With his revolutionary Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin became one of the most influential and individual fusion guitarists of the 1970s. His awesome, soaring, seemingly ever-ascending guitar lines- exploding in increasing mind-bending time signatures- tests the limits of human endurance for both player and listener.
Born in Yorkshire England, on January 4, 1942, McLaughlin was encouraged to learn piano from age 9 by his mother, an amateur violinist. All his brothers were musical and, two years later hearing an older brother playing the blues of Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters and Leadbelly, McLaughlin knew that his destiny was to be a guitarist. Essentially self-taught, McLaughlin's earliest influence outside blues was flamenco music at 14; later Django Reinhardt, Tal Farlow, Jim Hall, Barney Kessel, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Bartok and Debussy were all to make a lasting impression. In the '60s, McLaughlin contributed to the British blues revival with Alexis Korner, Georgie Fame, Graham Bond, and Brian Auger. He then entered into a period of experimentation with free music in company with baritonist John Surman and bassist Dave Holland (When Fortune Smiles). In 1968 he took part in pianist Gordon Beck's Experiments With Pops; in '69 the magnificent McLaughlin-Surman collaboration Extrapolation produced some of the most exciting, free ranging exploration heard in Jazz at that time. In 1969 McLaughlin crossed the Atlantic and joined Miles Davis' drummer, Anthony Williams, in his new Lifetime unit. Through Williams he was included on Miles Davis' influential new direction album (In a Silent Way) and the association continued with McLaughlin growing in confidence and a new economy (Bitches Brew).
McLaughlin's My Goal's Beyond (early '70s re-issued '82) has his solo 'duets' on jazz classics like Mingus' Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and Miles' Blue In Green, while the ensemble side featured Dave Liebman, Charlie Haden and Airto. In 1971, the guitarist, by now a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, and deeply inspired by meditation formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra with bassist Rick Laird, keyboard-player Jan Hammer, violinist Jerry Goodman and drummer Billy Cobham. Mountains of equipment appeared on stage to project the colossal volume and the electricism of approach ransacked the globe. Playing a double-barreled guitar, McLaughlin's demanding rhythmic playing is usually closer to a fusion of Indian Classical and rock, and the group's impetus is based upon lengthy riff-figures often used in multiples. The first orchestra (Inner Mounting Flame, Birds Of Fire, Between Nothingness & Eternity) was characterized by non-stop virtuosity by all members, and occasionally consequent confusion as to who was doing what.
Clash of egos resulted in the break-up of the orchestra, members like Cobham and Hammer making their own bids for stardom. The second Mahavishnu Orchestra launched out with electric violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and the London Symphony Orchestra (Apocalypse) in 1974, followed by a return to the earlier format (Visions Of The Emerald Beyond). A meeting with fellow Chinmoy's disciple Carlos Santana resulted in Love, Devotion and Surrender.
In the mid-70s McLaughlin went deeper into Indian Music with his quartet Shakti (Shakti) featuring an Indian line-up, L. Shankar on violin, Zakir Hussain on tabla, T.H. Vinayakram on percussion. With the all-acoustic Shakti, McLaughlin played a specially designed Gibson, its raised frets allowed easier string-bending, enabled him to create drone like effects and very much simulating a sitar.
In 1978 McLaughlin took another direction, joining forces with Paco De Lucia and Larry Coryell, touring as a virtuoso acoustic guitar-trio. McLaughlin took a daring step of reforming the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Cobham and a completely new line-up. It had the saxophonist Bill Evans from the Miles Davis' group. In spite of an updates mid-80s sound the Mahavishnu's original music elements remain the same- the guitar mastery of John McLaughlin still takes the breath away.