Personalities | John McLaughlin | Inspiration & Devotion | Guitar Heroes
John McLaughlin (b. 1942) led the Mahavishnu Orchestra and a series of other bands that stretched the boundaries of jazz-rock fusion and world music, as he inspired guitarists worldwide with his inventiveness and devotion to exotic sounds and spirituality.
McLaughlin started on guitar when he was 11 and was initially inspired by blues and swing players. McLaughlin worked with Alexis Korner, Graham Bond, Ginger Baker and others in the 1960s and played free jazz with Gunter Hampel for six months. His first album was Extrapolation (1969). He recorded My Goals Beyond (1970), an album of acoustic solos and jams with Indian musicians.
My Goals Beyond was inspired by McLaughlin’s decision to follow the Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, to whom he had been introduced in 1970. The album was dedicated to Chinmoy and included one of the guru’s poems printed on the liner notes. It was on this album that McLaughlin took the name Mahavishnu.
In 1969 McLaughlin moved to New York to play with Tony Williams’ Lifetime, and he became a member of Miles Davis’ band, appearing on the records In A Silent Way (1969), Bitches Brew (1969), On The Corner (1972), Big Fun (1969), on which he is featured soloist on ‘Go Ahead John’, and A Tribute To Jack Johnson (1970). Davis paid tribute to McLaughlin in the liner notes to Jack Johnson, calling McLaughlin’s playing ‘far in’.
In 1971 McLaughlin formed The Mahavishnu Orchestra, a group with a rock image but with the sophisticated vocabulary of jazz. After three influential albums (The Inner Mounting Flame, Birds Of Fire and Between Nothingness And Eternity), the group disbanded in 1973. McLaughlin, who recorded a powerful spiritual album with Carlos Santana that was influenced by John Coltrane, put together a new Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1974 that, despite the inclusion of Jean-Luc Ponty, failed to catch on and broke up by 1975.
McLaughlin then surprised the music world by radically shifting directions, switching to acoustic guitar and playing Indian music with his group Shakti. They made a strong impact on the nascent world-music scene during their three years. In Shakti McLaughlin played a custom 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 at a 45-degree angle. The two string groups 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, which enabled McLaughlin to play bends far beyond the reach of a conventional fretboard.
In 1979 McLaughlin teamed up with Jaco Pastorius (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) for the short-lived Trio Of Doom. They only played one concert, at the Karl Marx Theatre in Havana, Cuba on 3 March 1979. They recorded three of the tracks at CBS Studios in New York in 8...
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