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Exploring guitarist John McLaughlin

John Maglaughlin Dual Guitar

Otherworlds and different lives, Chapters of notes defining different identities. John McLaughlin is the definition of exploration, the door to changes. You could try and say Jazz or any specified genre and still not hit the mark. His music can only be called his own.

Origins of his view of musical realms first came from learning Classical piano, then picking up the guitar to learn as many of his peers, the foundation of the Blues. He studied Django Reinhardt. More importantly, he studied music in all facets. Jazz in his view owes a debt eternal to Classical music due to its influence on Harmonies and is also of the opinion current Classical composition was influenced by what Jazz became. The full circles of influence are much of the foundation of who he is as a theologist.

Then came Charlie Parker, Dizzy, and Miles Davis. Even though the guitar was the chosen instrument, all influence was fair game. It wasn’t about some staunch rule of the instrument you heard play the note, it was just about the note. It is all just music, coming from different areas through different souls.

All of his studies came into use when he was offered membership to Tony Williams Lifetime in 1968. This almost immediately brought him to play with Miles Davis as well. The Albums “In a Silent Way “ and “Bitches Brew” as well as a few following with Davis were my personal first experiences hearing John. His work before I was even Born is as vital now almost 50 years later. 

Miles Davis was always keen to see someone’s future, even if they couldn’t, and would have been happy staying with his work. Miles told John the time had come.

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Meeting Of The Spirits/You Know You Know 

This excerpt from McLaughlin’s reflection is the tale.

“ After a club date in Boston in 1970 with Miles, he tells me it’s time to form my own band”.

“By this time Miles’ recordings are definitely jazz fusion or jazz-rock. His recording ‘Bitches Brew’ confirmed this in no uncertain terms. My work and writing with Tony were more and more rock, r ‘nb, and funk-influenced. Also, I was increasingly influenced by the philosophical and musical ideas coming out of India at that time. These influences can be seen in that another name ‘Mahavishnu’ was given to me by my guru Sri Chinmoy, and the sophisticated rhythmical concepts integrated into Indian classical music, both north and south which directly influenced the compositions I was writing for The Mahavishnu Orchestra. The M.O. became really popular over a short period of time, maybe too successful since by 1973 the atmosphere in the band had become untenable for me and we ended it at the end of the year.”

Mahavishnu Orchestra The Dance of Maya 1972

“The 2nd Mahavishnu was quite different but a wonderful band all the same, with drummer Michael Narada Walden, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Ralphe Armstrong, that band was kicking!

We had a great experience recording with the London Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, and the entire production under the great George Martin.”

“At the same time in Indian influence was having its effect and by 1973-4 Shakti was a kind of underground band that played small concerts in churches and schools, while I continued with Mahavishnu. By the end of 1975, Shakti had become increasingly important to me, and by the end of the year, it became my only band.”

John McLaughlin’s history and body of work is staggering and be it with The Likes of Santana and literally dozens of others, He is still active in 2021 with a new album “Liberation Time” and over 50 releases from 1969 to now.

To write Man’s full Story would put you and me here for hours or even days. So my focus is to be specific to the period of time that speaks to me. 

I first heard John on “Bitches Brew” one of my top 10 albums If I were called to choose. Yet, I had no idea I was hearing John as I was focused on Miles. As McLaughlin himself talked of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” it took him a year of listening to fully grasp what was happening. I had the same situation. I still after 20 years visit “Bitches Brew “ and the discovery of the alternative takes from the sessions, on a regular basis. What I’ve concluded was the guitar didn’t get in the way. A Hallmark of a wise player.

Now I am delving into “The Mahavishnu Orchestra” and finding another chapter of the Genius. 

“The Inner Mounting Flame” album is new to me in 2021. I suppose that is the power Via music of substance..it never grows old nor dated. 

It is my intention to freely be New to this music and to not be an authority but a catalyst for others to be New to it as well. 

M Davis Bitches Brew 1970Full Album] HD 1080p (1)

John McLaughlin is a force and has certainly changed the face of music with no sign of stopping. 

He’s been a session man and a Jingle and advertisement writer. He’s painted in Colors with an uncounted number of Legends. He then set his course to Legend himself. Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, Hendrix, and more were called in the ’60s and ’70s. 

Jeff Beck recently  said “John McLaughlin is the greatest guitarist alive today”

I urge you to dig in and find out why.

Miles Davis- The Bitches Brew outtakes (day 1) [August 19, 1969, NYC]

McLaughlin cites literature as equal to music for his personal inspiration. His Suggested list is below.

Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles.

Theodore Sturgeon: More than Human.

Philip K. Dick: The Transmigration of Timothy Archer,

Philip K. Dick A Handful of Darkness.

Mount Sadhu: The Life of Ramana Maharshi.

Anonymous: The Philosophy of the tarot.

Hazrat Inayat Khan: The Sufi Message. vol. 2 Music. (12 volumes)

D.E. Harding: The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth

Khalil Jibran: The Prophet

The Life of Ramakrishna. Any version

Lobsang Lhalungpa: The Life of Milarepa

Vivekananda: The Works of Vivekananda.

Anonymous. The Way of the Pilgrim.

Carlos Castaneda: The books on Don Juan

Robert Persig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Father Thomas Merton: The Way of Chuang Tzu

Father Thomas Merton: New Seeds of Contemplation

Alan Watts: The Way of Zen

Nisargadatta Maharaj: I am That

Vikram Chandra: Red Earth & Pouring Rain

Sheng-Yen: The Poetry of Enlightenment

D.T. Suzuki: The Zen Doctrine of No Mind

H.E. Huntley: The Divine Proportion

Aldous Huxley: The Perennial Philosophy

Karen Armstrong: A History of God

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Jimmy Flemming