John McLaughlin (born January 4, 1942), also Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (not to be confused with pop/rock artist Jon McLaughlin), is a jazz fusion guitarist and composer from Doncaster, Yorkshire in England. He came to prominence with Miles Davis¡¯ electric jazz-fusion groups from the late 1960s and is regarded as one of the most influential and technically gifted guitarists of all time. Having mastered a remarkable range of styles and genres, including jazz, Indian classical music, fusion and Western Classical music, he has also incorporated aspects of Flamenco music in some of his acoustic periods.
Before moving to the United States, McLaughlin recorded Extrapolation (with Tony Oxley and John Surman) in 1969, in which McLaughlin showed technical virtuosity, inventiveness, and the ability to play in odd meters. He moved to the U.S. in 1969 to join the group, Tony Williams Lifetime. He subsequently played with Miles Davis on his landmark albums In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew (which has a track named after him), On the Corner, Big Fun (where he is featured soloist on ¡°Go Ahead John¡±) and A Tribute to Jack Johnson - Davis paid tribute to him in the liner notes to Jack Johnson, calling McLaughlin¡¯s playing ¡°far in¡±. McLaughlin returned to the Davis band for one recorded night of a week-long club date, which was released as part of the album Live-Evil and as part of the Cellar Door boxed set.
His reputation as a ¡°first-call¡± session player grew, resulting in recordings as a sideman with Miroslav Vitous, Larry Coryell, Joe Farrell, Wayne Shorter, Carla Bley, The Rolling Stones and others.
He recorded Devotion in early 1970 on Douglas Records (run by Alan Douglas), a high-energy, psychedelic, fusion album that featured Larry Young on organ (who had been part of Lifetime), Billy Rich on bass and the R&B drummer Buddy Miles (who had played with Jimi Hendrix). Devotion was the first of two albums he released on Douglas.
On the second Douglas album, however, McLaughlin went in a different direction in 1971 when he released My Goal¡¯s Beyond in the U.S., an amazing collection of unamplified acoustic works, including extended performances on side A of ¡°Peace One¡± and ¡°Peace Two,¡± offering a fusion blend of jazz and Indian classical forms. Side B features some of the most melodic acoustic playing McLaughlin ever recorded, including such standards as ¡°Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat,¡± by Charles Mingus whom McLaughlin considered an important influence on his own development. Other tracks that expressed some of McLaughlin¡¯s other influences include ¡°Something Spiritual¡± (Dave Herman), ¡°Hearts and Flowers¡± (P.D. Bob Cornford), ¡°Phillip Lane,¡± ¡°Waltz for Bill Evans¡± (Chick Corea), ¡°Follow Your Heart,¡± ¡°Song for My Mother¡± and ¡°Blue in Green¡± (Miles Davis). ¡°Follow Your Heart¡± had been released earlier on Extrapolation under the title ¡°Arjen¡¯s Bag¡±.
My Goal¡¯s Beyond was inspired by McLaughlin¡¯s decision to follow the Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, to whom he had been introduced in 1970 by Larry Coryell¡¯s manager. The album was dedicated to Chinmoy, with one of the guru¡¯s poems printed on the liner notes. It was on this album that McLaughlin took the name ¡°Mahavishnu.¡±
McLaughlin¡¯s 1970s electric band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra included violinist Jerry Goodman (later Jean-Luc Ponty), keyboardist Jan Hammer (later Gayle Moran and Stu Goldberg), bassist Rick Laird (later Ralphe Armstrong), and drummer Billy Cobham (later Narada Michael Walden). The band performed a technically virtuosic and complex style of music that fused eclectic jazz and rock with eastern and Indian influences. This band established fusion as a new and growing style within the jazz and rock worlds. McLaughlin¡¯s playing at this time was distinguished by fast solos and exotic musical scales.
In 1973, McLaughlin collaborated with Carlos Santana, also a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, on an album of devotional songs, Love Devotion Surrender, which included recordings of Coltrane compositions including ¡°A Love Supreme¡±. He has also worked with the jazz composers Carla Bley and Gil Evans.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra¡¯s personality clashes were as explosive as their performances and consequently the first incarnation of the group split in late 1973 after just two years and three albums, one of which was a live recording ¡°Between Nothingness and Eternity¡±. In 2001 the Lost Trident Sessions album was released, recorded in 1973 but shelved when the group disbanded. Mclaughlin then reformed the group with Narada Michael Walden (drums), Jean Luc Ponty (violin), Ralphe Armstrong (bass) and Gayle Moran (keys and vocals). The incarnation of the group recorded a further two albums, after which time Mclaughlin was almost completely absorbed in his acoustic playing with his Indian classical music based group Shakti. A third album was recorded in 1976 largely due to contractual obligations. Around this time, McLaughlin also appeared on Stanley Clarke¡¯s School Days album, among a host of other musicians.
After the first reincarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra split, McLaughlin worked with the far more low-key, acoustic group Shakti. This group combined Indian music with elements of jazz and thus may be regarded as a pioneer of world music. Mclaughlin had already been studying Indian classical music and playing the veena for several years. The group featured Lakshmirnaraya L. Shankar (violin), Zakir Hussain (tabla), Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram (ghatam) and earlier Ramnad Raghavan (mridangam). John was the first westerner to attain any acclaim performing Indian music for Indian audiences. In this group, Mclaughlin played a custom-made steel string acoustic guitar made by luthier Abe Wechter and the Gibson guitar company, which featured two tiers of strings over the soundhole: a conventional six-string configuration with an additional seven strings strung underneath on a forty-five degree angle - these were independently tunable and were played as ¡°sympathetic strings,¡± much like a sitar or veena. The instrument also featured a scalloped fretboard along the full length of the neck with enabled Mclaughlin to play bends far beyond the reach of a conventional fretboard.
In 1979, he teamed up with flamenco guitarist Paco de Luc cand jazz guitarist Larry Coryell (replaced by Al Di Meola in the early 1980s) as the Guitar Trio, the virtuoso talents of all three musicians equally on display. For the fall tour of 1983, they were joined by Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse, who opened the show as a soloist and participated with The Trio in the closing numbers. The Trio, again featuring McLaughlin along with de Luc cand Di Meola, reunited in 1996 for a second recording session and a world tour.
Also in 1979, McLaughlin recorded the album Johnny Mclaughlin: Electric Guitarist. This was the title on McLaughlin¡¯s first business cards as a young teenager in Yorkshire. This recording was a comeback album of sorts, as it saw his return to more mainstream Jazz/Rock fusion and to the electric instrument after some three years or so of playing exclusively on acoustic guitars, particularly his Gibson 2-tier custom made steel string with the Shakti group. Mclaughlin was so used to the scalloped fretboard from his Shakti days and so accustomed to the freedom it provided him that he had the fretboard of the Gibson Byrdland Electric hollow body he used on the album scalloped. He also formed the short-lived but excellent One Truth Band who recorded just the one studio album, Electric Dreams, Electric Sighs. The group featured L. Shankar on violins, Stu Goldberg on keyboards, Fernando Saunders on electric bass and Tony Smith on drums.
The very short-lived Trio of Doom formed in 1979. Here McLaughlin teamed up with Jaco Pastorius (bass) and Tony Williams (drums). They only played one concert, at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, Cuba on March 3 1979, as part of a US State Department cultural exchange program known by some musicians as the ¡°The Bay of Gigs¡±. They went on to record three of the tracks at CBS Studios in New York City, New York, U.S. on March 8 1979.
In the late ¡®80s and early ¡®90s McLaughlin recorded and performed live with a trio including bassist Kai Eckhardt and phenomenal percussionist Trilok Gurtu. The group recorded two albums: Live at The Royal Festival Hall and Que Alegria, with latter featuring Dominique DiPiazza on bass for all but two tracks. These recordings saw a return to acoustic instruments for McLaughlin, performing on nylon-string guitar. On Live at the Royal Festival Hall McLaughlin utilized a unique guitar synth, which featured a pedal with an infinite sustain when pressed. It enabled him to effectively ¡°loop¡± guitar parts and play over them live. The results of this are quite incredible, with McLaughlin playing parts which sound overdubbed and creating lush soundscapes, aided by Gurtu¡¯s unique percussive sounds. This approach is used to great effect in the track ¡°Florianapolis¡± amongst others.
In 1986 he appeared with Dexter Gordon in Bertrand Tavernier¡¯s film ¡°Round Midnight.¡± He also composed The Mediterranean Concerto, orchestrated by Michael Gibbs. The world premier featured McLaughlin and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was recorded in 1988 with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. McLaughlin does improvise in certain sections. It is, however, yet another validation of McLaughlin¡¯s versatility as a musician and a composer-arranger.
In the early 1990s he toured with his Quartet on the Que Alegria album. The quartet comprised John McLaughlin, Trilok Gurtu, Kai Eckhardt and Dominique DiPiazza. Following this period he recorded and toured with The Heart of Things, featuring Gary Thomas, Dennis Chambers, Matthew Garrison, Jim Beard and Otmaro Ruiz. In recent times he has toured with Remember Shakti. In addition to original Shakti member Zakir Hussain, this group has also featured eminent Indian musicians U. Srinivas, V. Selvaganesh, Shankar Mahadevan, Shivkumar Sharma, and Hariprasad Chaurasia.
In 2003, John recorded a ballet score, Thieves and Poets, along with arrangements for classical guitar ensemble of favorite jazz standards, and a 3-DVD instructional video on improvisation entitled This is the Way I Do It (which revolutionized video lessons).
In June 2006, he released a hard bop/jazz fusion album entitled Industrial Zen, on which McLaughlin experiments with the Godin Glissentar as well as continuing to expand his guitar-synth repertoire.
McLaughlin left Universal Records in 2007 and joined the small Internet-based Abstract Logix label that works closely with independent jazz, progressive rock, and world music bands. Recording sessions for his first album on the label took place in April. That summer, he began touring with a new jazz fusion quartet, the 4th Dimension, consisting of keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband, bassist Hadrian Feraud, and drummer Mark Mondesir. During the 4th Dimension¡¯s tour, an ¡°instant CD¡± entitled Live USA 2007: Official Bootleg was made available comprising soundboard recordings of six pieces from the group¡¯s first performance. The album was available after that and all subsequent performances and a limited number were made available through Abstract Logix.
Following completion of the tour, McLaughlin personally sorted through recordings from each night to release a second MP3 download-only collection entitled Official Pirate: Best of the American Tour 2007. During this time, McLaughlin also released another instructional DVD entitled ¡°The Gateway to Rhythm¡±, featuring Indian percussionist and Remember Shakti bandmate Selva Ganesh Vinayakram (or V. Selvaganesh), focusing on the Indian rhythmic system of konnakol. John also remastered and released a shelved project dating back to 1980 called The Trio of Doom featuring jazz/fusion luminaries Jaco Pastorius and Tony Williams. The project had been aborted due to conflicts between Williams and Pastorius, as well as what was at the time a mutual dissatisfaction with the results of their performance.
On April 28, 2008 the recording sessions from the previous year surfaced on the album Floating Point, featuring the rhythm section of keyboardist Louiz Banks, bassist Hadrien Feraud, percussionist Sivamani and drummer Ranjit Barot bolstered on each track by a different Indian musician. Coinciding with the release of the album was another DVD, ¡°Meeting of the Minds¡±, which offered behind the scenes studio footage of the ¡°Floating Point¡± sessions as well as interviews with all of the musicians.
Now Here This (2012), McLaughlin¡¯s latest creative venture with The 4th Dimension reflects a slight, yet significant, alteration of the dynamic, specifically the recruitment of powerhouse Indian drummer Ranjit Barot. Cameroon-born/Paris-resident bassist Etienne M¡¯Bappe is back from To the One, as is keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband. This eight track set of McLaughlin originals, recorded at Studio 26 in Antibes, France, testifies to the guitarist¡¯s decades-long fascination with Indian music, through his effortless virtuosity, and relentless lyricism, even when the guitarist is shredding at near-light speed. As John himself simply states, ¡®¡®Now Here This is the culmination of my life¡¯s work till now.¡¯¡¯