From the gritty guitar chords that kick off perennial
set opener “Raju” to the final strains of album closer “You
Know You Know,” John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension’s
latest release, The Boston Record [Abstract Logix], captures the
high-octane quartet playing an inspired show before an enthusiastic
audience at the Berklee College of Music. McLaughlin,
bassist Etienne M’Bappe, drummer Ranjid Barot, and keyboardist/
drummer Gary Husband run down nine numbers drawn from
several eras of McLaughlin’s celebrated career, from the Mahavishnu
Orchestra’s 1971 debut The Inner Mounting Flame to the 4th
Dimension’s own 2012 release Now Here This.
The current quartet has an extraordinary chemistry.
People do speak about the something that passes between certain
people as being chemistry, and there’s a lot of it in this band.
I don’t know how to account for it, but the 4th Dimension has
been in existence for almost eight years now, which is pretty
good. We’ve had a few personnel changes, but they have happened
organically. At this time, I feel the band is one of the best
I’ve ever had—maybe the greatest.
Your longtime musical relationship with Gary Husband, in particular,
has been exceptionally fruitful. What
is it about him that you find so inspiring?
Gary has a gigantic talent, and a total lack
of self-importance. He is without any pretensions
whatsoever—which is unusual, to
say the least. I believe I’m also his greatest
admirer, so you could say that some of the
original chemistry of the band started with
Gary and me.
The band has an appreciable repertoire
at this point. How did you select the tunes that are included on
The Boston Record?
Gary, Etienne, and Ranjit can play anything I throw at them
with the greatest of ease. In addition, there’s a definite connection
between the 4th Dimension and the original Mahavishnu
Orchestra. I don’t know how or why—it’s just there. As a consequence,
there are pieces that go back to the ’70s that I still enjoy
playing. Of course, there are also pieces from the ’80s, ’90s, and
all the way up to today in the band’s repertory.
Of all the early Mahavishnu pieces, what made “You Know
You Know” the right one to perform and record at this time?
There are tunes I wrote a long time ago, for which I have a particular
affection, though I don’t know why.
Some music you write at a particular point
in your life makes a statement, and, for me,
“You Know You Know” is one of those tunes.
It’s not really a tune, though, as there’s no
real melody. It’s just a riff. But the riff tells
the story somehow.
Your tone is relatively gritty and rock-like
on many pieces. How are you getting those
I’ve been using tube preamps for quite a few years now, and I
currently have three that I really like on my pedalboard. I just choose
the one that suits my mood, and on the evening that we recorded
The Boston Record, it was my Seymour Duncan Twin Tube Classic.
The other two are my old Mesa/Boogie V-Twin, which also uses
a pair of tubes, and a Hermida Audio Zen Drive 2, which uses a
tube and a MOSFET. I’m playing my custom PRS and Godin Freeway
SA guitars. [Editor’s note: McLaughlin’s pedalboard also contains
an MXR Stereo Chorus and Carbon Copy delay, a Korg Pitchblack tuner,
a Line 6 Relay G30 wireless system, a Fishman GuitAero WGS6000-
RX Wireless Guitar Synthesizer, and a Dunlop CD-Brick power supply.]
Did you make a pact with the devil in order to still be playing
at the top of your game during the fifth decade of your career?
No, I didn’t. But some people are calling me Dorian Gray
[laughs]. By all rights, I should be playing golf and taking life easy,
but playing music is not like that. In fact, I believe playing music is
the element that keeps me healthy. That said, when I’m not touring,
I play tennis, swim, bike halfway up a mountain once a week,
and have a healthy, principally vegetarian diet—all of which contribute
to a healthy life. I also continue my meditation practices,
which definitely help.
What inspires you to keep going?
Although there’s no more record industry, I’m glad I can continue
to record. Records are like paintings, and I have a friend who
is one of the greatest painters of wild animals in the world. In 2012,
he told me he’d sold only one painting the entire year, but he can’t
stop painting. We are in the same boat. How can we stop? As long
as there are people who enjoy what we create, we’re happy!