The term "Flamenco Rock" probably makes most people think of the Gypsy Kings. Nothing wrong with them of course, after all their version of Hotel California is much more fun than the original. However, when flamenco and rock first met head on back in the mid 70s, the result was very different indeed, and that's what I'd like to talk about here. So, ladies and gentlemen, take a seat - not that one, the cat likes to sit there - and pour yourself a glass of manzanilla, because I'm going to tell you the incredible but true story of one of the most remarkable bands that you've probably never heard of: Las Grecas.
Las Grecas - Amma Immi (Gipsy Rock, 1974)
Las Grecas were Carmela and Tina Munoz Barrull, two sisters of gypsy descent who grew up in the dirt poor outskirts of Madrid in the 60s and 70s. When their father left home, Carmela and her younger sister starting performing flamenco in some of the local tablaos, and soon folk were talking about these pretty gypsy girls who would sing flamenco in unision, something that was then practically unheard of. CBS signed them up, and then had a great idea: they teamed them up with some of their best rock session musicians to see what would happen.
The results probably surprised even them. Their first single, Te Estoy Amando Locamente ("I'm loving you Crazily" - sounds better in Spanish) stomped its way up the charts Wuthering Heights-style to the No. 1 position in 1974, where it stayed for 5 weeks. Grecamania gripped a dusty old Spain in the dog days of Franco's regime, and their first album, Gipsy Rock, was both hugely successful and influential - the flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia used the decending melody of the hit single as the basis for his best known piece, Entre Dos Aguas.
They were stars. They bought a beige cadillac and an apartment in one of the more chi chi areas of Madrid. The second album, Mucho Mas, was also pretty good, but then the hits started to dry up. They released two more albums and finally called it a day in 1979. Five years. not a bad innings for the 70s.
Las Grecas - Bella Kali (Gipsy Rock, 1974)
It would be nice to end the story here. In a parallel world much happier than our own, Las Grecas lived out their lives happily in comfortable obscurity. In our world however, their lives were tossed into a maelstrom. First of all was the old story, they were swindled out of money. After sacking their manager, they found themselves effectively blacklisted by the industry. They couldn't work and they were broke. Carmela was the first to snap, trying to commit suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills and then posing naked for a gossip magazine.Then Tina started suffering mental health problems. She was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and in 1983 tried to kill her sister, attacking her with a knife, plunging it into her shoulder. She spent the next 9 years in and out of prison and hospitals and was often seen wandering the streets of Madrid homeless. She died in 1992 at the age of 38.
There's no happy ending I'm afraid. In fact, it ends in farce. Carmela tried to return in the 90s without much success, with a new singer replacing her late sister. Then, the said singer then ended up somehow registering and obtaining the rights to the name Las Grecas. She currently performs under this name with another new singer, neither of whom had anything to do with the original group. There's no business like show business.
Gipsy Rock is available on iTunes and has also just been reissued on vinyl. You can also find a couple of compilations under the name Por Siempre Grecas on Amazon. As always with these compilations, Vol 1, which covers the early years, is the one to go for. You can see them performing the big hit on some godawful Spanish version of Top of the Pops below.