John McLaughlin (born January 4, 1942), also Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (not to be confused with pop/rock artist Jon McLaughlin), is a jazz fusion guitarist from Doncaster, Yorkshire in England. He came to prominence with Miles Davis' electric jazz-fusion groups from the late 1960s. He is regarded by many as one of the most influential and technically gifted guitarists of all time, having mastered a remarkable range of styles and genres, including jazz, Indian classical music, and fusion. He has also incorporated aspects of Flamenco music in some of his acoustic periods.
Before moving to the U.S., McLaughlin recorded Extrapolation (with Tony Oxley and John Surman) in 1969, in which McLaughlin showed technical virtuosity, inventiveness, and the ability to play in odd meters. He moved to the U.S. in 1969 to join Tony Williams's group Lifetime. He subsequently played with Miles Davis on his landmark 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 — Davis paid tribute to him in the liner notes to Jack Johnson, calling McLaughlin's playing "far in". McLaughlin returned to the Davis band for one recorded night of a week-long club date, which was released as part of the album Live-Evil and as part 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, Wayne Shorter, Carla Bley, The Rolling Stones and others.
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 (who had played with Jimi Hendrix). Devotion was the first of two albums he released on Douglas.
On the second Douglas album, however, McLaughlin went in a different direction in 1971 when he released My Goal's Beyond in the U.S., an amazing collection of unamplified acoustic works, including extended performances on side A of "Peace One" and "Peace Two," offering a fusion blend of jazz and Indian classical forms. Side B features some of the most melodic acoustic playing McLaughlin ever recorded, including such standards as "Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat," by Charles Mingus whom McLaughlin considered an important influence on his own development. Other tracks that expressed some of McLaughlin's other influences include "Something Spiritual" (Dave Herman), "Hearts and Flowers" (P.D. Bob Cornford), "Phillip Lane," "Waltz for Bill Evans" (Chick Corea), "Follow Your Heart," "Song for My Mother" and "Blue in Green" (Miles Davis). "Follow Your Heart" had been released earlier on Extrapolation under the title "Arjen's Bag".
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."
McLaughlin's 1970s electric band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra included violinist Jerry Goodman (later Jean-Luc Ponty), keyboardist Jan Hammer (later Gayle Moran and Stu Goldberg), bassist Rick Laird (later Ralphe Armstrong), and drummer Billy Cobham (later Narada Michael Walden). The band performed a technically virtuosic and complex style of music that fused eclectic jazz and rock with eastern and Indian influences. This band established fusion as a new and growing style within the jazz and rock worlds. McLaughlin's playing at this time was distinguished by fast solos and exotic musical scales.
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 Love Supreme. He has also worked with the jazz composers Carla Bley and Gil Evans.
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 just two years and three albums, one of which was a live recording "Between Nothingness and Eternity". In 2001 the "Lost Trident Sessions" album was released, 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 (keys and vocals). The incarnation of the group recorded a further two albums, after which time Mclaughlin was almost completely absorbed in his acoustic playing with his Indian classical music based group Shakti (see below). A third album was recorded in 1976 largely due to contractual obligations. Around this time, McLaughlin also appeared on Stanley Clarke's School Days album, among a host of other musicians.
After the reincarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra split, McLaughlin worked with the far more low-key, acoustic group Shakti. This group combined Indian music with elements of jazz and thus may be regarded as a pioneer of world music. Mclaughlin had already been studying Indian classical music and playing the veena for several years. The group featured Lakshmirnaraya L. Shankar (violin), Zakir Hussain (tabla), Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram (ghatam) and earlier Ramnad Raghavan (mridangam). John was the first westerner to attain any acclaim performing Indian music for Indian audiences. In this group, Mclaughlin played a custom made 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 on a forty-five degree angle - these 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 with enabled Mclaughlin to play bends far beyond the reach of a conventional fretboard.
In 1979, 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, the virtuoso talents of all three musicians equally on display. For the fall tour of 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, again featuring McLaughlin along with de Lucía and Di Meola, reunited in 1996 for a second recording session and a world tour.
Also in 1979, Mclaughlin recorded the album "Johnny Mclaughlin: Electric Guitarist". This was the title on Mclaughlin's first business cards as a young teenager in Yorkshire. This recording was a comeback album of sorts, as it saw his return to more mainstream Jazz/Rock fusion and to the electric instrument after some three years or so of playing exclusively on acoustic guitars, particularly his Gibson 2-tier custom made steel string with the Shakti group. Mclaughlin was so used to the scalloped fretboard from his Shakti days and so accustomed to the freedom it provided him that he had the fretboard of the Gibson Byrdland Electric hollow body he used on the album scalloped. He also formed the short-lived but excellent One Truth Band who recorded just the one studio album: "Electric Dreams, Electric Sighs". The group featured L. Shankar on violins, Stu Goldberg on keyboards, Fernando Saunders on electric bass and Tony Smith on drums.
1979 also saw the formation of the very short-lived Trio of Doom. Here McLaughlin teamed up with Jaco Pastorius (bass) and Tony Williams (drums). They only played one concert, at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, Cuba on March 3 1979, this concert was part of a US State Department cultural exchange program known by some musicians as the 'The Bay of Gigs'. They went on to record three of the tracks at CBS Studios in New York City, New York, U.S. on March 8 1979.
In the late 80s and early 90s Mclaughlin recorded and performed live with a trio including bassist Kai Eckhardt and phenomenal 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. 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 virtually infinite sustain when pressed. The results of this are quite incredible, with Mclaughlin playing 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 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. McLaughlin does improvise in certain sections. It is, however, yet another validation of McLaughlin's versatility as a musician and a composer-arranger.
In the early 1990s he toured with his Quartet on the Que Alegria album. The quartet comprised John McLaughlin, Trilok Gurtu, Kai Eckhardt and 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 Ruiz. 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.
His latest recording projects have been a ballet score, Thieves and Poets, released in 2003 along with arrangements for classical guitar ensemble of favorite jazz standards, a three DVD instructional video on improvisation (which revolutionized video lessons ), another instructional DVD called The Gateway To Rhythm, that explores Indian Konnakol, a universal system of mastering rhythm without drums, and a hard bop/jazz fusion album entitled Industrial Zen, released in June 2006, on which McLaughlin experiments with the Godin Glissentar as well as continuing to expand the guitar-synth repertoire.
In 2007, McLaughlin left Universal Records and joined the small Internet-based Abstract Logix label that works closely with independent jazz, progressive rock, and world music bands. 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.