Flamboyant flamenco guitarist dies
Nicknamed the ‘Hands of Silver’ and ‘the Rage of the Riviera’, the flamboyant flamenco guitarist born Ricardo Baliardo in a Sète Gypsy caravan became the first world music superstar two decades before the expression was even coined. The darling of the jet set in the early 60s, he entertained Brigitte Bardot, Charlie Chaplin, Jeanne Moreau, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso at bullfights and beach parties, and took his inspired reinvention of the Manouche jazz of Django Reinhardt into Carnegie Hall, eventually headlining the famed New York venue 14 times. These included the three 1965 concerts that made his lightning technique legendary after Alan Silver, the US co-founder of the Connoisseur Society label, heard an amateur recording made at a Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer gathering in the Camargue and embarked on a lengthy quest to find him and record albums such as Gypsy Flamenco in an Arles chapel.
Mostly self-taught, he went on to appear at the Royal Albert Hall on a dozen occasions, and took part in the 1968 Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium on a prestigious bill featuring Sacha Distel, Engelbert Humperdinck, Petula Clark and Diana Ross and the Supremes. A striking figure with something of the matador about his demeanour, he sold close to 100 million albums and fathered a reputed 20 children but never learned to read or write and cared little for material possessions. He lost the Rolls Royce he once owned on a roll of the dice and gave away much of his money to fellow Gypsies. In the late 80s, the rich crossover genre he had helped originate enjoyed a renaissance with the emergence of the Gipsy Kings, featuring his son Tonino as lead guitarist. Chico and the Gypsies, the group fronted by Chico Bouchikhi, comprises another of his sons, the dazzling soloist Kema, and one of his nephews, Rey. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.