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Music / John McLaughlin

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"A person would be a moron not to appreciate McLaughlin's technique. The guy has certainly found out how to operate a guitar as if it were a machine gun. But I'm not always enthusiastic about the lines I hear or the ways in which they're used. I don't think you can fault him, though, for the amount of time and effort it must have taken to play an instrument that fast. I think anybody who can play that fast is just wonderful. And I'm sure 90% of teenage America would agree, since the whole trend in the business has been 'faster is better.'"
Frank Zappa, interview in "Guitar Player" (1977).

"For me, I can still say music is God, music is the face of God."
—John McLaughlin, interview in "Musician" (1982).

John McLaughlin (born 4 January 1942) is a renowned Jazz Fusion guitarist.

He played together with many blues bands in the 1960s, including Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, The Graham Bond Organisation and Brian Auger. In 1969 he made his debut. He worked close together with many legendary artists, such as Miles Davis (on Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way,...), Tony Williams, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana, Gil Evans, Jaco Pastorius, L. Shankar,... But he is best remembered as the frontman of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a legendary Psychedelic Rock and Jazz Fusion band who were active throughout the 1970s.

Well into his seventies now McLaughlin is still going strong, having worked almost half a century in the business. He is well respected among fans, critics and fellow colleagues as one of the finest and most underrated guitarists in his field.



  • Extrapolation (1969)
  • Devotion (1970)
  • My Goal's Beyond (1971)
  • Love Devotion Surrender (with Carlos Santana, 1973)
  • Johnny McLaughlin, Electric Guitarist (1978)
  • Electric Dreams (1979)
  • Belo Horizonte (1981)
  • Music Spoken Here (1982)
  • The Mediterranean (1988)
  • Live at the Royal Festival Hall (1989)
  • Que Alegria (1992)
  • Time Remembered: John McLaughlin Plays Bill Evans (1993)
  • Tokyo Live (1993)
  • After the Rain (1994)
  • The Promise (1995)
  • The Heart of Things (1997)
  • The Heart of Things: Live in Paris (2000)
  • Thieves and Poets (2003)
  • The Montreux Concerts (2003)
  • Industrial Zen (2006)
  • Floating Point (2008)

With the Tony Williams Lifetime:

With the Mahavishnu Orchestra:

  • The Inner Mounting Flame (1971)
  • Birds of Fire (1973)
  • Between Nothingness and Eternity (1973)
  • Apocalypse (1974)
  • Visions of the Emerald Beyond (1975)
  • Inner Worlds (1976)
  • Mahavishnu (1984)
  • Adventures in Radioland (1987)
  • The Lost Trident Sessions (1999)

With Shakti:

  • Shakti with John McLaughlin (1975)
  • A Handful of Beauty (1976)
  • Natural Elements (1977)

With the Guitar Trio:

  • Friday Night in San Francisco (1980)
  • Passion Grace & Fire (1983)
  • Guitar Trio (1996)

With Remember Shakti:

  • Remember Shakti (1999)
  • The Believer (2000)
  • Saturday Night in Bombay (2001)

With the 4th Dimension

With the Five Peace Band

  • Five Peace Band Live (2009)

McLaughlin appears as a sideman often as well, including these albums with their own tropes pages:

John McLaughlin provides examples of:

  • Cover Album: Time Remembered: John McLaughlin Plays Bill Evans
  • Dissonant Serenity: Accounts of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra's gigs tend to agree that the music was ear-shatteringly loud and confrontational, but that McLaughlin always dressed entirely in white and would stand onstage playing this blisteringly fast and loud music with a serene smile on his face.
  • Epic Rocking: Well known for his long and masterful guitar solos. To give but one example, he really let loose on the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Between Nothingness and Eternity, on which "Dream" runs for 21:24. (The studio version of this song, which appears on The Lost Trident Sessions, is a still-impressive 11:10).
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: One of his albums is titled Electric Guitarist; predictably, he plays a lot of electric guitar.
  • Gratuitous Panning: On the Al Di Meola, McLaughlin, and Paco DeLucia live album Friday Night in San Francisco, the tracks with two guitarists would confine one to the left channel and the other to the right. The remaining tracks added the third guitarist in the center channel. Mind you, these guitarists were the only musicians on the album.
  • Homage: John actually plays on the Bitches Brew track named for him, while Miles Davis himself is silent. Two McLaughlin albums, Love Devotion Surrender (with Carlos Santana) and To The One are homages to John Coltrane.
  • Instrumental: McLaughlin is a non-singing guitarist.
  • Jazz: He is mostly associated with the jazz fusion genre.
  • Live Album: The man is best experienced live, because he has a talent for improvising without getting boring or tedious in between.
  • Long-Runners: He's been active since The '60s and is still going strong in the 2010s.
  • Miniscule Rocking: From Birds of Fire we have "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love", which is a mere twenty-four seconds long. They Might Be Giants parodied this track with another song of the same title.
  • One-Word Title: Two of his albums share this trait: "Extrapolation" (1969), and "Devotion" (1970)
  • Progressive Rock: Many of Mahavishnu Orchestra's recordings fall into this genre as well as jazz fusion, and have been hugely influential on a number of artists in the genre (Yes and The Mars Volta are just two obvious examples).
  • Pun-Based Title: Now. Here. This. (2012), with the 4th Dimension.
  • Shout-Out: The comedy troupe "Hahavishnu Orchestra" named itself in honor of McLaughlin's band. Similarly, Slash lampshaded play errors in a live album by noting that "this is not the Mahavishnu Fucking Orchestra."
  • Uncommon Time: The Mahavishnu Orchestra, especially the first incarnation, would use this so much that it arguably outnumbered the Common Time passages in their work. To give one example, "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" is in 19/16. More examples, though not an exhaustive list, are listed on the trope page.

Alternative Title(s): Mahavishnu Orchestra