Pepe Romero (with Alexander Dunn, Randy Pile and Robert Ward)
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: First Metropolitan Church, 932 Balmoral Rd.
Tickets: $30 adults, $25 seniors and students (McPherson box office 250-386-6121)
Happily for Pepe Romero, Nancy Sinatra’s boots were made for walkin’.
San Diego’s Romero is among the world’s leading classical guitarists. His father was the late Celedonio Romero, a celebrated soloist regarded as a guitarist’s guitarist. The Romeros quartet, with Pepe and Celedonio as members, was known as “the Royal Family of the Guitar.”
On Saturday, Pepe Romero will play a classical concert in Victoria featuring other guest guitarists. In an interview, he recalled the time the Romero quartet played on The Ed Sullivan Show in the early ’60s.
For some reason, the time of the Romeros’ scheduled appearance was moved up. But not everyone got the message. When Sullivan called upon the quartet, only Pepe and his brother Celin were present. Celedonio and another brother, Angel, had gone missing.
“Ed Sullivan announced us and he looked to us,” Romeo, 68, said over the phone from San Diego. “And there was only the two of us. You can see, in his face, that he was completely shocked.”
The brothers had asked Nancy Sinatra, also a guest, to locate the missing Romeros. She did. Father and son strolled on stage in the nick of time, just as the camera rolled to them.
Even though The Ed Sullivan Show was the most-watched variety program of its time, Pepe Romeo, then in his late teens, says he wasn’t made nervous by the potential debacle. If the missing Romeros couldn’t be found, he and his brother would simply have performed as a duo.
“You have to roll with things as they come,” he said.
A cigar lover who plans to purchase a few Cubans while in Victoria, Pepe Romeo was born in Málaga, Spain, at the tail end of the Second World War. In 1957, when he was 13, the entire Romero family fled Spain — then under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco — for the U.S. The Franco regime had placed a stranglehold on Celedonio Romeo’s career. He received invitations to perform all over the world; however, the government always refused its permission.
In North America, the Romero family became renowned, touring mostly through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Pepe Romeo says the quartet regularly visited Victoria, often playing with the Victoria Symphony.
While all the sons were accomplished, Pepe emerged as the standout. He went on to perform with many of the world’s top conductors and made more than 60 recordings (20 were concerto recordings with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields). Romero — who melds classical technique with flamenco’s rhythmic verve — has also premièred works by important contemporary composers, including Joaquin Rodrigo.
The Sullivan incident illustrates a characteristic that’s been crucial in Romero’s ability to thrive in the music business for more than half a century. You have to take things in stride, he says. And you have to be adaptable.
Two years ago, Romero was booked to play Rodrigo’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez with an orchestra in Equador. As the guitarist warmed up backstage before curtain call, his manager told him the entire orchestra had exited the concert hall. The musicians’ union had declared a strike.
Romero did not panic. He merely switched gears, performing a solo guitar piece for the expectant audience.
“If you get nervous or agitated about things like that, you might not last as long as I have,” he said.
Nearing 70, Romero believes he’s playing better than ever. He uses the “relaxed technique” that he learned from his father. And he takes care to warm up properly before each concert.
Romero says as a little boy, he didn’t dream about becoming a guitarist — he always felt that he was one. He views performance as an organic part of life, rather than a hurdle. Romeo sees himself as a conduit through which music passes.
“It almost feels like your hands are guided. All you have to do is enjoy the ride and the experience. Music is flowing through your fingers and through your body and through your guitar. And everyone is suspended in the magic of the moment.”
© Copyright 2013