Richard Hecks and his nouveau flamenco band Luna Blanca, recognized for their energetic song melodies backed by lively drumbeat world rhythms:
El Dorado BEST WORLD ALBUM 2012 (ZMR New Orleans May 2013).
El Dorado has traditionally been the name of the fabled Lost City of Gold in South America and a phrase that has come to mean any ultimate prize. Now El Dorado is also the title and inspiration for the fifth album by the German act Luna Blanca, which has risen to become one of the most popular nouveau-flamenco groups in the world.
According to Luna Blanca leader Richard Hecks, listening to El Dorado is “a musical adventure that simulates a journey and search through South America looking for riches, but encountering both bandits and the good native people, music, rivers to cross, and the beauty of a new land including warm breezes and sunsets. El Dorado also is a symbol of everyone’s search in life for love, wealth, accomplishment and happiness.”
Luna Blanca’s first four CDs -- New Flamenco Odyssee, Magic, Guitar Island and the international Top 10 Provence, plus their concert DVD Guitar Island Live -- established the group internationally as a top modern flamenco ensemble combining melodic and emotional acoustic lead-guitar performance with rhythm guitars, piano, keyboards, percussion and other instruments. Luna Blanca has become known for their catchy and instantly-appealing melodies plus a Latin-oriented ensemble sound that makes the listener feel they are traveling to a warm climate to enjoy good times. The music of Luna Blanca can be purchased at their website lunablancamusic.com, at online webstores such as Amazon or CDbaby, and at many digital download locations such as iTunes.
Luna Blanca, based in Bocholt, Germany, was founded at the beginning of the millennium by acoustic lead guitarist Richard Hecks. The other mainstay of the group is pianist Helmut Graebe, who joined the group just before they recorded the first album, and now co-writes the music with Hecks. Both on record and in concert they add other musicians as needed to create their sound with drums, percussion, bass, one or more acoustic rhythm guitars, organ, occasional vocalizing, etc. On the last three albums, Hecks and Graebe have been joined by rhythm guitarist Bino Dola (a flamenco player much respected throughout Europe) and Clemens Paskert (who adds bass, percussion and additional keyboards). Paskert, who runs Capitol Sound Studios where the CD was recorded, also serves as arranger and co-producer with Hecks. On El Dorado more keyboards were added by Christian Landgraf.
On each album Luna Blanca has continued to get better and better, has become more popular, and has stretched themselves further musically. For example, on El Dorado there are some noteworthy new additions to their sound -- electric guitar and sound effects on “Desperado,” blues harp on “Medianoche” and “Rio Mamoré,” and honky-tonk piano on “El Dorado,” as well as some instrumentation they occasionally use such as trumpets (on “Los Ojos” and “Kolibri”) and string orchestration (on “Puesta del Sol”). Hecks explains, “The CD starts with ‘Los Ojos,’ the eyes, looking off into the distance where the explorers are headed, and the tune includes Clemens laughing with joy at the exciting and dangerous trip to follow. Some of that danger appears in the tune about a ‘Desperado’ who is eventually shot down with the sounds of a horse whinnying and bells tolling.” The people of South America love to dance and Luna Blanca likes to include a rumba tune on their recent recordings which led to the upbeat and highly-melodic “Guapa.”
The legend of El Dorado first came to the attention of the early Spanish conquistadors who began searching for the site in the mid-1500s with their quest continuing for hundreds of years. El Dorado was supposed to be a religious place for the indigenous tribes where gold and jewels were used in ceremonies to crown their new rulers. The fable lives on and has been used in many artistic endeavors in the past hundred years including books and films.
Hecks was a classical guitarist until he heard Ottmar Liebert (a fellow German who moved to the United States) on the radio. “That was the sound I had been searching for,” Hecks says. “It was the alchemy of uniting beautiful melodies with the intensity of flamenco. The romantic and melodious aspect that Ottmar introduced aroused my enthusiasm.”
On their debut album, Luna Blanca did versions of Liebert tunes, a classical piece by Chopin and “Johnny Guitar” by Victor Young from the 1954 film of the same name. On the second CD, Magic, Hecks and Graebe began writing original material, and found that their title tune and “Destiny” were well received. They also did their own distinctive new flamenco arrangements of classic rock tunes by The Beatles, Procol Harum and Santana. For Guitar Island, Hecks and Graebe composed all of the pieces except for “Robinson Crusoe,” the original theme from the 1964 German-French TV series. On Provence and El Dorado Hecks and Graebe penned all original material (with Paskert helping out on “Desperado” and Dola contributing “Conquistador”).
In addition to garnering airplay around the world with their music, Luna Blanca has had many memorable moments. They have performed at major concert events -- “La Guitarra” and “Noche de Guitarra” -- with international-favorite Peter Finger joining Richard Hecks and Bino Dola as the third guitarist. On their Guitar Island album, Hecks and Graebe brought in award-winning percussionist Sascha Pöpping. From that CD, the tune “Pastis” went to No. 3 on the Australian Indie Radio Chart, “Island Reggae” appeared on a Global Rhythm compilation CD, “Villa Azur” was heard on a New Age and New Sounds compilation recording, and “Rising Sun” was chosen to be on two compilation albums -- Café World Lounge and Goa Chillout Zone. On Provence the group had internationally-acclaimed keyboardist Uwe Gronau guest on two tracks. Provence went to #7 on the international Top 100 Zone Music Reporter radio airplay chart (and was named one of the Top 5 albums of the year in two award categories -- Best Acoustic Instrumental Album and Best World Album). The song “Gipsy” hit No. 1 on the Australian Easy Listening Radio Chart. The new tune “Desperado” has been selected to appear on a WOA Independent #1’s compilation.
Richard Hecks began playing guitar at age 12, initially inspired by Trini Lopez in the movie “The Poppy is Also a Flower.” Richard soon got hooked on the electric-guitar rock’n’roll sounds of groups such as The Shadows and The Spotnicks, and he played in the band The Condors. “Helmut is an old and dear friend of mine. We have known each other since our time at university when we played together for pure fun, mostly doing all The Beatles’ songs.” Eventually Richard became passionate about classical guitar and artists such as Andrés Segovia, and in 1995 Hecks hired a well-known guitar-maker, Hermann Hauser, to craft a custom acoustic. “I explicitly asked him to produce a guitar which would produce a soft sound which is why he made the top out of cedar.” In 1999 Hecks performed classical guitar music in concert with another guitarist and was pleased by the crowd’s enthusiastic response. After hearing the modern nouveau-flamenco sound, Hecks began performing in that style. “I have always loved discovering new musical directions and techniques. During my entire musical career, it has always been my intention to play emotional music capable of reaching the hearts of those who listen.”
Helmut Graebe began playing bass when he was 13 and remembers playing percussion on tin cans while listening to BBC Radio. Later he discovered one of his relatives had a piano and he taught himself to play that instrument. He also enjoys performing on a Hammond B-3 organ when he gets the chance. As a friend of Hecks, Graebe was asked to help produce the first Luna Blanca CD, but when he played a piano solo “just for fun” on the tune “August Moon,” he and Richard felt, “The new sound of Luna Blanca was born.” When Richard came up with the idea of projecting photos and original artwork on a screen behind the group during concerts, Helmut contributed paintings to use.
“In my early years as a musician, I never imagined I would turn my attention to flamenco melodies,” states Hecks. “But once I heard this style of music, I fell in love with the emotionalism and intensity. I also am excited about how this new flamenco sound deeply touches listeners from all age groups, all different ethnic backgrounds and all countries around the world. It is a universal musical language that can be appreciated by anyone.”