IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW, GUITAR ICON JOHN MCLAUGHLIN IS MAKING THIS NEXT GO-ROUND WITH JIMMY HERRING HIS HIS LAST US TOUR. ONE OF THE PIONEERS OF JAZZ GUITAR, MCLAUGHLIN IS GOING INTO SEMI-RETIREMENT, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN HE IS GOING TO BE INACTIVE, AS EVIDENCED BY HIS RECENT ALBUM LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTTS, WHICH HAS HIM IN ONE OF HIS MOST LYRICAL TIMES OF HIS CELEBRATED CAREER.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN WAS GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO ANSWER SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT VARIOUS TIMES OF HIS CAREER, PUTTING HIS STINTS WITH MILES DAVIS, TONY WILLIAMS AND OTHERS INTO PERSPECTIVE.
1) What was your musical goal in your early days? In other words, was it “to be the fastest guitarist” and see what it leads to, or was it to “Find a sound and develop a technique to acquire it”?
From the very beginning music was always magical to me. Listening to music, and subsequently playing music, always put me in joyful state of mind. To me personally, there was never any other activity that could replace music in terms of pleasure, joy and happiness.
Your question about fastest on the guitar: this was a consideration that never occurred to me until years later, and perhaps, because of people’s reaction to me. But music is total: music is harmony, music is rhythm, music is melody, and the players such as Coltrane, Miles Davis and the great musicians of my era, my heroes, were fully developed musicians, and the aspect of speed was only considered separate from other aspects of music later on, by guitar fans, but speed is just an aspect of the global mastery of your instrument.
The sound that attracted me was the tenor sax and the trumpet, so in a sense, I tried to play like that on the guitar.
2) When you first got into the music scene with Auger and Bond, what music or life advice did they give you?
Playing with Graham Bond and Brian Auger in the 1960s was wonderful, but nobody ever gave me musical or life advice! it was the 60s you were supposed to know what was happening, you were supposed know what was going on, and you were supposed to know the tunes, how to play them and how to improvise over them.
That said, Graham Bond introduced me to the philosophy of the Tarot, which he was fascinated by, and I subsequently became fascinated by it also, because the Tarot embodies a mystical history that dates back to Egyptian times. It was through studying the philosophy of the Tarot that I discovered the Indian Sage, Ramana Maharshi who has inspired my life.
3) How did you initially meet with Miles Davis?
By 1959 Miles Davis had introduced me to the music of John Coltrane, Bill Evans. These three musicians were essential in my musical education. I met him in January 1969 through his drummer, Tony Williams. Out of sheer good fortune, he invited me to play on the album “In a Silent Way ”that he recorded just two days after I arrived in New York.
By some miracle I was able to pass some ‘test’, and Miles really enjoyed what I was playing on ‘Silent Way’. Afterwards he began to invite me to his home frequently, once or twice a week, and always with the guitar. I noticed he’d become fascinated with the guitar and he wanted me on his recordings, and eventually, in his band. In fact I did concerts and club dates with him even though I was playing with the Tony Williams lifetime at that time. I continued to play with him until our last concert together in Paris in July 1991.
4) THE CELLAR DOOR SESSIONS! Did you know what to expect at that gig? What were your thoughts at the time with the wide and diverse set of musicians?
Yes the Cellar Door sessions: I kind of knew what to expect. I’d become friendly with Keith Jarrett, and we used to travel to gigs together. He had a great thing going with two keyboards, Fender Rhodes, and I think it was a Farfisa organ or some kind of electric organ. Miles’s music was really wide-open, free-flowing but full of dynamics, lyricism, and like you know, intensity, and then quiet.
I didn’t think about the music, I was just happy to play with Miles.
5) What’s your impression of those recordings in retrospect?
Those recordings were just an aspect of Miles’ life. Like in a painter’s life, you can have an abstract period, a blue period, a cubist period, and Miles is no exception. He was a true artist and continuously searched for new forms and concepts in music. In any event for me, Miles can do no wrong. I’ve revered Miles all my life and gave us so much.
6) Anything about Miles that people might not appreciate/know about him?
Miles loved his musicians. He was very affectionate contrary to what people may think. I know he had a reputation for being blunt, but he was just honest. He was the most honest man I’ve ever met in my life. Personally, Miles always took care of me. Every time I saw him at his house, he’d give me money. He made sure I ate and paid my rent.
7) TONY & LIFETIME: Was there any specific goal of the band when you first met? Any reflections on Larry Young?
There was no specific goal in Lifetime. with Tony left miles because he wanted to play differently, he wanted to play with an electric guitarist, he wanted to play stronger and louder which was difficult in an acoustic band like Miles’. The great Larry Young or Khalid Yasin which was his Muslim name, was one of the most wonderful musicians I have played with. I knew him from his recordings around 1964, 65 and 66, that he done with Grant Green the guitar player, and Elvin Jones. He was the new generation of Hammond organ players he was it!
8) JOE FARRELL: You were on two under appreciated albums of this under appreciated artist. Did you guys ever perform in concert? What were the recordings/gigs like?
I only got to know Joe after inviting me to his recording session in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. A famous studio. He was great tenor sax player. I’d seen him of with Elvin Jones’s band, and he was playing! but had never met him until the studio session. In the studio he was genial, he was such a sweet guy but most great players are very nice people, and even in the middle of the session he said “John you got any tune you want to play with us? and I thought wow! man, that’s amazing, and so we actually played ‘Follow your Heart’. That was the only other time I recorded that tune. Joe Farrell was special, yeah a great musician.
9) THE JACK JOHNSON SESSIONS: Were there any specific instructions for these recordings, or were you just dropped into the studio? Were you surprised how the sessions came out in so many different albums? Reflections on their influence.
There were zero instructions for the Jack Johnson recording sessions. Normally Miles would bring in some kind of chords or some simple little charts, but on these sessions nothing. A big part of the music for the album came out of jamming and that was most unusual for Miles. He always liked to set up a musical situation with the musicians in the studio. For example in the Bitches Brew sessions, I don’t think he really knew what he wanted, but he really knew what he didn’t want. We’d never had jam sessions in the studio with Miles. But when I started what became the opening piece in the album, a kind of r n b groove, Miles came running into the studio and played like I’d never heard him play. Amazing!
10) On your new album, your playing is more restrained. Is this a conscious decision?
I don’t make decisions like that. There are days when you are one way, and days when you are another way. In music, especially the music we play, we are spontaneous, and whatever happens happens.
11) BONUS: (I’m just a bit younger than you, so it serves me as well) Thoughts on what you’ll do with your spare time , now that you’ll be touring less. Any plans on how you’ll occupy your time?
My life is full, and I have continuous work and music to do. I love to play every day not because I have a goal, not because I have to perfect something, but simply because I love to play. Even when you’re alone playing, amazing things can happen. I will continue to play music until the day I keel over, so it’s not that the question. Really you’re referring to what I think is touring, and touring at this point in my life can become a little dangerous from the point of view of my hands. Voila!
AS WITH ALL GIANTS, MCLAUGHLIN CARRIES WITH HIM THE ATTITUDE OF A PILGRIM, ALWAYS SEARCHING, ALWAYS LEARNING AND ALWAYS SHARING WHAT HE’S LEARNED. HIS RECENT ALBUMS ARE MUSICAL INVITATIONS TO COME AND SEE HIM ONE LAST TIME, SO YOU CAN TELL YOUR GRANDCHILDREN THAT YOU WERE WITNESS TO A TIME WHEN GIANTS WALKED THE EARTH.