Episode 14 of the Mavens Do It Better Podcast features Juan Carlos, master Flamenco guitarist and musician.
Juan Carlos and Heather caught up at Triana Tapas and Flamenco in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Triana serves up the energy and rhythm of Spanish Flamenco. The savory, sweet, and spicy flavors in authentic tapas and Juan Carlos and his excellent dancers were a night not to forget.
Listen in as Heather Newman talks with Juan Carlos about:
His lifelong career as a guitarist starting as a teenager in Spain and being on tour for most of his life
Stories of being on the Ed Sullivan show, working with Brigitte Bardot, witnessing Salvador Dali and Arthur Rubenstein arguing in a hotel hallway and working in Vegas with members of the Rat Pack
The gift of being able to do what you love all your life
Bringing the beauty of Spain where he was born to Puerto Rico where he now plays shows at Triana
Follow Triana Tapas and Flamenco at:
Heather Newman: Hello everyone, we're here with another edition of the Mavens Do It Better podcast and I am sitting in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the First Colonial Bank of America with the wonderful Juan Carlos who I got to see last night, um, play Flamenco guitar and his show with his wonderful dancers. And so, I asked him if I could interview him and have him tell us all about himself. So, thank you so much for saying yes.
Juan Carlos: Well, it's a. for me it's something very special because you do a lot of tv things and a lot of presentations personally, but radio for me it's, it's something that I had with me since I was a kid. when I was born, I was born, as you know, in Barcelona. I was born after the war, so Barcelona We didn't have TV in those days in Spain we have only one radio station which was a national radio station. So that was our only entertainment at the house was very antique, you know, telephone. And we learned whatever the dictator was governing in Spain. We, you know, we learned what he let us know to know, but uh, to people and in that, in that country at that age, it's like being in the movie black and white. There was no colors. Because there was this after the terrible war, 1 million dead people, brothers, among, brothers. So, after the Spanish war was finished, you were walking on the streets and you would looking always over your shoulder because you don't know who you going to find and sometimes two brothers saw each other in the front, shooting a gun at each other. And that's the terrible thing about it was the country part of Spain was very poor. So most of the guys, like my father for instance, they were in a part of a Spain where the Franco was, but he didn't know what the hell the whole thing meant, you know, he just was there, and they gave him, they gave him a gun and a shotgun and okay, you have to shoot over there. And that was it and you had to do it, if not they kill you. After that while everybody enjoys peace. But Piloña have to be rebuilt and that's why my father came, and my mother came to Barcelona because they are from, from a very poor part of Spain in those days. The south of Spain was completely desolated so these people immigrate to the big city and there, well they work, they make their own colonies, they don't spoke the language because you know about the Catalans, they speak Catalan. and they look at those foreigners like, uh, you know of second-class citizens, but they didn't know, these foreigners we're going to take over. Why? Because the Catalans they are very, I would say stingy in those days. I know it sounds cruel, but there were very many suffer. You know, where people are very strict, and they had only as many children as they can, you know, procreate and they can give education. So that was only one or two. And then those families from the south, they came, and they populate Barcelona and Tarragona and Lleida and Girona, the whole Catalonian thing was populated by these second-class citizens that suddenly they became the spirit and the engine of the part of the country, and I was born into this part. I was born the only son and I will say, when it was a kid, I was a disaster as a kid. But yeah, I, I, my God, I didn't know my family why they don't kill me because I put all the miseries they can suffer through. It was because I got sick, I got all the sickness in the world. I was about to die twice and that was tough for a young couple, you know, especially when you don't have money, you don't have a work. They took me to school and when I was six and I went to school, I learned how to read in two days and everybody looked at me and say, oh my God, in those days, you know, that kind of things didn't happen. And in after the week I could memorize books than I don't know what the hell I was reading, but I memorized the words, you know, 50 pages and I can tell you, you know, everything. One day in my house I just passed out. Yeah. My father, my mother, they thought it was one of my attacks when I was a kid and when I woke up, I have forgot everything. I was like someone else and this is, it's so hard to understand for anybody and they send me to school again and I was the last of the class. You know? I was the stupid kid. I mean I was not impressive on anything, but music. Music was something else. So, in Barcelona they put you to work when you were 14, 14 years old, they give you some long pants, you can smoke, and they took you to have a, you know, a non sancta lady if you wanted to, which I always refused, I was a romantic. Well they put me to work in a factory where we made steam machines and engines for the cruise liners and all these things. I was a lathe operator, but the lathe, the lathe machine in those days was very simple. You put your fingers and you lose them that was it. So, all the old people in front of the machines, across the room. The old guys, they had only three or four fingers on each hand and I already was beginning to play the guitar, so I decided to quit, so I decided to move out and then something beautiful came to me. I was learning Flamenco and I used to go to a small tavern in Barcelona with all the Flamenco people because Flamenco is very much like a religion. It's not folkloric music from Spain because the Flamenco is something that comes from the poor people from the struggling. It's like jazz, like blues, you know, you cannot call the blues folkloric music. It's not, folkloric, square dance and all these things, but this is something that comes from the soul. So, all these people from the south. I'm talking about poor people, workers. We used to get together in a place similar to this, smaller, and there was a little stage and it was someone who played a guitar and they asked me to play the guitar and that's how I learned Flamenco. Not from the professionals, but there was a guy who played better than I did and there was a young girl to dance and you know you were into your thing and everybody was quiet and it's suddenly when you are in the flamenco atmosphere, this is a moment of exhilaration that you feel like saying Ole. Ole is like, it's, it's an expression that comes out of the soul and we call it the angel. You have angel and depends how you, how you move your voice, you know, is it has a lot to do when everybody gets into the same wave and just singing and dancing with this because you know the rhythm, you know what's going on between the singer, the dancer and the guitarist. It's only three people in the FLAMENCO. That's the basic. And when that happens, you know you, ahhh, you know, it's like it's like a blow of power all over the place and to experience that was something that we wanted to do at least once a week. And I was doing that and suddenly two gentlemen appear. They looked like Martians to us because they were well dressed. You know, with the goatee and very refined and they were watching the whole thing and I was playing my guitar. My mother and father was there and suddenly when I finished, I sit at my table, these, one of the gentlemen come and said very politely can, can we talk to you. And I was 14 years old and he was a very famous flamenco dancer and his friend, and they came because they wanted to take me with them to France to do a tour with the Jeunesses Musicales Francais. Jeunesses Musicales Francais was a, what's like an entity of the government that gave to every high school they gave concerts of very important people. I mean, there was the great, the orchestras that used to go to every little town where there was a high school for girls, it was funny, For girls. And well, uh, my father and I said, well, okay, but it to explain me, he's 14 years old and he said this, "It's going to be perfect for us because he plays like a grownup. But he's a young man and the girls are going to love it". You know there's going to be, "oh my god!"
Heather Newman: Winning.
Juan Carlos: So, I was, I was, you know, when, when they give you that opportunity and you've been like locked into a dark place. Suddenly France for me was like another planet. So, I, I, I remember every detail about, you know, when I got the, when we changed from the train from Spain, you know, the trains in Spain, the, the rails were stumps, so, every clack-clack, clack-clack, clack-clack, every time. The trains in France, the rails were weld. So, there was no clack-clack. So, I was at the beginning, you know what is going to sound, what is going to sound. And from there you know, is suddenly you are from the poorest part of the country and you have, you go to France and you first, I have never been in a restaurant before. The first dinner that you're going to have is with the Minister of Culture at the Palace of Versailles in the Mirror Room.
Heather Newman: Really? I've been there. Wow!
Juan Carlos: You know what I'm talking about? It was the most embarrassing moment of my life because they put in front of me like six spoons on one side, three, six glasses and four plates on top of each other and suddenly the guy appeared with a whole salmon in a tray and he asked me to serve myself. I said you must be Kidding, you know? I was in panic and everybody was, so you know, debonair and all that. And I was sweating my ass off. Sorry. Thank God there was the lady on the, two dancers, one of them was the master of castanets playing, which was a, she, unfortunately she passed away a few months ago, but she was my mentor on the tour. Yeah. And she told me, "Well, you have to do it like this", and suddenly I felt, you know, myself, like easy, easy. And then something happened to me. Then I discovered that I have a certain facility to learn languages. At three or four weeks I was speaking French because Catalan, I speak Catalan. Catalan is a Latin language that has Italian and French and it comes very easy for us, but I felt myself speaking French and liking the whole thing. And then you go to the first show, the first show was at Lycée Privé, Paris, and all the girls from all girls schools in Paris came to see the show to start the tour. We're going to do a tour of three months all over France and North Africa. In those days, North Africa was a protectorate of France. Well, I didn't expect that. I was dressed, you know, I was kind of good-looking kid, you know? Very thin with a real flamenco, you know? And suddenly I walk on the stage, because we'd done a rehearsal, but there was nobody there. Suddenly, I hear that scream.
Heather Newman: It's like the Beatles.
Juan Carlos: Like the Beatles. I didn't know what to do. I think I got stopped in the middle of the stage and the French guy who was doing, the guy who was presenting us, we call it a conferencier. He is used to do like a conference. He says, "Go on. Go on. Go on". So, I went there, and I sat, and they don't stop screaming. What the hell am I going to do?
Heather Newman: Keep playing.
Juan Carlos: What happened to me? So finally, I got into it. Then you know, one of my very violent, it was even worse! Well, finally it seems like the guy came in and say, Please, ladies I know he is a young man, is very passionate and, you know, the whole thing. Please listen. He's a great guitarist too. So finally, they keep quiet. All right. I did my solo, because it was a solo, you know? Then I went inside and when I went inside the master of ceremonies came to pick me up again and said, you both, you have to take another bow. You know it was incredible because the show was over, and they wanted me to go out and take a bow. So, this was my first experience in Paris, 14 years old. And then to get into the dressing room with like 2000 girls around you. I didn't know, I didn't know how. I think I almost died or crash. It was terrible. Then, like this, I went to every little town, every place. I remember the first time I got drunk it was in the caves of Dom Pérignon. That was classy.
Heather Newman: Fantastic, yeah. Are you kidding?
Juan Carlos: Then went to the, uh, to the Mont Saint Michel where the medieval was made. And you know, for a kid who's never been out of Spain with a, with a heart this empty, you know, and you visit every place. What I used to do, we arrived on the bus and I stopped, I left everything in a hotel and start walking the streets. In the fifties, I'm talking about 1955 in France. The war was also happened out there. We went to Normandy coast and they're still the tanks on the sand, the cannons and everything was there. And we know the real people because you know, they came the, the, the major of every little town. They gave us dinner and we taste the best dishes of every very pot. So, I came back after the tour to Barcelona and my father didn't recognize me because I have cut my hair in a different way. And I was wearing the typical blouse noire, you know, Parisienne, guy with the, with a leather jacket we used to stole from the American pilots that was down there. You know, very straight pants and all that. And he said, son, you sure you're not gay? For him, that was the picture of the gay person, you know, because I looked so strange, so different and then, I remember then I had to go back to the factory. My friends at the factory, they couldn't believe what I told them. So, I stopped telling anybody what I have done. But this gave me the first taste of, of what I was going to do. Then when I first, we did the second show, a second time, I was already a professional and then it's when I stayed. And uh, do you remember an actress called Brigitte Bardot?
Heather Newman: Of course.
Juan Carlos: Okay. Brigitte Bardot was then beginning. She was a beautiful girl. She was beginning. And so, she had to be, in one of the movies, I think was And God Created the Woman, Et Dieu... créa la femme. There was a scene that she has to do some flamenco dancing and somehow, I don't know how I get there. But according with a friend of a friend or a friend, okay, I know this kid who plays the guitar is here, is going to be at the Olympia. Oaky, they took me there and here I was playing the guitar for Brigite Bardot. And the entourage for Brigitte Bardot Was Pablo Picasso, Françoise Sagan, all these famous stars.
Heather Newman: Oh my gosh!
Juan Carlos: I was there with these people and she, she liked me so much because we were the same age. The rest of the people were old guys, so we had a great communication. We had a lot of fun and we went to every party. She dragged me because she wanted to do the funny shit. That's terrible. It was awful. But she. Everybody applaud her, and she was so beautiful, and we know we have such a great time. I met because, so I met all these famous people and it was like living in a dream and suddenly we got this thing at the Olympia theater for the Jeunesse Musicale. They call me and say, why don't you stay a few more months? And we have, we're going to do a show for, for the teenagers. They don't have to be ah school, but young people that one and all for free at the Olympia Theater and there was show which was the Russian Army Ensemble, the chorus. These guys, if you see something, maybe you can see them in YouTube, these guys were like, like a hundred guys and Russians, soldiers. Young men singing and dancing with this huge corviers in the air. I mean there was I. I was amazed by that. Then this gentleman that was very popular, which was Maurice Chevalier which was the conferencier. And sometimes Édith Piaf used to come to see, to see him. I talked to it Édith Piaf. And I said, "Jesus Christ, am I, when am I going to wake up of this thing?" We were doing the show and suddenly we got a telegram from New York. That was, when I say, on the show that we were going to do the thing. It was beautiful because when we got to the Plaza Hotel, I already been in a few hotels, but you always, you know, artists were number one for the first thing. But when I went to the Plaza it really was really overwhelming, you know, they give me a beautiful room and all that. When we' went to the rehearsal, there was a fashion show was beautiful. I mean the models, you know the top models from those days. I still remember the last costume that was the Spanish motif. She was like a bull fighter cape all around the girl in red with just with a black flower on her head. Was so beautiful. And then I realized that the people around me was the Kennedys, the Hiltons, the Shah of Persia with his wife Farah Diba, and it was Arthur Rubinstein, Salvador Dali. All these people were there. You want me to tell you a funny thing about it?
Heather Newman: Oh, yeah. Yes, of course.
Juan Carlos: I was staying in a small room in the corridor of the Plaza, in the suite on the left was Salvador Dali and the suite on the right was Arthur Rubinstein. We were doing a show. We were doing a rehearsal and I was playing guitar in the, in the room with the door open because there was a lady, a cleaning lady, a young, beautiful Puerto Rican girl and I was trying to talk to her, so I said, well, maybe if I play the guitar, you know, she will come in and we'll talk about. I really fell in love with that girl. She was so beautiful and suddenly instead of the girl a gentleman appeared and was Arthur Rubinstein. He was looking at me playing the guitar. "That's wonderful. Wow! This quite the scene? Isn't it?" He was kind of a Jewish, German accent. And he said "Maestro". I couldn't believe it. "Go on, go on, go on and play", play the. And suddenly I was playing, and this guy was sitting in the other bed in front of me watching me but listen to this. He said, "You know, I love Spanish music. Come to my home. I'm going to play something for you". I was sitting like this for one hour and a half listening to the best interpretation of the Spanish classics like Tourina (sp), like Fieja (sp). All these great great composers with the classics. And I say, "Maestro, you play this music like you were in Spain", and he said, "Because I become Spanish when I play this music" And this type of communication with such a genius, people you know, sometimes I think well, I was there or is it a dream and it's so beautiful memories and two days later I heard some people screaming on the corridor and it was Maestro Arthur Rubinstein, having an argument with Salvador Dali. Salvador Dali, with his oh, you know, with his night dress and the Maestro only like this in a t shirt, "I can sleep like this!" Salvador Dali was looking at him. Finally, the guy left and so I ask him, you know, when I saw him when I was in the elevator, "Maestro you okay?", "You know what this guy is doing?" I know, Salvador Dali had some little rocks that we have in a Spain. We're used by the knights of St John. The rocks are covered with phosphorous, so when you throw them in the floor, they explode. Bap, bap, bap, bap! Now the smell of the phosphorus is very high. This guy used to, he used to get the rocks, you know, he, he, he did that on the corner where there's no rug, you know, because he has to be on the, on the tile. So, he used to get the rock, smell it, and go inside and start painting. It was so noisy. I never was there because I was out all the time. I went to sleep three or 4:00 in the morning, but this was one of the arguments they had. And then we went to the, to the Ed Sullivan Show and Salvador Dali was there and he had a big canvas, huge canvas. And then he had some strange crayons, you know, he start painting with crayons and going kind of crazy but beautiful. And Mr. Sullivan asked him "Maestro, how much is this worth it?" He said, nothing. What do you mean nothing? Wait, you got crayons for the signature, now it's worth $800,000.
Heather Newman: I love, his paint. Your story, I mean, the dream that you keep talking about, I think, you know, a lot of the time, I get to be here with you in the first colonial bank in San Juan. So, I feel a dream too, you know, it's the things that happen. You're like, so great.
Juan Carlos: Of course, this life, this life of entertainer. It takes you to places you never thought you will have ever there, and you meet people you never thought you can meet, and you get into situations that you can be killed, and you don't know.
Heather Newman: Really. I know.
Juan Carlos: You get out of it, but you don't know how you really worry how much danger it was. We traveled a lot and uh, then we went back to, I went back to Spain and then I started working seriously on the guitar and then I got called to go to Las Vegas and I was a, it was a brief thing. But, uh, I remember that it seems like Dean Martin saw me on the Ed Sullivan show when I did my Zorba thing, you know?
Heather Newman: So, on the Ed Sullivan show you played Zorba?
Juan Carlos: Yeah, the Ed Sullivan I played Zorba because he asked me, you know, I was going to play some of my Flamenco Malagueña and all those things, but, but Mr. this, Ed Sullivan he, he, he, he was a strange guy. He said to me, "I want you to play something you have never played before", and likely he was testing me. And I said, "Well, something like?", "Have you ever seen a movie called Zorba the Greek?" And I say, no, it's not, it was not even shown in Europe yet because it came out years later. But the theme was very famous and somehow, uh, I said, okay, well they put me into a screening room and into they showed me the movie a few times to hear the music because they didn't have the music out yet. So. But I tried to, I saw the movie like seven times. And I put it together and then I realized that I cannot play it with the guitar tune the regular way. So, I tried to fake something to see if I can get it easier for me to do. And finally, I found my own tuning and I found it by accident. I was playing a flamenco guitar with wooden pegs. It's no mechanical, wooden, was straight. So, when you have a Flamenco guitar and you touch something, whether with a hat it, the whole thing goes back. So, I was practicing and practicing and suddenly I did like this and I touched the edge of the table with the headboard and suddenly, twang, two strings got off. I say, oh my God, let me try it, rang, rang, rang. And that was it. I discovered it by accident. That's the truth, just between you and me. So, my big success of Zorba the Greek, I discovered by accident and with a guitar like this, without touching it, I went to the show. I practice and practice and practice until when I had it done, I say okay. And I did it and it was very, very successful. You know, it was fun because how important is to be the right place, you know, just when I get out of the, of the, of the studio theater, day after New York recognize me anywhere, because the Ed Sullivan show was. Everybody was watching it. "Hey Zorba!", "Hey Zorba!", I was being, "No, I'm Spanish." "Oh, that was beautiful Zorba. How can you make it sound so like", and this is something that for an artist, it's recognition and I've noticed that recognition is the most important thing for everybody, not just for an artist. We got it for free, but I think that recognition is something that is need for everybody because to be anonymous it's really very sad thing and people sometimes they, they're so lonely because they are not recognized, and this is a very sad thing, but this another dangerous too. If you want to be a celebrity 24 hours a day, that's terrible, nobody wants to be next to you. So, my career at the guitar, it's been taking from the real Flamenco thing which gave me the technique. The way I move my hands, you know, and uh, the violence than I have because Flamenco, sometimes you get violent, you get into it. It's like playing a drum, you know, sometimes you get into the rhythm and, and you really do it hot. And then I learned how to play music from other countries in South America of course, and I was visiting, I don't read music, I've never read music because with Flamenco, you know, you play by ear and that's it. You have to have a good ear. I fell in love with all these melodies and I start at it with my technique. I play all those melodies with a technique I knew and suddenly I found myself playing music from Chile, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, all those things. And it sounds different, but it sounds like the real thing, but it's probably a little more brilliant because of the way I, the way I use my right hand. So, it gave me that, that special touch. And then I had the good luck to meet a, a woman, uh, here in Puerto Rico. She came from Argentina with a beautiful show about Spain. You know the immigrants in Argentina, 80 percent are Spanish from the regions. so, she came here with the music from the whole country of Spain, not just flamenco. She dance. She was a specialized with music from the north, from the center and Flamenco of course. When she got here, she started learning Cuban dancing, Brazilian dancing, Puerto Rican and all that. So suddenly of course we fell in love. We finally get together and that's when we decided to put together a show and we were adding more girls, but how good it was to use beautiful Latino girls. We didn't want professional dancers. The show, the talent was based on me because I learned how to handle a show from being Dean Martin, from, uh, from these guys like the, like a Sammy Davis, like Paul Anka, watching those, being with those guys. I used to open the show for them many times. Even here in Puerto Rico when Puerto Rico was like Las Vegas in the seventies and eighties. So, handling your audience, learning the language. I was lucky I spoke French and Italian and so learning English, it took me a while, but I got familiar with it and the way these guys used to handle the audience between songs or how to talk to them. That's, that's the gimmick of being an entertainer. So, without noticing it, I was becoming a showman and I started telling jokes and telling stories and suddenly the girls appear with a beautiful dance and when you see the girls everybody was mesmerized because it was like Miss. Universe thing. So. But the good thing about it, that my show was put together by a woman. So, it was never grotesque, or it was erotic or sexy. The costumes we use were exactly the costumes that Brazilians used in their dances. The Cubans used in the dancer, the Dominicans, the Puerto Ricans. So, we did everything with style. That's why we never had problems like being censored for, to go anyway because the girls were beautiful, but you know, there were no g-strings, there were no sexy movement. Nothing. Was Real, real dances from the countries and the Flamenco. You see I have a great flamenco dancer here. She's good. But of course, now, as I said to you, I'm retired, but I can stay home. Well, this is part of my, this is part of my life and something I like to mention my first contract with America. America is the dream, was the dream of many people. And when I first flew over New York, I thought I was in a movie, you know, I was, you know, we saw the movies and I said, okay, I'm here, you know, this is it. We did a tour all over United States. We, we played in universities, was a cultural tour 1960. We were doing every university. We did like 30 universities in United States and we did it by bus traveling. We've traveled the roads of America and in the sixties, I went to the diners, you know, the real ones. And I went to the western countries. Las Vegas was just one street, you know, that was it. We just pass through. We saw all the southern. We went to Kentucky, we went so many places and this for, you know, for 20-year-old man it's something, you know, you can’t believe it. So I absorbed so much and I became so, so fond of the American people because I saw for the first time the people who didn't cheat, you know, people who went, who accomplish things and they pay the taxes and they went to the school and everything was working and was and that was beautiful because the Catalans we were like this. We were responsible, we were always on time. This is something that I learned and South America was a disaster. It was terrible. I don't know how the hell these countries work because nobody's on time. But I had such admiration for that, that I decide, well this is, this is what I'm going to do. That's why when I got my first American passport I wanted to go to Vietnam. And I did go. We made a little group in Puerto Rico and we went to Vietnam with the USO and that was my way to say thanks to, you know, to so many, so many things that you can accomplish in a country like America. I never felt like an immigrant because I, I got my residence for free. It was given to me by a president.
Heather Newman: What, what president? I know you've played at the White House too. Who did you play for?
Juan Carlos: Yes. Uh, there was Spiro Agnew was the vice president that was a which, sorry, but I don't know
Heather Newman: Kennedy? Nixon?
Juan Carlos: But you know how I did it? Pablo Casals, the great cello player is he lived here in Puerto Rico with my paisano and we met. I was in a deportation process, so I was going to be deported and uh, I'm still trying to think of the name of the President. Well, you’ll find out. And uh, he, I met him in a recording studio. We start talking Catalan and I said, "Maestro, I'm sorry. I'm going to Miss you a lot because I have to go". "What? What do mean? Why are you Going?" "No, I'm being deported", and he said "what? Why? You do something wrong?", I say, "No just I have no visa. I have nothing else, you know, I have no visa. I have no job here". he said, "What, but you are Flamenco Guitarist?". I said, "Yes". You're a person of, you know in America they have a rule or a law that if you ever person of certain abilities you're wanted to be in, in, in, in the country. extraordinary abilities, something like that it's called, and I said, "Do you think I can apply? He said, "Of course, of course. This is something very unusual. We don't have real flamenco guitarist born in America." So, he wrote to the president and two weeks later I got called by the immigration official and they gave me the green card.
Heather Newman: Wow, that's amazing.
Juan Carlos: Oh my God. What was the president that came after Kennedy?
Heather Newman: There was Johnson and Ford and Carter.
Juan Carlos: No, Ford, Ford. Gerald Ford. This was my big thing about the visa, when I went to pick up my visa, it was given to me by some judges that come every, every week they came from the United States and they were dining in a restaurant and I was performing and when they saw me coming into the jury, you know because you have to do the. And they say, "Did you bring your guitar?", I said, oh my God. I just said, why don't you tell us? I had a letter from Washington? Okay, who is your friend up there? It was so beautiful. These guys were so nice. They always ask me to play Malagueña. They admired what I did, but I never thought they worked, they never introduced themselves either. So, I didn't know who the hell they were, but when I walk into there and one of them said, "Oh my God, did you bring your guitar?" Oh, my goodness, it was beautiful. Things that happens, you know, things that you get when you, when you are an entertainer, an artist or something like this. There's so many stories. But maybe we'll have another program.
Heather Newman: Yeah, we'll have to talk again. And now you're retired. Though I saw you perform so beautifully last night. Where people can find you. Um, so the name of this place?
Juan Carlos: Oh, this is Triana Tapas. Tiana is a little suburb of Seville. It's on the other side of the river where most of the Gypsies were. The Flamenco was first, and the Gypsies came in later, but they adapted so well that they related with the Flamenco very much. But uh, Triana Tapas, tapas are the little, you know, when you order you eat before,
Heather Newman: Little plates.
Juan Carlos: Yeah, Uh, before the going to the serious eating, you know, so you have a little glass of wine with a little pot of olives and shrimps and all this. It Is a great variety of hors d'oeuvres.
Heather Newman: The food is delicious.
Juan Carlos: the food is really good here. And these people they, the good thing about Triana is that is not made by Spaniards. I mean they're two Puerto Ricans, his wife, the wife of a Harold is the lady you saw with the castanets now and you see in the lobby, you know, these people learning how to play.
Heather Newman: They do a class here too?
Juan Carlos: Yea, she is a teacher, but she sings Flamenco, and she plays flamenco guitar, she dances. And he is in Spanish, we call it manitas, we call him hands because he's the one who repair all this. Is an engineer, electric electrical engineer. He graduates and how to know so many things. He can fix your computer, your phone, and he can break a wall and he can fix a toilet. This guy is amazing!
Heather Newman: A man of all trades.
Juan Carlos: Yes, and he's very smart. He has a great sense of humor. He likes dancing a lot and they met in an Arthur Murray school here.
Heather Newman: Oh, an Arthur Murray dance school.
Juan Carlos: Yeah, because he was teacher in Arthur Murray. And she wanted to learn how to dance so that was love at first sight. And he's been doing many different businesses but somehow when I saw this place that it used to be a Spanish restaurant that just didn't work, but he took it and then he put all this together and he fix it and they work a lot. And we create, and of course he needed someone who knew about show business and I happened to be here. I was staying in Venezuela until 1995. I was doing well down there because Venezuela used to be the richest country in South America. I was performing at the Hilton and suddenly, you know, everything went out. And I had to leave Venezuela and I was fortunate because the El Conquistador Hotel, which is a beautiful resort, was to be reopened for the second time and they asked me to come with a whole show to open it. I Was performing five, five years with them and then I decide to, a friend of mine the business of the cruise liners. Oh, the cruise liners used to be a great business here because in the old days, about 20 years ago the ships were smaller, so the cost of the tickets was higher, which brings you another kind of audience. So, the people can come, can pay to see a, tour with the show. So, we used to rent the whole auditorium in a hotel. We had like 500 people per show. That went on for about five years, was good business. Now unfortunately the ships are much bigger, which gives facility to people of, you know, a middle class to be. Which I think is great. You know, it's beautiful. But in our business, you know, they try to keep the same prices on the ship to pay for our show and it's not working because, you know, these people come with a small budget and they'd rather walk, you know, and, and spend that money on eating or buying things, which is very understandable.
Heather Newman: Yeah.
Juan Carlos: Well, well now, now we have in groups of 100, 50, 60. That's okay, and it's good to entertain the people for the cruise liners because most of them, they're people of certain age and you know, they feel very identified with me so we had a lot, a lot, a lot of good times with them. Now, well, I have a beautiful house in front of the beach. I have a beautiful wife and my dancers, and I have three daughters and four grandchildren.
Heather Newman: Wow!
Juan Carlos: We are a whole family. And um, it's not, for me it's not sad to retire because I've done so many things. I performed so much. Then I say, I say my, my son, he loves me, "There's nothing you would like to do?" I say "No, I've done everything I wanted to do, man. Leave me alone."
Heather Newman: I've done it all.
Juan Carlos: I've done it. I'm living the future. Okay.
Heather Newman: Right, right. That's amazing. And, you know, you do this here because you love it.
Juan Carlos: Oh, this is fun for me.
Heather Newman: This is fun. This is not necessarily, not that if you love what you do, it's not work anyway. Right, but you're not touring and all of that.
Juan Carlos: Sometimes they call me to do a convention, which I enjoy very much. I go to do a convention in United States or something like that for two or three days and okay, I'll do it. But this is a, every night, you know there's new people coming and it keeps my mind working and of course now since I'm beginning to, you know, sometimes you forget things, but a friend of mine told me, you know Alzheimer's is not when you lost the key, it's when you find them and you don't know what the hell to do with them. That's the real thing. I say, okay, I'm safe, okay.
Heather Newman: As long as you know what to do with the guitar, you're still good.
Juan Carlos: I have something beautiful, I have my first guitar. I revived my first guitar that came with me to America from 1960 and she's still alive. I put it to work and every time, it's a flamenco guitar, and it's very special because Flamenco guitar so very light because they don't have any iron anyways. Everything is wood and is very thin and it's, it's a, it's so beautiful to, to, to play that instrument. Now sometimes you know what I have, I think it sounds stupid, but I have my, how do you say when you have in your computer a picture?
Heather Newman: You have a picture in a frame?
Juan Carlos: No, when you have a picture you like in your computer. It's like a screensaver. Screensaver is a picture of my house from 1952 when I was born and there's nobody in the street and this my house over there. I you have everything in snow. So, when I look at that and when I grab that guitar, I feel something.
Heather Newman: Yeah, of course.
Juan Carlos: I play guitar different than when I come here, and I played with the one in electrified and then I'm beginning, either or I'm going crazy, or this is something that is happening between the guitar, my youth and me. It's a, it's a strange feeling, but you know, improvisation is the main thing in Flamenco. So, I'm improvising and I'm coming out with things that I've never done before with that guitar. So, l just say, oh my God, you better watch out. Thank god I'm not smoking anything or drinking anything. I'm still sober and I say, "Well, maybe it's something going on."
Heather Newman: It's the connection, right?
Juan Carlos: I don't know. It's funny because when I relax in the house, you know, and I just, I never felt it many years ago to go and play the guitar in the house because I've been playing a lot. But this guitar happens to me. This guitar was hidden in a, you know, one of these things that you hire to put furniture inside. A storage room and I forgot about it and about six months ago when I found it, I felt like a thing in my heart and I say, "Gosh, thank god it's here", because you know, I had so many guitars and so many things and then I put it back. I took it with me, varnish, put some new strings and now we're friends again.
Heather Newman: That's amazing. sometimes, it's sometimes the first, you know, those, those things that are your first. The moment.
Juan Carlos: Yeah, you know, but what this guitar has is that it's a natural sound. It's a kind of guitar that you cannot press against your body because you kill the vibration.
Heather Newman: Oh, okay.
Juan Carlos: So, you have to separate a little bit because it's so thin, the word is Cypress and screws, it's so thin the wood that everything vibrates. And it has a real flamenco sound. It was built in 1916. Yeah, it was my first guitar, professional guitar.
Heather Newman: Thank you so much for talking with me and I still am, I can't believe this wonderful room down here.
Juan Carlos: Yeah, this is very unusual because this is the shelter of a bank that was the first bank America had outside United States.
Heather Newman: and we're in the vault
Juan Carlos: Yeah, we're in the vault. And this vault is, I think the previous owners of this place, the Spanish restaurant, they told me that they brought a German technician to open the safe because it was locked. The German guy spend here about a month drinking and, he never got the thing open. They call a bunch of kids from the other side of the bay, four Puerto Ricans. They came here with two screwdrivers and they open it up in about two days, so that's what I call Puerto Rican talent.
Heather Newman: Well, thank you so much Juan Carlos.
Juan Carlos: Than you.
Heather Newman: What a pleasure. Thank you for sharing your story with me.
Juan Carlos: It's pleasure, my pleasure. Because you don't have many, I'm writing a book, but they're going to give me more money not to publish it.
Heather Newman: Is there some good stories in there?
Juan Carlos: Oh my God yes. We'll do another article. I will wait for the person to die so I can talk about that.
Heather Newman: Fair enough. Fair enough. Yes, we don't gossip, yes.
Juan Carlos: No. I think what you do is something beautiful, and I feel myself very, very lucky because you don't get to know most of the artists, you know, with all this, you see them only on stage. Behind each person there is a story, you know, and people like us who have been traveling so much. You've been doing so many things and meeting so many people. We have lots of stories, lots of situations and it's good to give it away some time.
Heather Newman: Yeah, well thank you, gracias.
Juan Carlos: Thank you, muchas gracias.
Heather Newman: That was the lovely Juan Carlos in San Juan and this was Mavens Do It Better. Thanks everybody.