The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world



John talks to The Rockpit about his love of the guitar and his first solo tour of Australia i 25 years...




As far as musicians go there are some you love, some you hate and then there are those that you admire and those that you are in awe of. Over the years John McLaughlin has created a body of music that no one man has a right to – from playing with Miles Davis to founding the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti, whilst pioneering Jazz Rock and fusion: he has kept us enthralled by, as I find out, simply still being in love with his guitar after all these years. 

Mark: John, thank you so much for speaking with us today at The Rockpit, how are you?

John: I’m good Mark thank you, nice to hear you. I’m looking forward to coming over to Perth, I have a brother there.

Mark: Well it’s fantastic to see you coming here; we don’t get you to Australia too often, but we did see you put on something special a few years ago.

John: Were you there for the 5 piece band with Chick (Corea)? We had a great evening in the Park.

Mark: Sadly not, I was in the States when you came for that but friends tell me it was a wonderful evening. This time round though its solo dates for you – your first in Australia since 1991. A lot has happened in those 25 years!

John: Yes it has, I’m looking forward to it.

Mark: I thought it might be nice to start by taking it all the way back and reacquaint our readers with your music by asking you what it was that made you fall in love with music in the first place and more particularly why the guitar?

John: Well that’s easily answered. My mom was a violinist and she allowed me to have a marvellous experience when I was 5 years old, it was completely unintentional. It was just the two of us sitting at home and she was playing Beethoven on the gramophone, it was his 9th and at the end of the symphony there is this vocal quartet and even though I wasn’t really paying attention, I just found myself swept away by this music. It was the most startling experience for a five year old boy, and I knew it was the music and I think that is what changed me and made me realise I wanted to be a musician to try and find again that wonderful feeling of being swept away by music. And over the years she encouraged me to study piano which I did until I was eleven. I’m the youngest of five and three of my brothers were away at University while I was still young, and the eldest one came home with a guitar, it was the early 50’s when the Blues boom was hitting the UK and after a few months he got bored with it and gave it to the next brother who got bored with it who gave it to the next brother. So after about a year they’d all got bored with it and the guitar suddenly arrived in my hands, and I, I don’t know I flipped out, I stopped playing the piano and just started playing the guitar.  I was eleven at the time and I fell in love with the guitar, I even took it to bed with me that night, I’ll never forget, all of a sudden I was in love with this beautiful instrument, it was just a five dollar piece of junk but I adored it. And I’m still the same all these years later. 50 years later I’m still in love with the guitar – so what do you say to that Mark?

Mark: (laughs) that’s a great story, especially the thought of you taking the guitar to bed with you, which hopefully you’ve grown out of?

John: We don’t know why we are attracted to instruments , why people are attracted to saxophones, trumpets, bass, trombones  - how can you be attracted to a trombone? (laughs) but people are! It’s amazing it hits something inside you, your subconscious  and boom your hooked! And I was hooked!

Mark: The guitar I guess at least has those subliminal connotations with its shape? Like holding a beautiful woman?
John: Certainly there’s a very feminine shape to the guitar I agree, there’s a certain sensuality about the guitar. I didn’t find that with the piano, though that said there are some pianists who play with wonderful sensuality, but for me it was also about discovery and for me there was always something very feminine and sensual about the guitar to this day. (laughs) And of course she can be a real bitch when you’re playing badly! (laughs) But every time I pick up the guitar she asks me “what are you going to do with me today? Are you really going to liberate me, liberate yourself? How do you feel?” Every time you pick up your instrument, your instrument checks you out, do you know what I mean? Are you a musician or a writer?


Mark: I’m a reasonably bad musician, it never stuck! I like to think I've got the ear but no the hands...


John: But you know about playing though? That’s enough to understand.


Mark: It’s a wonderful thought and best of all is the real feeling I get that you still have that deep love and wonderful relationship with your instrument. 50 years on it seems as strong as ever.


John: I don’t like to be far from my guitar I’ve never liked to be far from my guitar. I’m looking at her right now she’s beautiful (laughs)


Mark: It sounds like she still offers that great possibilities and great wonders for you even though you know her so well?


John: Of course! I don’t in reality feel any different now than I did when I was 29 when I was a young hippy; I’m an old hippy now in any case I know myself more, I know the instrument more but I myself as a player still have that wonder. The thing is what do you do when you play? What are you going to say when you pick up your instrument and play? There’s only one thing you can talk about and that’s the story of your life isn’t it? There’s nothing else to talk about. So first of all you talk about the deep relationship you have with your instrument, that’s the first thing people see, even if they don’t see it music allows us to see things that we normally wouldn’t see. So when you see a musician playing you see immediately the relationship they have with your instrument, so that’s the first thing we talk about. The second thing we talk about is the relationship we have with what’s going on in our imagination, and are we clear and are we lucid and are we fluid? And then you have the other story of your relationship with the people around you, the musicians around you. Is your communication fluid? Is it spontaneous? And then when it comes to play or you are improvising or have a solo that is when you talk about your life story because that it is the only thing we have to talk about. The difference in music is that we can say things that we cannot say in words and that’s one of the reasons we play music because we can say things that are inextractible in a way. Non verbally.

Mark: The late sixties and early seventies are looked at as the real golden age for music, as you’ve always progressed and pushed boundaries over the years I wondered how you saw those days?  Whether they were just part of your musical evolution or something more?


John: Well when I left Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, I played with Graham Bond and the Organisation, with Jack (Bruce) and Ginger (Baker) and did a lot of studio work… (But) my discipline on the guitar is a jazz discipline you needed to have either a jazz discipline or a classical discipline to master your instrument so I was then, and to an extent still am today at heart a Jazz man; and so I was already moving more towards Miles and Coltrane as opposed to rhythm and blues that I’d been earning my daily bread with.


John: So I began playing with different jazz bands, and in ’66- ’67 started doing studio work which was a very interesting experience because I had to read, you had to read very fast in the studio in those days with no computers. The star was there, the back-up vocals, the rhythm section, and the orchestra; everyone had the score and it was “1- 2 let’s go”.  It was a very interesting experience and I got to record with a lot of stars of the time, and for the first time in my life I had some money in my pocket.  But after eighteen months it was killing me… and I left and I became poor again, and I moved to Belgium to play with another group, and then I got a call from Tony Williams when I was back in the UK and he said “come and join me” and that was ’68 and by the end of ’68 I was gone.


John: I arrived (in the US to join William’s band ‘Lifetime’) right after my birthday around the 4th of January ’69 and I couldn’t have arrived at a better time as I got to play with one of the greatest drummers of all time, and not only that the very next day I was in the recording studio with Miles Davis. And I left Miles at a point in his life when he was in transition, at that time he wanted more R’n’B and Funk and Blues; and all of the sixties I’d been working with Funk bands and Blues bands and R’n’B bands; now don’t misunderstand me because you take the R’n’B out of Jazz and you have no more Jazz. But Miles really adopted me, I was a young player, I’d just turned 27 and so I became part of his movement but also part of the Lifetime movement, this was ’69 and ’69 was a very pivotal year in America, the Vietnam war was going on, the whole racial black and white thing was going on; and the music was becoming turbulent like the times were becoming turbulent but (in the case of the music) turbulent in the right way. I got to jam with Jimi Hendrix too, and look what he was doing! Jimi had an impact on me like he did on everyone. And the music then just had this kind of marvellous freedom that I think was personified in ‘Bitches Brew’ (Miles Davis’ classic album) that was done in the summer of 1969. So the whole period was fantastic, and by 1970 I’d been playing with Tony and Miles for two years, when at a concert Miles turned round to me on stage and said “It’s time you formed your own band”. And I did and that was the The Mahavishnu Orchestra and the rest is history.


Mark: It’s wonderful.


John: It’s crazy right? (laughs)


Mark: It makes you wonder. No matter what you feel about music today I can’t help think that we will never see the burst of creativity and artistic flowering that came out of the sixties and the seventies?


John: … You know I agree with you (there’s a slight sigh in between I feel in John’s words) I agree with you. Even when I listen to Jazz today some of it is so sad Mark, I’m ashamed that we call it Jazz but it’s like this ‘smooth Jazz’ or ‘funky Jazz’ it’s almost become a background so that people can talk over it, it’s terrible. Music is there to be listened to.


Mark: The passion has been wrung from it?


John: Yes, the passion has gone. I mean that’s the whole point of when I go to a concert I want to hear someone play, I want them to sweep me away like I was when I was five years old. I want them to capture me and sweep me into their world where I will discover all kinds of amazing things. But all I hear in that music is “blah-blah-blah, di-di-di, blah-blah-blah” (John sings in a slightly lilting soft tone, made for talking over). You don’t even want to talk over it; you just want them to shut up!     


Mark: I want a concert to make me smile and make me cry in the same evening.


John: Of course! That’s the whole point, I know! Absolutely! I completely agree.


Mark: I guess then the next question is, is there light out there? As the pioneer of Jazz Rock and fusion are there any artists out there who speak to you? Who are blazing a bit of a trail at the moment?


John: Well there is this guitar player in America Jimmy Herring he’s playing with a couple of bands at the moment, but what a guitar player! I mean really, really good. In fact about three maybe four years ago I got a call from Chick (Corea) and he said “John you know all the guitar players, there’s got to be some young guy you can recommend for the band” and I just said “Call Jimmy”. I think he listened to him on YouTube and he wanted him in the band, but Jimmy is very well known in America, but not really outside and that’s too bad as he’s really special. And you’re talking of that great fusion, great guitar, and really musical. Musical but with that ‘edge’ and a Blues edge, he’s great. On the Jazz side, I mean he’s no young spring chicken but he’s great is this pianist from Cuba called Gonzalo Rubalcaba, he’s unbelievable. He’s been making great music.


Mark: I’ll check Gonzalo out, I think the first time I heard of Jimmy was when I talked to Warren Haynes last year. He’s great.  


John: Oh he is, you should hear his last album, he did one of my tunes ‘Hope’, and he played, I’m telling you Mark, he played a solo which I never did with Mahavishnu on the original, that if I had, I wish I’d played it as well as Jimmy.


Mark: A great compliment. I just wish we had more time, so many questions I’m not sure which to ask you!  How do you consume music these days? Do you have an I-pod, or pad or use things like Spotify? And what do you ike to use on stage?


John: An I-pad or I-pod?... (John pauses long enough to make me think he doesn’t before laughing)  I’ve been investing in Apple since 1982! On stage nothing, I’m using valves and pre-amps, I need valves for my guitar sound. What I really like is the Seymour Duncan Twin Tube Classic it uses twin tubes. The greatest amp I have is by Paul Reed Smith, but it’s about 35 kilos so at my tender age I don’t tend to schlep it around a lot as you can imagine!  But the Seymour Duncan pre-amp it’s fantastic.


Mark: Thank you so much John it’s been a pleasure.


John: We’ll see you soon Mark.        






Also performing at the Melbourne Festival, Recital Centre on October 14.



Telstra Thanks pre-sale:
10am August 10 until 10am August 12

My Live Nation pre-sale:
midday August 12 until 5pm August 13

Ticket Agent pre-sale:
10am August 14 until 5pm August 16

For complete tour and ticket information, visit:  




John spoke to Mark Rockpit


Want a show reviewed? Want to let us know about a tour? Contact digg [at] 

For reviews of albums, DVD's, books and other music, head to our MUSIC REVIEWS is a proud supporter of local live music and unsigned bands