By Bobbie Katz
It was back in 1980 that the master of the Spanish Gypsy Flamenco guitar, Esteban, was in a horrific automobile accident that, among other injuries, caused nerve damage to his hands and, for 10 years, robbed him of his career. Today, however, the only indication of that terrible time is visible in what might be called an anomaly in the anatomy of his life – he emerged from that period with his hands connected to his heart.
It’s more than just the fact that this artist, who is appearing every Thursday, Friday and on occasional Saturdays in the Shimmer Cabaret at the LVH Hotel Casino (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) through March, plays from his heart, the lesson he learned from his renowned mentor/teacher, Andres Segovia. Esteban, known as “The Man in Black,” has virtually dedicated his life to getting guitars into the hands of poor children so that they can experience music and the joy he felt as a child from the instrument. To that avail, when he appeared at The Smith Center in Las Vegas in September, via an Outreach program, the venue donated 200 Esteban guitars to underprivileged children in the Las Vegas area. For the guitarist, it is purely a matter of giving, with absolutely no strings attached.
“I was on one path when the accident happened,” Esteban, who designs his own guitar line, recalls. “From the time I was eight years old, I knew I would be playing the guitar for the rest of my life. But, in 1980, I was driving home at 1 a.m. after picking my mother up at the airport and dropping her off at her home in Phoenix when I was hit by a drunk driver going 75 miles per hour the wrong way on a one-way street. Besides breaking ribs losing teeth, and totally losing the sight in my left eye, I was left with no feeling in my left arm for 10 years. Doctors told me there was a 15 percent chance of my never walking again if they operated on me because of the damage to my spine. So I declined the operation.
I had a big ego before the accident,” he continues. “When I came back from Spain after studying with Segovia and started touring, I thought I was the cat’s meow. But with the accident, God slapped me down with a 2 x 4 to the head. I learned some big lessons. The most important lesson was to have no ego and to just play with the feeling that comes through me from the spiritual world. Now, when I play, my mind doesn’t even have a clue as to what’s going on. I have kind of a basic structure but then I go off and improvise and play different things. My band has to try and follow me. My daughter, Teresa Joy, who accompanies me on the violin, knows what to do because she’s part of my heart. Sometimes she takes off her shoes and dances around the stage.”
After selling solar systems and insurance for 10 years to support his wife and two daughters, Esteban was told about a Chinese man who did acupuncture. After three treatments, he could feel his fingers coming back but it was only after 10 treatments that he could play a C chord. He had to start all over again with the guitar and the first song he arranged and could play when he came back was “Unchained Melody.” He now plays that song at every concert he performs.
Esteban, who says his program is “from Bach to rock to love songs,” admits that he believes that the accident happened because he had a larger purpose in life, which is to get music into the hands of children who have never played. Born Stephen Paul in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his own foray into music began with his Uncle George, who took the child under his wing and away from the household in which his father, a steel mill worker who was constantly in pain from burns he received at work, drank heavily.
“My Uncle George was a shining beacon for me,” Esteban recalls. “He took me to his home where he lived with his mom and played guitar music through the 15-inch speakers of his record player. He played Segovia and Montoya and the music just went into my soul. He bought me my first guitar when I was eight and I was so happy, I couldn’t put it into words. I remember sitting in my room holding the guitar, with the sun coming in from the window and the light hitting me in the face. The sun made a kind of yellowish-white face on the guitar – it was like God saying, ‘This is the rest of your life.’ That guitar never left my hands until the accident.”
Esteban was raking a double major of music and English at Carnegie Mellon University when he felt a strong desire to study with Segovia. He began pursuing Segovia, sending notes to wherever the guitar master stayed in hotels, and finally succeeded reaching him in Los Angeles in 1972, virtually knocking on Segovia’s hotel room door unannounced, note in hand. That began a four-year sojourn between Spain and California to study with Segovia, who gave him the name Esteban (which means “Stephen” in Spanish), during which time the penniless student would play on the streets with an open guitar case to make money. It’s during this time that he acquired the nickname “The Man in Black.”
“I wore a black shirt and pants to hide the dirt,” Esteban remembers. “And because the sun was shining down and I was sweating, I also wore a black bolero hat. When I was 12, I had had a baseball accident that nearly blinded me in my left eye so I wore dark sunglasses, which I wear today because outside of having no sight in my left eye, my right eye is light sensitive and I get migraines from the spotlight when it hits that eye.
“Segovia demanded excellence,” he adds. “He’d let you know that he wouldn’t accept anything else. He singlehandedly made the guitar a concert instrument. He taught me to play from within and told me, ‘Don’t play with your hands and brain; play with your heart.’ With that, he gave me the greatest gift. I learned to play with compassion from him. But he’d get pissed off at me because I’d take off to southern Spain to Flamenco country and play Flamenco, He hated Flamenco but I loved music period. He only liked classical but I also loved the Flamenco music of the Spanish gypsy. I bridged the gap between the two.”
After the accident, Esteban went on to have eight Number One billboard singles, 10 Number Two Billboard singles, and 250 chartings, more than any other instrumental musician. He also went on QVC and sold half a million albums in a few days and ultimately ended up on Home Shopping Network, on which he also sold guitars and which he quit about two years ago. However, he is currently in negotiations with Time Life Inc. and QVC to sell his new album and guitars.on the shopping network.
“I’ve just recently started working with Time-Life in the U.S.,” Esteban informs. “But I’ve already given away 1,000 guitars and am hoping to give away millions someday and get them to kids all over the world. It’s all a matter of putting one foot in front of the other , taking your ego out of the equation and knowing your purpose in life. The ego is all crap. If you help others, the universe will take care of you. We’re all children of the divine. We’re all the same.”
That’s true music to the ears.
This article appears by courtesy of Vegas Insider Daily.com.