If Eric Clapton hadn’t achieved such massive commercial success, there may have been the name of another guitar deity in a now famous piece of graffiti scrawled on the London walls.
As it is, John McLaughlin earned a reputation as an in-demand session man in his native England during the 1960s before heading to the United States in the early ’70s where he played with Tony Williams and Miles Davis before forming the first incarnation of Mahavishnu Orchestra.
The original line-up – Jan Hammer on keyboards, Jerry Goodman playing violin, Billy Cobham on drums and Rick Laird on bass – didn’t last long and, considering the fiery drama that characterized their time together, it is amazing that they managed to remain a group as long as they did. (The original group lasted two years, during which they produced three albums.)
Mr. McLaughlin then reformed the group with Jean-Luc Ponty playing violin, Narada Michael Walden on drums, Ralphe Armstrong on bass, Gayle Moran, keyboards and vocals, and a string and horn section. This line-up (which Mr. McLaughlin called “the real Mahavisnu Orchestra”) stayed together long enough to produce two albums, Apocalypse (with the London Symphony Orchestra) and Visions of the Emerald Beyond.
A stripped -down version of the above line-up ( McLaughlin, Walden, Armstrong and Stu Goldberg on keyboards and synthesizers) recorded the album, Inner Worlds, in 1976.
After the final incarnation of Mahavishnu Orhestra, Mr. McLaughlin played his unique fusion of Indian music and jazz with acoustic group Shakti. Mr. McLaughlin told The Hindustan Times (in a 2015 interview) that the allure of Indian music, like jazz, is that itrelies heavily on improvisation:.” Both these forms employ rhythm and melody. It became clear to me a long time ago that Indian music integrated every aspect of a human being, from the most capricious to the most sublime … “
The gifted and versatile guitarist has also played with Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Al di Meola and Carlos Santana (to mention just a few of the musical luminaries who have benefited from his unique talents over the years.)