HE may be credited as the first Latin artist to cross over to the English music market, been awarded multiple Grammys, achieved platinum record status and recorded nearly 70 albums, but the unpretentious Jose Feliciano says his proudest achievement is quite simple – his family.
“I never thought I’d have children but when they were born, my life changed completely,” Feliciano said.
“I became a lot more gentle as a man and I wasn’t the ruffian I started out to be.
“I brought my youngest son Michael (22) to Australia four years ago and he had such a good time that his brother Jonathan (26) is coming on this tour. He’s very musical and I might have him come up and do something with me; he’s such a great drummer.”
Feliciano said his Australian tour, which includes Regal Theatre on March 14, is a continuation of his great love affair with the country.
“I’ve been coming to Australia since 1970 and love it more and more each time,” the 72-year-old said.
“As long as I’m healthy and still strong, I don’t see any reason why I should retire.”
Born in Puerto Rico with congenital glaucoma causing permanent blindness, Feliciano moved to Spanish Harlem with his family when he was five years old and now calls New England, Connecticut home.
He taught himself to play the accordion when he was six and had no formal training until he was 16 years old and “wanted to be like Andre Segovia so I studied classical guitar”.
That was until the sounds of other music genres grabbed his attention
“Pop music called me and rock and roll, jazz and folk; those were the styles on the radio at the time,” he said.
“I enjoyed listening to the folk era, people like Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and then rock and roll in its infancy with singers like Bobby Darin and the list goes on. I loved the Bee Gees; those guys did a lot to put Australia on the map musically.”
Feliciano said his 1968 hit with the cover Light My Fire simply grew from liking The Doors and did not imagine it would receive such a response.
“I enjoyed their music, even though it was very avant garde for its time,” he said.
“My producer, Rick Jarrard, liked my version of it because I played it in clubs before I recorded it.”
It was also his producer’s suggestion to write a new Christmas song.
“In the beginning when he told me, I thought ‘How the heck am I going to write a Christmas song that could possibly be as good as White Christmas or any of those?’” he said.
“I started to play with my guitar and came up with ‘Feliz Navidad’ (sings) which was very simple. I never thought it would be the iconic hit it’s become, so I’m grateful and don’t take things for granted.”
Feliciano is working on a documentary of his life, which he will finish after the Australian tour.
What: Jose Feliciano in Concert
Where: Regal Theatre
When: March 14