loved instrument. In the early 60ties he visited the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he met Steve Gadd, who introduced him to the higher levels of jazz and rock. In the meantime he also had started to play the bass guitar. Soon afterwards he was invited to support the Sabicas Rock Encounter project. In 1970 he relocated to New York City and played for a short time with Don Preston (The Mothers of Invention). The following years he made himself a name as a session musician and played on albums of a lot of wellknown artists such as – among others – John Lennon, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Pink Floyd. At the end of the 70ties he joined The Peter Gabriel Band. In 1980 he accompagnied Robert Fripp on the album “Exposure” and became member of King Crimson till 2000. Currently he’s on Tour with his band The Tony Levin Band. (www.tonylevin.com)
Born in Waussau, Wisconsin in 1938, Warren was exposed to music and to the piano at an early age. His father was a pianist and teacher. At the age of five, Warren’s family relocated to New York City where Warren immediately began serious study of the classical piano literature. In 1957, Warren left music behind for several years while he majored in organic chemistry and physics at the University of Chicago. While living in this city rich in the tradition of jazz and blues, he once again became entranced with music – this time with the fresh and exciting jazz improvisations of – among others - Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis, and especially with the work of John Coltrane and Bill Evans. Soon thereafter, Warren joined the touring jazz sextet of saxophonist Paul Winter with guitarist Joe Beck. Warren has remained in the New York area ever since, recording and touring, as a jazz pianist, accompagnying sideman, arranger, producer and bandleader. He is also known as one of New York’s finest musicians and received the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science’s (NARAS) Most Valuable Player Award. Warren has toured and recorded with – among others – Jeremy Steig, Gary McFarland and he has accompanied such great singers as Donald Fagen, Carly Simon, Tim Hardin, Art Garfunkel, Richie Havens and Liza Minnelli.
Sabicas, the world’s foremost Flamenco guitarist, is a master innovator. Always changing, always inventive and looking for challenges. By no means limited to the Flamenco form, he is the thorough artist/musician....Rock and Flamenco are both alluring and erotic, loud and have kick, sock and great passion....and the dances of both while primitive and wild and often frenzied....have considerable sophistication. In putting together this album it was essential to find the best, most versatile musicians in contemporary music to work with Sabicas and his many changing moods and rhythms. Joe Beck ranks high as a total musician and a rock guitarist. He has composed, arranged and conduced his own symphony as well as played with some of the finest symphonic orchestras in the country, and the top names in jazz and rock. The band with Joe has been Tim Hardin’s backup band for years at his major concerts and recordings.
Music with depth – or as we put it today – “heavy”. This album sets a groove. It is perhaps the first time an international classical concert performer of world renown has sat down and seriously tried to get into rock. It is an encounter. A confrontation. A meeting of the minds of different musical forms and generations. The end result, we feel, is a consistantly exciting, enthralling experience.