Guitar Legend John McLaughlin Talks New Live Record & Future Plans

By Andrew Catania

“This recording of the final set at the Warfield Theatre brings full circle the amazing advent of The Mahavishnu Orchestra In 1971, and its renaissance on this night in San Francisco.” mused the boundary-shattering guitarist John McLaughlin. On his farewell tour of America, which was comprised of 25 concerts, John invited one his favorite musicians,  guitarist Jimmy Herring and his band “The Invisible Whip” to explore the timeless music he had created four decades ago.

John was gracious enough to speak with All That Shreds Magazine.

Can you tell me about your musical training growing up?

JM:  My mother was an amateur classical violinist and played in various youth orchestras when young. As consequence music was very much a part of everyday life in our house. It was thanks to her that I had my first deep experience listening to music around five years old. By the time I was eight I was studying classical piano. Thanks to my elder brothers a guitar came into my hands at the age of eleven, and my life changed forever. I quit piano and from that moment played only the guitar.

How would you rate the success with Shakti?

JM:  There are two kinds of success: artistic, and commercial and they don’t always go together. I would say we had the phenomenal success of both kinds. Shakti was born around 1973, and the last concert we played together was in December 2013. The only reason we have not played since then was the death of U. Shrinivas in September 2014. That said, there will be the first renaissance of Shakti next February when we will perform a concert in Bangladesh. Perhaps more shows will follow.

How do you feel that fusion music has changed over the years?

JM:  “Fusion music” is a term coined by the recording companies for promotional reasons. It’s another term for the meeting of musical cultures and has been happening for hundreds of years. I was indeed not the first musician to bring jazz and Indian classical music together on stage. However, Shakti approached the meeting with total respect and admiration for the two cultures East and West. What I mean by that is that tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and violinist L. Shankar studied western music theory, and I spent years studying Indian music theory. Without the depth of work involved, the music would not have the real depth or any authenticity. As far as ‘fusion music’ today, there is such a profound crisis in the record industry, this crisis has permeated the world of music itself, and there is today, very little music born out of the cultural exchange.

How were the shows with Jimmy received?  Was it hard putting your two different sounds together?

JM:  They were received with marvelous enthusiasm. Last year Jimmy and I had a six-week tour of the US coast to coast, and only two shows were not sold out. To me, that’s impressive since we’re not a pop band. As far as putting our sounds together, nothing could be more simple. Jimmy is not only a delightful human being; he is a beautiful guitarist. Also, he has an affection for the music of Mahavishnu that is without equal. With these criteria, recreating the music of Mahavishnu for the US tour was genuinely joyful.

Do you have any future projects you can discuss? Would you consider any Shakti in the future?

JM:  During the past five years, singer Shankar Mahadevan and I have been preparing a new recording for release next year. This is not the musical form developed by Shakti. It is an entirely new form that we are very excited about. The great tabla maestro Zakir Hussain will also be on this recording.

On September 21, 2018, Abstract Logix issueD Live in San Francisco – a souvenir of a sold-out concert at the historic Warfield Theatre, a beloved venue last visited by John McLaughlin thirty six years ago. In the 4th Dimension – Ranjit Barot (drums, konokol), Gary Husband (keyboards, drums), and Etienne M’Bappé (bass) and in The Invisible Whip – Kevin Scott (Bass), Matt Slocum (Clavinet and B3), Jason Crosby (Fender Rhodes, Violin, Vocals) and Jeff Sipe (Drums) – The Meeting of the Spirits tour featured a 9-piece orchestra that further amplified the seminal music he created in the 70’s, documented in albums – “Birds of Fire”, “Inner Mountain Flame” and “Visions of Emerald Beyond”. 

So connected are the nine members that the interplay approaches telepathic levels, making for powerfully evocative performances without any wasted gestures. Longtime fans will be thrilled to hear favorites like “Eternity’s Breath” (from Mahavishnu’s 1973 Visions of Emerald Beyond) and “Trilogy” (from 1973’s Between Nothingness And Eternity) reexamined through the lens of both the bands’ unparalleled sensitivity and astounding power. 

To purchase Live in San Franciso click here

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