Feliciano still lights the fire

First Night: Jose Feliciano Jazz Cafe London
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The Independent Online
HALF THE charm of the night's key number is that it's a request you don't necessarily expect a man like Jose Feliciano to make. It's one thing for Jim Morrison to fiddle with his zip and demand that a woman light his fire; quite another when the words are murmured as a loving invitation.

Tonight, Feliciano delivers "Light My Fire" with intense concentration, caressing his guitar as if it were his wife.

He has, of course, more strings than this to his acoustic. Born blind in 1945, Feliciano moved with his family from Puerto Rico to Harlem at the age of five. His first musical experience was accompanying his uncle by drumming on a biscuit tin.

He learned the accordion then, at eight, picked up a guitar and taught himself to play by practising for up to 14 hours a day.

"Being blind, I had to concentrate on one thing," he has said. "And once I found that thing, I had to be better than good at it."

When his father lost his job, Feliciano took his seductive, Latin-American rhythm and blues to the coffee houses of Greenwich village.

Since then, he's sold over 90 million records, won handfuls of Grammys and played beside Joni Mitchell, the Grateful Dead and Chuck Berry.

A slight man who has to be led carefully down the venue's steep steps to the stage, he launches into a steamy "Feel Like Making Love", a sparkling "Dance With Me", and - wow! - a psychedelic "Sunshine of Your Love", proving that the aces he holds are his eloquent guitar playing and a voice that's both wooing yet achingly uncertain.

And this, I think, is just where we came in.

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