John McLaughlin – A Guitar Deity

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.

Yes, everybody bought vinyl back in those days

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 …

On the subject of improvisation, Mr. McLaughlin told critic Daniel Fischlin (in a  2010 conversation):  “Improvising in music is to be truly in this very moment and being completely yourself ….  It is probably the most honest state for a human being to be in, whether in music or life. The great thing about improvisation in general is that the listener is taken by the very spontaneity .” 


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.)


 Since 2007 I am reliably informed Mr. McLaughlin has balanced solo projects with membership in a jazz quartet called The Fourth Dimension. Although the original line-up has changed, drummer/keyboardist Gary Husband has hung in there since the group’s formation. 
John McLaughlin – Still a vital and innovative force of nature in his 70s
 ” At 72, McLaughlin isn’t just at the top of his game; with his best (and longest-standing) fusion group since his breakthrough/breakout days of the early ’70s, raved John Kelman in a 2014 review in, “The Boston Record documents an artist still vital, still treading new ground—and still as relevant as ever.”
 For a jazz program featuring some of Mr. McLaughlin’s shorter pieces (the podcast is only an hour, after all) click on this link:

Author: rixbitz

media gadfly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.