MAHAVISHNU JOHN McLAUGHLIN
AN INSPIRATION IN MUSIC & SPIRIT

Born in Kirk Sandall, Yorkshire, John Mclaughlin was surrounded by music from an early age. His mother, a violinist, exposed John to the classics of Brahms, Beethoven and Stravinsky and indeed his first musical lessons were on the piano. This early influence was to stay with him into his adult life ("I love strings and drums" he would say later when talking about his orchestral "Apocalypse" LP) although it was his elder brother's love of the blues and Spanish music that attracted a young Johnny to the guitar.

Blessed with an enormous appetite for learning and great discipline in application to study, John was gigging very early in life, picking up jazz influences from Tal Farlow that would become his trademark throughout his early professional life. It is believed that John had a variety of jobs as a delivery driver and working in music shops whilst he took every musical session he could. His somewhat anonymous style can be heard on very early recordings by such icons as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, touring with The Four Tops and appearing with the orchestra on Top Of The Pops. Indispersed with this 'commercial' work, John was also fast making a name for himself on the british R&B scene with groups lead by Georgie Fame, Alexis Corner and later Graham Bond, where he met and played with Jack bruce, Ginger Baker and Jimmy Paige.

Certainly by the time of his mid sixties recordings ("Experiments With Pops" and "Hair at it's Hairiest") the trademark fast runs and advanced melodic and harmonic knowledge were in evidence, but there was something more. Yes he had the 'chops' of his idol Tal Farlow, but he had also began to study in earnest the philosophical writings which had so intrigued him since his initiation with Graham Bond and the London Theosophical Society. It was the goal beyond mere musical excellence that was to profoundly single out John from the profusion of guitar giants in the next decade and imbue his music with a spiritual message that went far beyond the commercial aspirations of his fellow axe wielders. Soon he found the magic link between music and spirituality which was to fire his questing soul and bring him out of the doldrums of life in Philip Lane, North london and into the Emerald Beyond of New York and his latest idol, Miles Davis.

It was John's great good fortune to find himself at the home of his idol almost as soon as he touched down in America and through his work on Mile's albums, "In a Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew" finally broke out into the world at large after his localised fame in the UK. This exposure was the key element in bringing John to the forefront of the jazz guitar world and in particular, the new jazz-rock movement of which Davis was rightly considered the Father. The financial and popular success John enjoyed here created the platform from which he was to launch his phenominal career, collaborating with his fellow Davis allumini, Tony Williams and Larry Young in the first real Jazz-rock band, Lifetime. After cream's demise, the trio became a quartet when Jack Bruce joined the most exciting band of the time.


In tandem with his musical vision, encouraged by Miles, John was also progressing along his spiritual path and shortly after moving to the US, he met and became a disciple of the indian spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy. The guru gave John his spiritual name Mahavishnu, literally, Great Creation (from Maha=Great and Vishnu=the Hindu God of Creation).

Fired with this inspiration and his aspiration to fully materialise the bond between the Spirit and Music, he formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra, arguably the most powerful fusion band in the history of the jazz-rock and fusion movement. A heady cocktail of dazzling virtuosity, ferocious rock polyrhythms and burning spiritual aspiration, the band consisting of Billy Cobham (drums), Jan Hammer (keyboards), Jerry Goodman (violin) and Rick Laird (bass guitar) with JM himself on his trademark Gibson twin-necked SG guitar (something he had in common with Jimmy Paige, to whom he had given jazz guitar lessons to in England and to whom is attributed the legend of teaching Jimmy the intro chords to 'My Funny Valentine' from which he supposedly extrapolated the 'Stairway to Heaven' chord sequence). The stunning debut LP 'Inner Mounting Flame' was quickly followed up by 'Birds of Fire'. 1973's live release 'Between Nothingness & Eternity' proved to be the group's swan song. In the few short years that this original band burned across the horizon they played over 500 concerts and sold albums like a top rock act which put them in the heady heights of the billboard charts.


Jack Bruce, Tony Williams & John Mclaughlin in "Lifetime"


The first Mahavishnu Orchestra (1971-73) was such a commercial success that John was able to enlarge his musical concept to include a full string quartet and brass in the second Mahavishnu Orchestra (1974-75) featuring JM's first choice violinist (who was not available for the first incarnation due to work permit problems) Jean Luc Ponty, fellow Chinmoy disciple Narada Michael Walden on drums and the extraordinary 17 year-old Ralphie Armstrong on bass. Now working with band members who wholly supported his spiritual as well as his musical vision, they made two beautiful orchestral albums, 'Apocalypse' (1974) and 'Visions of the Emerald Beyond' (1975).

With the departure of Ponty the third incarnation toured once as a quartet to support the LP 'Inner Worlds' but by now Mclaughlin had become most enchanted with Indian music and in particular he returned to his love of the acoustic guitar, debuting his new group Shakti (1975-78) featuring the virtuoso Indian violinist, L Shankar and the amazing tabla player Zakir Hussein. Thus began an oscillation between Jm's love of the blues and electric power, and the beauty of acoustic music. After Shakti, he returned briefly to electric for The One Truth Band (1978-9) with Shankar, before a sustained period of acoustic music with The Guitar Trio (1979-80), featuring Paco De Lucia, Larry Coryell and later Al DiMeola, and The Translators (1980-82) with Katia Labeque.


In 1984 we saw the Triumphant Return of the Mahavishnu, this time wielding a synth-axe and with a band of young proteges, including the fiery bass player, Jonas Hellborg. The cycle that had started with the first Mahavishnu now started again. Although not the innovative trail blazer like its predecessor, MO IV did re-introduce John to high volume electric music, with which he had been toying through his brief re-instatement as a Miles alumini (cf. Miles' "You're Under Arrest" and "Aura" sessions). By the end of Mahavishnu IV (1984-86) however, his interest had already returned to the acoustic guitar, although now sporting a Photon MIDIguitar processor.

Taking Jonas from the now disbanded (forever ?) MO, they toured extensively as a duo until John added the multi talented Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu and became the John Mclaughlin trio (1988-1992). In some ways this period echoed the move to acoustic with Shakti that followed the first MO, with the indian influences now more completely melded to Jazz per se and World music in general (although many journalists have already pointed to Shakti as being one of the first truly 'World Music' groups, along with Weather Report , Oregon etc).

John was now talking of himself as a jazz guitarist and composer, moving futher away from the rock propulsion of the 70's fusion sound he helped to forge. However with the breadth and depth of the musics with which he was associated throughout the past 20 years he showed that he could equally swap tals with the Indian classical players and chordal substitutions with the jazz fraternity, all with the deep emotions of the Blues and the funkiness that only those who play drums can muster :-)

Almost mimmicking the Lifetime line-up, he retuned to electric jazz with The Free Spirits (1993-5) with another great drummer in the engine room, (Mr DC) Dennis Chambers and enlarged this electric trio to form another fusion ensemble, The Heart of Things (1996-00) featuring Mathew Garrison (son of Jimmy garrison, the Coltrane bassman), and MBase reedsman Gary Thomas.


However, John seems only to be able to move away from Indian music so far before he bounces back into it again and after an opportunity to play a series of concerts with ex-Shakti colleague Zakir Hussein and the great bansuri player Hariprasad Chaurasia, he officially announced the re-invention of his ground-breaking 70's group, this time round called Remember Shakti, this time with child protege Srinivas on electric mandolin and son of the original Ghatam player V Selvaganesh. Whether or not John continues on this musical merry-go-round remains to be seen, but for now he is extremely happy to being playing with his brother musician Zakir again and one senses that he has truly found the perfect marriage of music and spirit for which he has constantly striven. With two double CDs (Remember Shakti and The Believer) a live 3CD set Saturday Night in Bombay, and a boxed set of all three releases already released, perhaps we have seen the last of the fiery, high voltage electric music with which john first burst onto the scene.

As this master musician moves into his 6th decade, his spirit seems as free as ever and his music still inspires and delights the discerning listener.



There are some great sites that have more in depth information, MP3s, MIDI files and more photos. Please go to the links page for a full list and tell 'em Marco sent ya !

For up-to-date information on John's activities you could do a lot worse than join our network of JM aficianardo's at:

one-word@cs.cf.ac.uk where Dr Dave will subscribe you.

To contact John himself you can try: christianpegand@compuserve.com


I have been collecting recordings of John's live performances both on audio and video media for many years now, as well as those of other great fusion musicians. There are lists of these on the following pages and you can email me for enquiries if you have something to swap: marco@foxyproductions.co.uk

PLEASE NOTE: These recordings are not for sale and as a minimum requirement to trade you should have all John's commercially available recordings. These personal treasures are shared in the spirit of Brotherhood and respect for the artiste's proprietary rights. No commercial gain is contemplated in these transactions.

Thanks. Mark Anderson Feb 2004


For a list of audio recordings by John Mclaughlin go to JM AUDIO LIST PAGE and for video go to JM VIDEO LIST PAGE

For a list of related musicians and groups audio recordings go to NON-JM AUDIO LIST PAGE and for videos go to NON-JM VIDEO LIST PAGE

These lists are updated at least 4 times a year. If there is something else you seek of a similar nature which is not on these lists, please feel free to e-mail me with your requests and I'll try to help. Photos also always welcome !

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