Most revered for his 1970 classic, “Feliz Navidad,” José Feliciano was first brought to wide acclaim through his 1968 cover of The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” Feliciano has written and performed numerous songs that cross the genres of Latin, rock, country and pop. The Grammy Award winner was one of the first to sing his own version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which, in 1968, met with controversy. It is now viewed as one of the most heartfelt and passionate renditions. Feliciano spoke of his great adoration for America, his career and songwriting inspiration, and why he feels blessed to have so much music in his heart to share with his audience.
Where do you find inspiration?
It could come from many things—from feeling good, or sometimes, maybe, feeling depressed. You never know where a song is going to come from. There are times when I’ll write a whole barrage of songs, and sometimes I can’t write anything.
I always feel that I still have a lot of music inside of me to share. I just turned 71, and I don’t feel old. I feel great. There’s a lot of music left in me, and I’m not about to stop playing.
What do you strive for when covering songs?
I try to make it original. If I can’t do a song any better than what is, then I don’t do it. A good song is one that either makes you happy, or makes you cry, or that moves your insides—that’s a good song. I play the electric guitar as well as the acoustic. I love playing the electric because I like rock ’n’ roll. I started on acoustic, and there’s no one out there right now who can play the nylon acoustic, so, to me, in that regard, that’s where I’m king.
How did it feel to perform “The Star Spangled Banner” at the fifth game of the 1968 World Series to mixed reactions?
Well, when I did it, the only thing I had in my mind was getting people to pay attention to “The Star Spangled Banner,” because a lot of times at a baseball game they couldn’t wait till the singer finished doing his rendition, so they could get on to the game, and that bothered me. This is our country, so I sang it in my own way, a soulful version. A lot of people in 1968 didn’t feel the way I did, and my records were stopped from being played on the radio. For about three or four years I suffered a lot, but now, of course, everybody sings it their own way, and so I’m happy that it’s happened that way. I feel very blessed that I’ve had a good career, and I thank God for that. I’m a believer. I think this generation in a lot of ways is lost because they don’t put God in their equation, and so I’ve always said, “If you put God first in the things you do, everything falls into line.”
What are you most looking forward to at Patchogue Theatre on October 1?
I have some friends in Levittown, and I wonder if they got married, if they have kids, and I wonder if they’ll come see me in Patchogue. I always like Long Island. I’m looking for the people to have a good time. I’m so happy to be coming out there to perform, and I love this country. I’m a Puerto Rican American and proud of it, and I just hope for good things for us here in America.
José Feliciano performs at Patchogue Theatre, 71 East Main Street in Patchogue on Saturday, October 1 at 8 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets visit patchoguetheatre.org or call 631-207-1313.