music and spirituality

John McLaughlin

A Spiritual Quest in Music

johnBorn in Yorkshire, England on January 4, 1942, the guitarist is well known for his eclectic taste in music. John was a child when he first fell in love with jazz and the blues, and he was just 11 years old when he began studying and playing the guitar. The 1960s found him playing jazz, rock, and blues in his native England, where he worked with Alexis Korner and Ginger Baker, among others, before moving to New York at the end of the decade.

John had a busy year in 1969 he recorded his debut album, Extrapolation, and started working with two seminal voices in early fusion: Tony Williams (who employed McLaughlin and organist Larry Young in his trailblazing group Lifetime) and Miles Davis. Never afraid to forge ahead, Davis had done a lot to popularize cool jazz and modal post-bop in the past and he continued to break new ground when he introduced fusion on his 1969 sessions In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, both of which feature McLaughlin’s playing. The guitarist was also featured on 1970′s A Tribute To Jack Johnson, another Davis gem of the time.

Like bebop in the 1940s and modal jazz in the early 1960s, fusion was controversial. Jazz purists felt that rock and funk rhythms had no place in jazz, but thankfully, John disagreed and let his musical instincts guide him. After participating in Davis’ and Williams’ groundbreaking fusion combos, John founded an influential group of his own in 1971: The Mahavishnu Orchestra, which boasted such greats as drummer Billy Cobham and keyboardist Jan Hammer. By the time Mahavishnu broke up in 1975, it had recorded several classic albums for Columbia (including Birds of Fire, Between Nothingness and Eternity, and Visions of the Emerald Beyond) and gone down in history as one of the 1970′s most influential fusion outfits.

In 1975, John did the unexpected by founding Shakti, an acoustic group that employed traditional Indian musicians (including tabla player Zakir Hussain and violinist L. Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s nephew) and underscored the guitarist’s interest in India’s music, culture, and religion. Shakti reminded listeners that John was as appealing on the acoustic guitar as he was on its electric counterpart, and proved that he wasn’t about to confine himself to playing any one style of music exclusively. Indeed, McLaughlin has been heard in a variety of musical settings from an acoustic guitar summit with Al DiMeola and Paco de Lucia, to a classical album with the London Symphony Orchestra, and his current work with his band The 4th Dimension which sees his return to the electrified fusion John first innovated more than 40 years ago.

John’s musical influences carry over to many of the musical elite, with Jeff Beck declaring him in 2010 to be “the best guitarist alive.” In 2003, McLaughlin was ranked 49th in Rolling Stone magazine list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Chick Corea remarked to DownBeat Magazine that “…what John McLaughlin did with the electric guitar set the world on its ear. No one ever heard an electric guitar played like that before, and it certainly inspired me. John’s band, more than my experience with Miles, led me to want to turn the volume up and write music that was more dramatic and made your hair stand on end.” Indian Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain refers to John McLaughlin as being “one of the greatest and most important musicians of our times”.

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Music Featured In The Interview

Song at beginning: “Bridge of Sighs” from the Shakti album Natural Beauty
Song at end: “Florianapolis” from the John McLaughlin Trio album Live at the Royal Festival Hall

By John McLaughlin

There are too many albums to list. Below are three of my favorites.
For a full list of John’s recordings go to John McLaughlin Discography


“A Love Supreme” poem

From the liner notes of John Coltrane’s 1965 album A Love Supreme.
The poem, it’s been discovered, is written to match the slow music of the fourth movement, “Psalms.”
It’s a connection Coltrane hints at cryptically in the liner notes.

A Love Supreme

I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee O Lord.
It all has to do with it.
Thank you God.
There is none other.
God is. It is so beautiful.
Thank you God. God is all.
Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses.
Thank you God.
In You all things are possible.
We know. God made us so.
Keep your eye on God.
God is. He always was. He always will be.
No matter what…it is God.
He is gracious and merciful.
It is most important that I know Thee.
Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts,
fears and emotions – time – all related …
all made from one … all made in one.
Blessed be His name.
Thought waves – heat waves-all vibrations –
all paths lead to God. Thank you God.

His way … it is so lovely … it is gracious.
It is merciful – thank you God.
One thought can produce millions of vibrations
and they all go back to God … everything does.
Thank you God.
Have no fear … believe … thank you God.
The universe has many wonders. God is all. His way … it is so wonderful.
Thoughts – deeds – vibrations, etc.
They all go back to God and He cleanses all.
He is gracious and merciful…thank you God.
Glory to God … God is so alive.
God is.
God loves.
May I be acceptable in Thy sight.
We are all one in His grace.
The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement of Thee O Lord.
Thank you God.
God will wash away all our tears …
He always has …
He always will.
Seek Him everyday. In all ways seek God everyday.
Let us sing all songs to God
To whom all praise is due … praise God.
No road is an easy one, but they all
go back to God.
With all we share God.
It is all with God.
It is all with Thee.
Obey the Lord.
Blessed is He.
We are from one thing … the will of God … thank you God.
I have seen God – I have seen ungodly –
none can be greater – none can compare to God.
Thank you God.
He will remake us … He always has and He always will.
It is true – blessed be His name – thank you God.
God breathes through us so completely …
so gently we hardly feel it … yet,
it is our everything.
Thank you God.
All from God.
Thank you God. Amen.

JOHN COLTRANE – December, 1964