Morón de la Frontera Winter/Spring 1963-64
by Chet Creider
I had been living in Madrid, accompanying the flamenco dancing students of Rafael de la Cruz when Donn Pohren, knowing of my interest in accompanying the cante, suggested I go and study with a gypsy guitarist who rarely ventured forth from Morón de la Frontera and had never been recorded but who was very knowledgeable in the art of accompanying singers. Thus, it was in the dead of winter that suitcase and guitar case in hand I walked up to the top of Plaza San Miguel to the bar Casa Pepe and asked the genial man behind the counter (who I later learned was Pepe) if he could tell me where Diego del Gastor was. He pointed out a tall, thin silver-haired man standing just a few feet away. I walked over.
Me: Excuse me, Sir, are you Diego del Gastor?
Diego: Yes, man.
Me: I would like to study accompanying cante flamenco. Would you teach me?
Diego: Yes, I will. Where are you staying?
I didn’t have a place to stay, so Diego walked with me to an inn down from the bottom of the plaza and around the corner and we arranged that I would stay as well as take my midday and evening meals there. I was to meet him in the morning for my first lesson.
The inn was used by labourers and travellers, including vendors arriving with their goods on donkey-back. It opened into a large cobblestoned courtyard and had a stable as well as rooms. It was run by the owner, a tall hard-working man, his wife and two very hard-working daughters. For the next five months, my life oscillated back and forth between the inn and Casa Pepe. The day began with a walk up to the Plaza San Miguel where off to one side a man, his wife and his daughter sold churros and porras. I’ve never found a better way to start the day than with a fresh, hot porra (a kind of long, fluted fritter) and hot café con leche served in a glass. This was often before Diego was out and when the bar was itself just awakening for the day. Then back to my room for some practising.
Later I would go up and hang around with Diego. Sometimes we would have a ‘lesson’, but it soon became clear that Diego was not someone to live by a fixed schedule. In Madrid I had studied with Juan Jiménez, a gentle, nearly blind guitarist who was the picture of orderliness and who was very concerned that I learn everything properly. I can’t in retrospect say that much of his material was very worthwhile – I still have all of it written down but almost never play any of it. Nevertheless I did learn a few important things from him and I remember in particular what he taught me about the rhythm of the fandango. Diego was mildly interested in what I knew, especially older ideas such as the famous siguiriya falseta by Javier Molina which he recognized. And he taught me quite a bit, always telling me which falsetas were by Pepe Naranjo (his teacher) and which were his. But there was never a schedule to the lessons and my failure to catch on to his marvellous way of playing the bulerías must have been a terrible disappointment to him. I remember being knocked almost unconscious several years later when I listened to tapes of Chris Carnes playing and sounding just like Diego (when I knew Chris he hadn’t yet met Diego) or watched with awe as my friend Steve Kahn played and sounded like Diego (something he no longer does as he has evolved his own ‘Morón’ style). All this was beyond me at the time although I learned many individual falsetas por bulerías. Every couple of weeks, a day would come when I would find Diego early in the morning with many empty wine glasses in front of him, well on his way into a bout of drinking. I never understood what set him off one day and not another, but this was the only blemish, if it could be called a blemish, in an otherwise wholly admirable character.
The best times, however, were the juergas (a word now out of fashion in Andalucia and largely replaced by fiesta), both informal and more formal (with someone actually hiring Diego). The singers were usually Luis Torres Cádiz, Diego’s brother-in-law, and Fernandillo, Diego’s nephew, and I was given many opportunities to accompany both and learned an immense amount. An example: accompanying the malagueñas of Mellizo, there is a point where the guitar, instead of its usual task of following, may precede the singer to prepare the way for where the singer will go. Diego took great care to tell me about this just before Luis reached that part in his cante. A couple of times, Fernanda de Utrera came and sang. I remember her sweetness – such a contrast with the hoarse voice. We talked once about the pronunciation of the singers in the nineteenth century. Fernanda was quite sure that they had ‘stronger’ accents than the singers of her generation. I still wonder about this.
The foregoing memories are now over forty years old and I was a very innocent twenty-one at the time. At the age of fourteen I had fallen in love, in retrospect permanently, with the cante flamenco, and had set about learning to play flamenco guitar and learning how to accompany the cante. After completing three years of university with one year remaining I took a leave of absence for a year to study flamenco in Spain. During the summer I worked on an assembly line in a factory making fiberglass insulation batts to earn money for the trip. It was hard, dirty and dangerous work. Bits of fiberglass got into one’s hands (very likely into one’s lungs as well) so that mine itched for a couple of months after I had left the job. I reached Morón a fairly experienced guitarist although with relatively little experience of live accompanying. For almost the entire time I was there, I was the only forastero in the circle of Diego’s friends in Morón. Diego mentioned a guitarist from Germany who had been there before me and I later found out that David Serva must have preceded me as well. I will be forever grateful to Diego, Fernandillo, Luis, Gregorio and an old man whose name I can’t remember but who sang por soleares and also recited Machado and Lorca. He had worked for the post office until the Civil War, had been an anarchist and after the war was only able to obtain work as a day labourer. These five welcomed me with a warmth far beyond what I deserved and what I could reciprocate.
Chet Creider “Miguel”
London, Ontario, Canada