John McLaughlin (musician)

John McLaughlin (musician)
John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin performing in 2008
Background information
Also known as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin
Born 4 January 1942 (1942-01-04) (age 69)
Doncaster, England
Genres Jazz fusion, jazz, world fusion, post-bop
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Guitar, keyboard
Years active 1963–present
Labels Abstract Logix, Verve, Douglas
Associated acts Miles Davis, Tony Williams Lifetime, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Shakti, Remember Shakti, Paco de Lucía, Al Di Meola, Carlos Santana, Katia Labèque, Zakir Hussain
Notable instruments
Gibson EDS-1275
Gibson L-4
Gibson Hummingbird
Fender Mustang
Gibson Les Paul Custom
Abraham Wechter-built "Shakti guitar"
Ovation acoustic

John McLaughlin (born 4 January 1942, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, England), also known as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, is an English guitarist, bandleader and composer. His music includes many genres of jazz, and rock, which he coupled with an interest in Indian classical music to become one of the pioneering figures in fusion.

In 2010 guitarist Jeff Beck called him "the best guitarist alive".[1] The Indian tabla maestro Zakir Hussain has called him "one of the greatest and one of the important musicians of our times". In 2003 McLaughlin was ranked 49th in Rolling Stone magazine list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".[2]

After contributing to several key British groups of the early sixties and making his first solo record Extrapolation (with Tony Oxley and John Surman) he moved to the USA where he played with Tony Williams's group Lifetime and then with Miles Davis on his landmark electric jazz-fusion albums In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Johnson and On The Corner. His 1970s electric band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, performed a technically virtuosic and complex style of music that fused electric jazz and rock with eastern and Indian influences.




From a family of musicians (his mother being a concert violinist), McLaughlin studied violin and piano as a child and took up the guitar at the age of 11, exploring styles from flamenco to the jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. He moved to London from Yorkshire in the early 1960s, playing with Alexis Korner[3] and the Marzipan Twisters before moving on to Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, the Graham Bond Organisation (in 1963)[4] and Brian Auger. During the 1960s he often had to support himself with session work which he often found unsatisfying[5] but which enhanced his playing and sight-reading.

McLaughlin moved to the U.S. in 1969 to join Tony Williams's group Lifetime. A recording from the Record Plant, NYC, dated 25 March 1969, exists of McLaughlin jamming with Jimi Hendrix. McLaughlin recollects "we played one night, just a jam session. And we played from 2 until 8, in the morning. I thought it was a wonderful experience! I was playing an acoustic guitar with a pick-up. Um, flat-top guitar, and Jimi was playing an electric. Yeah, what a lovely time! Had he lived today, you'd find that he would be employing everything he could get his hands on, and I mean acoustic guitar, synthesizers, orchestras, voices, anything he could get his hands on he'd use!"

He played on Miles Davis' 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. In the liner notes to Jack Johnson, Davis called McLaughlin's playing "far in." McLaughlin returned to the Davis band for one night of a week-long club date, recorded and released as part of the album Live-Evil and 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.


John McLaughlin, Zirkus Krone, Munich, West Germany April 13, 1973

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. Devotion was the first of two albums he released on Douglas. In 1971 he released My Goal's Beyond in the U.S., a collection of unamplified acoustic works. Side A ("Peace One" and "Peace Two") offers a fusion blend of jazz and Indian classical forms while side B features melodic acoustic playing McLaughlin on such standards as "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat", by Charles Mingus whom McLaughlin considered an important influence. 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."

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 movement of A Love Supreme. He has also worked with the jazz composers Carla Bley and Gil Evans.

McLaughlin performing in The Netherlands, 1978

In 1979 he formed a short-lived funk fusion power trio named the Trio of Doom with Tony Williams on drums and Jaco Pastorius on bass. Their only live performance was on 3 March 1979 at the Havana Jam Festival (2–4 March 1979) in Cuba, part of a US State Department sponsored visit to Cuba. Later on 8 March 1979 the group recorded the songs they had written for the festival at Columbia Studios, New York, on 52nd St.[6] Recollections from this performance are captured on Ernesto Juan Castellanos's documentary Havana Jam '79.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra

McLaughlin's 1970s electric band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra,[7] included violinist Jerry Goodman, keyboardist Jan Hammer, bassist Rick Laird and drummer Billy Cobham and performed a technically difficult and complex style of music that fused electric jazz and rock with Eastern and Indian influences. This band helped establish fusion as a new and growing style. McLaughlin's playing at this time was distinguished by fast solos and exotic musical scales.

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 two years and three albums, one a live recording entitled "Between Nothingness and Eternity". In 2001 the "Lost Trident Sessions" album was released, having been 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 (keyboards and vocals), and a string and horn section (McLaughlin referred to this as "the real Mahavishnu Orchestra"). This incarnation of the group recorded two more albums, Apocalypse with the London Symphony Orchestra and Visions of the Emerald Beyond. A scaled-down quartet was formed with McLaughlin, Walden on drums, Armstrong on bass and Stu Goldberg on keyboards and synthesizer, which generated a third "Mahavishnu 2" recording in 1976 largely due to contractual obligations, Inner Worlds.


McLaughlin then became absorbed in his acoustic playing with his Indian classical music based group Shakti (energy). McLaughlin had already been studying Indian classical music and playing the veena for several years. The group featured Lakshminarayanan L. Shankar (violin), Zakir Hussain (tabla), Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram (ghatam) and earlier Ramnad Raghavan (mridangam). The group recorded three albums; 'A Handful of Beauty' (1975), 'Shakti' (1976), and 'Natural Elements' (1977). Based on both Carnatic and Hindustani styles, along with extended use of konnakol, the band introduced ragas and Indian percussion to many jazz aficionados.[8]

In this group McLaughlin played a custom-made steel-string acoustic guitar made by Abe Wechter and the Gibson guitar company that featured two tiers of strings over the soundhole: a conventional six-string configuration and seven strings strung underneath at a forty-five degree angle - these were independently tuneable "sympathetic strings" much like those on a sitar or veena. The instrument's vina-like scalloped fretboard enabled McLaughlin to bend strings far beyond the reach of a conventional fretboard. McLaughlin grew so accustomed to the freedom it provided him that he had the fretboard scalloped on his Gibson Byrdland electric guitar.

Other activities

John McLaughlin, Remember Shakti Concert, Munich/Germany (2001)

McLaughlin also appeared on Stanley Clarke's School Days and numerous other fusion albums. 1979 also saw the formation of the very short-lived Trio of Doom, consisting of McLaughlin with Jaco Pastorius (bass) and Tony Williams (drums). They only played one concert, at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, Cuba on 3 March 1979,[9] as part of the Havana Jam festival. Their performance is captured on Ernesto Juan Castellanos's documentary Havana Jam '79. They later recorded three tracks at CBS Studios in New York, 8 March 1979. The same year he teamed up with flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía and jazz guitarist Larry Coryell (replaced by Al Di Meola in the early 1980s) as the Guitar Trio. For the tour of fall 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 reunited in 1996 for a second recording session and a world tour. Also in 1979 McLaughlin recorded the album Johnny McLaughlin: Electric Guitarist, the title on McLaughlin's first business cards as a teenager in Yorkshire. This was a return to more mainstream jazz/rock fusion and to the electric instrument after three years of playing acoustic guitars.

Left to Right: Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía


The short-lived One Truth Band recorded one studio album, Electric Dreams with L. Shankar on violins, Stu Goldberg on keyboards, Fernando Saunders on electric bass and Tony Smith on drums. After the dissolution of the One Truth Band, McLaughlin toured in a guitar duo with Christian Escoudé.[10]

With the group Fuse One, he released two albums in 1980 and 1982.[11]

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. Unlike what is typical practice in classical music, the concerto includes sections where McLaughlin improvises. Also included on the recording were five duets between McLaughlin and his then-girlfriend Katia Labèque.

In the late '80s and early '90s McLaughlin recorded and performed live with a trio including bassist Kai Eckhardt and 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; parts of the subsequent tour also included Jeff Berlin on bass. These recordings saw a return to acoustic instruments for McLaughlin, performing on nylon-string guitar. On "Live at the Royal Festival Hall" McLaughlin utilised a unique guitar synth which enabled him to effectively "loop" guitar parts and play over them live. The synth also featured a pedal which provided sustain when pressed. McLaughlin played 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 the early 1990s he toured with his trio on the Que Alegria album. The trio comprised John McLaughlin, percussionist Trilok Gurtu and bass player Kai Eckhardt (later replaced by 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 Ruíz. In 1993 he released a Bill Evans tribute album entitled "Time Remembered: John McLaughlin Plays Bill Evans" with his acoustic guitar backed by the acoustic guitars of the Aighetta Quartet and the acoustic bass of Yan Maresz. 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 1996, John McLaughlin, Paco DeLucia and Al Di Meola (known collectively as "The Guitar Trio") reunited for a world tour and recorded an album by the same name. In that same year he recorded "The Promise". Also notable during the period were his performances with Elvin Jones and Joey DeFrancesco.


In 2003 he recorded a ballet score, Thieves and Poets, along with arrangements for classical guitar ensemble of favorite jazz standards and a three-DVD instructional video on improvisation entitled "This is the Way I Do It" (which contributed to the development of video lessons.[12]) In June 2006 he released the post-bop/jazz fusion album Industrial Zen, on which he experimented with the Godin Glissentar as well as continuing to expand his guitar-synth repertoire.

In 2007 he left Universal Records and joined Abstract Logix. Recording sessions for his first album on that 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. Following completion of the tour, McLaughlin 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, 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. McLaughlin also remastered and released a shelved 1980 project 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 28 July 2007, McLaughlin performed at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in Bridgeview, Illinois.

McLaughlin, 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival

On 28 April 2008 the recording sessions from the previous year surfaced on the album Floating Point, featuring the rhythm section of keyboardist Louis 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. He engaged in a late summer/fall 2008 tour with Chick Corea, Vinnie Colaiuta, Kenny Garrett and Christian McBride under the name Five Peace Band, from which came an eponymous double-CD live album in early 2009.

McLaughlin performed with Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Billy Cobham at the 44th Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland, on 2 July 2010, for the first time since the band split up. In November 2010, a new book was released by Abstract Logix Books entitled Follow Your Heart- John McLaughlin Song by Song by Walter Kolosky, who also wrote the book Power, Passion and Beauty - The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra. The book discussed each song McLaughlin wrote and contained photographs never seen before.


McLaughlin has been cited as a major influence on many 1970s and 1980s fusion guitarists. Examples are prominent players such as Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, Mike Stern, Paul Masvidal, Al Di Meola, Pebber Brown, Shawn Lane, and Scott Henderson. His influence did not stop in the 80's, though; hardcore punk guitarist Greg Ginn of Black Flag cited Birds of Fire by The Mahavishnu Orchestra which inspired him to record more progressive guitar work and even record instrumental songs. Current players still hold him as highly influential, including Omar Rodriguez of The Mars Volta. According to Pat Metheny, McLaughlin has changed the evolution of the guitar during several of his periods of playing. McLaughlin is also considered a major influence on composers in the fusion genre. In an interview with Downbeat, Chick Corea remarked that "...what John McLaughlin did with the electric guitar set the world on its ear. No one ever heard an electric guitar played like that before, and it certainly inspired me. John's band, more than my experience with Miles, led me to want to turn the volume up and write music that was more dramatic and made your hair stand on end".



John has been married to the French pianist Labeque, who was also a member of his band in the early 1980's. He is currently married to Ina Behrend with whom he has a son, Luke (b.1997). Ref.


  • Gibson EDS-1275 - McLaughlin played the Gibson doubleneck between 1971 and 1973,[13] his first years with the Mahavishnu Orchestra;[14] this is the guitar which, amplified through a 100-watt Marshall amplifier "in meltdown mode," produced the signature McLaughlin sound hailed by Guitar Player as one of the "50 Greatest Tones of All Time."[15]
  • Double Rainbow doubleneck guitar made by Rex Bogue, which McLaughlin played from 1973 to 1975.[16][17]
  • The first Abraham Wechter-built acoustic "Shakti guitar,"[18] a customized Gibson J-200[19] with drone strings transversely across the soundhole.[20]
  • He currently plays Godin electric/MIDI guitars, one of which can be seen on the Eric Clapton's Crossroads Chicago 2007 DVD.


In 1994, John McLaughlin was granted the Miles Davis Award by the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

See also


  1. ^ Uncut magazine, March 2010.
  2. ^ "Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". 
  3. ^[dead link]
  4. ^ Mo Foster, '17 Watts? The Birth of British Rock Guitar', Sanctuary Publishing 1997
  5. ^ Guitar Player Magazine, interview August 1978
  6. ^ Trio of Doom
  7. ^ "Power, Passion and Beauty, The Story Of The Legendary Mahavishnu-Orchestra". Retrieved 2011-10-18. 
  8. ^ "". Retrieved 2011-10-18. [dead link]
  9. ^ Sleeve notes: Trio of Doom, Columbia/Legacy 82796964502
  10. ^ All About Jazz. "Christian Escoude - Jazz - Guitar". Retrieved 2011-10-18. 
  11. ^ Allmusic Discography
  12. ^ All About Jazz (2004-08-17). "Walter Kolosky "All About Jazz" 2004". Retrieved 2011-10-19. 
  13. ^ "An EDS-1275 and a Drone-Stringed J-200: The Tale of John McLaughlin’s Two Rare Gibsons". Gibson Guitar Corporation. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  14. ^ Chapman, Richard (2000). Guitar: music, history, players. Dorling Kindersley. p. 115. ISBN 9780789459633. 
  15. ^ Blackett, Matt (October 2004). "The 50 Greatest Tones of All Time". Guitar Player 38 (10): 44–66. 
  16. ^ Ferris, Leonard (May 1974). "John McLaughlin & Rex Bogue Creating the 'Double Rainbow'". Guitar Player. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  17. ^ Cleveland, Barry. "John McLaughlin's 2007 Touring Rig". Godin Guitars. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  18. ^ Milkowski, Bill (1998). Rockers, jazzbos & visionaries. Billboard Books. p. 176. ISBN 9780823078332. 
  19. ^ Stump, Paul (2000). Go ahead John: the music of John McLaughlin. SAF Publishing. p. 97. ISBN 9780946719242. 
  20. ^ Wheeler, Tom (August 1978). "McLaughlin's Revolutionary Drone-String Guitar". Guitar Player. Retrieved 19 Ocotber 2009. 

External links

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