Strickland Keeps Playing Despite Illness

Wilmington, NC – William "Paco" Strickland's voice is a familiar one to many longtime WHQR listeners and current listeners of the Penguin. Strickland hosts Flamenco Cafe, a weekly radio show dedicated to flamenco music.

When he's not on the radio, Strickland makes a living playing flamenco. Strickland shocked the community last year when he announced he has stage three bone cancer. Now, in between exhausting chemotherapy treatments, he keeps on playing.

Paco Strickland calls 2008 the year he endured the worst of possible storms. As he speaks, he runs his finger along a curved scar on his right cheek that he calls his "second smile."

"I was running up stairs with a tray of glasses and I fell on them," he explains.

The cut on his face needed surgery, and the resulting scar makes an already tough-looking guy seem tougher, as if maybe he's been in a knife-fight.

Strickland exercises regularly and surfs when the waves are good. He once had a ponytail, but long before he got cancer, he started shaving his head. And now, there's the scar.

"And I think of it now and say, God, that's so superficial," he says. "But then, it was depressing me really bad."

Strickland's perspective shifted in November, when he went to the doctor to check up on some soreness that hadn't gone away. He says he thought being 56 years old was taking its toll on him. The doctor found bone marrow cancer.

"The shock never really set in," he says. "Didn't have time to be, to go through those stages, denial, anger, all that. Didn't have time to do it. Just had to start taking the treatment as soon as possible."

But 2008 wasn't all bad for Strickland. Not long before he learned he had bone cancer, he released a best-of album: twenty-one tracks featuring himself and the Flying Flamenco brothers.

Strickland continues to play songs from this and other albums in between chemotherapy treatments, something he jokingly calls the Chemo-Flamenco tour.

On this day he's got two gigs. The first is at a Wilmington hotel. Standing outside the hotel, Strickland's drummer Troy Pierce recalls the first time he saw Strickland play, at an afternoon gig in Wilmington nearly two decades ago.

"I remember just kinda being blown away at how there was this little small town and in the center of it there was this guy playing flamenco music," Pierce says.

Pierce wasn't the only one impressed with Strickland's music. Strickland recalls the day former WHQR General Manager Michael Titterton noticed him and had an idea.

"He walked over and says, I really do like what you're doing. You've got a wonderful sound. I think we'd like to have a show based around what you're doing right here, so you come into the station, we'll hook you up, and we'll have a new flamenco radio broadcast."

The result was Flamenco Caf .

And at this Wilmington hotel, Strickland brings a live performance of the music he loves.

The striking thing about Strickland's playing is how easy it seems for him. He wears an expression somewhere between boredom and deep concentration. The fingernails on his right hand are nearly an inch long, and he uses each separately for rapid-fire strumming.

While he's working his hands, he's stomps on a pedal to record himself. Another stomp and suddenly there are two guitars in the room: one rhythm, one solo, both Strickland.

After the show, Strickland returns home. He sits down in his living room, which doubles as a production studio for Flamenco Cafe. He's got yet another gig later on, this time at a bar. He says he needs a nap before going out again, and lately sleep has brought some powerful dreams.

"When I dream at night I dream like I'm healthy. And then I wake up and I remem oh, I'm sick, damn. But in my dreams I'm not. I'm just the normal jerk that I always am."

He says he has no regrets about how he's lived his life so far.

"There's no reason to look back and say, oh I shoulda done this, if I'd only done that I've done so much that can only be dreamed of by most people. I mean, I've supported myself off of a guitar, I've surfed big waves in Hawaii."

And, Strickland says, he's not done yet.

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