It would be hard to name a more seminal and eclectic musical artist than Josè Feliciano. He occupies a thoroughly unique place in American music and pop culture having left his mark on a virtual catalog of musical styles and built a bridge between mainstream and Latin music as arguably the most successful cross-over star of all time. Its easy to underestimate from today’s vantage point of multicultural hits and world music influenced all-beat remixes, but Feliciano did it first, emerging from his native Puerto Rico in the early 60’s to blend his virtuoso classical guitar playing into the burgeoning pop rock scene.
Beginning with the folk scene of the time he would go on to work with luminaries of virtually every genre. Collaborations with Quincy Jones, Bill Withers, Berry Gordy, John Lennon, Carlos Santana, Johnny Cash, Cat Stevens, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Diana Ross make him a unique figure and a true treasure of 20th century music and beyond.
His Career spans the world, taking him from the Philippines and Japan, to Italy’s Sanremo festival, Austria’s Vienna Symphony and behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War. He owns a Grammy Legend Award, a Latin Grammy Lifetime Award and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
The man who gave us songs like Feliz Navidad, Che Sara (Qué sera) or his version of Light My Fire felt at home when he met recently with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in New York, an opportunity for him to share his memories from his world tours and showcase not only his talent but also his sense of humor.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1945 the singer, composer and guitar virtuoso told us he believes his guitar is his passport to the world. The instrument also has become his eyes as he was blind at birth due to a congenital glaucoma. Feliciano is always ready for a good laugh, especially if it comes at his own expense. He recalls the day, at the height of his fame, when he couldn’t find the limo’s door coming out of one of his many sold out concerts. Or when Frank Sinatra, Mr. Sinatra as he prefers to call him, approached the singer on stage and said “guess who?”
Sinatra was one of his idols, but there were more. He confess his love for rock & roll remembering fondly Jimmy Hendrix´s guitar as well as his good friend Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton or George Harrison. But his true inspiration came from Andres Segovia and Ray Charles. Segovia made him love the guitar. Charles made him feel he could have a career in music too in spite of his blindness.
But the biggest inspiration of all came from his mother, who never felt pity for him and advised the young musician to fight for his independence. Argentina, México, Philippines, Japan were some of the places he recalled fondly with the members from these countries, taking about food, culture or politics.
His latest destination was Israel where he played with the Raanana Symphony what will be his new album. He also gave the HFPA a first taste of his new single, Please Don’t Go Away, song he’ll preform in English and Spanish.
At the end of our roundtable Feliciano graciously agreed to a special treat: he grabbed his guitar for an impromptu performance. Check out the video above.