Guitar Aficionado

John McLaughlin Gets His Due in New Biography

The celebrated guitarist is the subject of a long-awaited bio coming out March 4.

(Bathed in Lightning to be released by Jawbone Press on March 4.)

By Christopher Scapelliti

At the dawn of the Seventies, when “shredding” was still something done only to paper, cabbage, and beef, John McLaughlin was merging virtuosity and speed in fretboard-ripping performances that left listeners and audiences dazzled.

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The British-born guitarist seemed to come out of nowhere with his celebrated appearance on In a Silent Way, Miles Davis’ 1969 game-changing foray into jazz-rock fusion. Just a few years later, McLaughlin would himself be the most visible force in the genre as he and his group Mahavishnu Orchestra changed the musical landscape with albums like 1971’s The Inner Mounting Flame and 1973’s Birds of Fire.

McLaughlin was anything but an overnight sensation, of course. He’d spent most of the Sixties as a London session musician, always just under the radar despite working with popular British acts like Alexis Korner and the Graham Bond Organisation. His cross-fertilization of jazz, blues, flamenco, and, in the early Seventies, Indian classical music shaped his intense, fluid guitar work and would make him one of the most versatile guitarists of our age. No less than Jeff Beck has called him “the best guitarist alive.”

Surprisingly, McLaughlin’s story has not been chronicled at length, until now. Drawing on exclusive interviews, author and music historian Colin Harper provides the first comprehensive biography of the guitarist. Bathed in Lightning examines McLaughlin’s abundantly rich history, including his session work, stints with Miles and the Tony Williams Lifetime, years with Mahavishnu Orchestra and acoustic-fusion group Shakti, and collaborative work with musicians across the spectrum of jazz, rock, and world music.

But Harper also looks beyond McLaughlin’s abundant discography to explore the man and his muses, from his extensive musical influences to the deep spirituality that has shaped his life’s and music’s direction. What emerges is a portrait of a consummate and peerless artist who has followed his own path and, in doing so, demonstrated to the rest of us how it’s done.

Bathed in Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond (Jawbone Press) will be released March 4. The price is $19.95.