Exclusive! Book Excerpt From Follow Your Heart: John McLaughlin Song By Song: A Listeners Guide

Read a song-by-song commentary on McLaughlin's Johnny McLaughlin - Electric Guitarist album.
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Johnny McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist

Musicians: John McLaughlin (guitar) and various guest stars
Recorded: January – February 1978. New York City, New York and North Hollywood, CA.
Columbia (CK 46110)
Johnny McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist was meant to be a comeback record for McLaughlin. Columbia Records was none too pleased McLaughlin had produced three straight poorly selling records with his Indian acoustic world music group Shakti. There was now hope at Columbia Johnny McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist would bring John McLaughlin back to the top of the record sales heap. The record sold well, but not nearly as many records as Columbia wanted.
The album featured many of McLaughlin’s old friends and contemporaries. Included were Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham, Narada Michael Walden, Carlos Santana, Jerry Goodman, and David Sanborn. There is not one weak cut on the entire album. Johnny McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist also marks the first recorded use of McLaughlin’s scalloped fretboard on an electric guitar, a modified Gibson Byrdland, an idea borrowed from his Shakti acoustic guitar. McLaughlin was now able to bend electric notes and even chords beyond limits. This new possibility opened up a whole new vocabulary for both his fusion compositions and his playing style.
Many all-star recordings do not live up to their promise. This album is not one of them. Johnny McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist was the last important recording of the first jazz-fusion wave.

New York On My Mind

Musicians: John McLaughlin (guitar), Billy Cobham (drums), Jerry Goodman (violin), Stu Goldberg (keyboards), Fernando Saunders (bass)

This performance of "New York On My Mind" is the closest the original Mahavishnu Orchestra ever got to a reconciliation. Five years after the band’s acrimonious breakup, original Mahavishnu Orchestra members Billy Cobham, Jerry Goodman and John McLaughlin were back together again. The composition’s title had real meaning for McLaughlin. He often suggests without New York City there never would have been a Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was the true melting pot nature of the city and its abundance of great musicians that created the necessary atmosphere and gene pool for a band like Mahavishnu to be born.

Sixty percent of The Mahavishnu Orchestra does not make a reunion. However, "New York On My Mind" is a stirring example of the telepathy McLaughlin, drummer Cobham and violinist Goodman still shared. Keyboard player Stu Goldberg, an alumnus of Mahavishnu Mark II and the quartet version, also possessed chemistry with McLaughlin. Bassist Fernando Saunders was no slouch either. Purportedly, "New York On My Mind" was only new to Saunders and perhaps Goldberg. It was played often in rehearsal by the original Mahavishnu, but never performed in concert.

"New York On My Mind" is a kind of slow blues in 6/8 time punctuated by high-register bursts. Though the song is written in 6, it was not played in 6. In this motif the phrases were played across the beats, but not where you would expect. This is very much an Indian music trait which gave the tune a Mahavishnu mood. The same strategy would be employed on "The Unknown Dissident" one album forward and on "New Blues Old Bruise" many albums ahead. A few purposeful strikes from Cobham cue McLaughlin and Goodman to double up on the melody. McLaughlin pulls his strings from 96th Street down to 14th Street. Goodman’s sound had changed too. It was much cleaner than the distorted playing heard on The Mahavishnu Orchestra recordings. Goldberg, as always, offers wonderful keyboard playing that serves as a lynchpin. Of course, an overwhelming amount of power is supplied by Cobham. I would suggest the New York McLaughlin had on his mind was the city at night. There is an awful lot going on in the dark corners of that town.


Musicians: John McLaughlin (guitar), Carlos Santana (guitar), Narada Michael Walden (drums), Neil Jason (bass), Tom Coster (organ), Alyrio Lima (percussion), Armando Peraza (congas)

When The Mahavishnu Orchestra was at the height of its success, it was still rare to hear its music on the radio. After the group disbanded, you never heard any John McLaughlin songs on the air.

"Friendship" was not in heavy rotation in 1978, but many station managers liked it enough to play. The fact rock superstar Carlos Santana was on the cut probably had a lot to do with this. It didn’t hurt that the tune was engaging and liked by many fans outside the jazz-rock universe. Its lead melody was classical in nature. The chord structure and lines evoked a section of Beethoven’s "Ode To Joy." McLaughlin made sure the composition was right in Santana’s wheelhouse too. The Latin two-chord groove, almost samba-like, was perfect for Santana to do his thing while McLaughlin did his. The backing band, with Narada Michael Walden on drums, was pretty damn good too! "Friendship" was a fusion number you could hum and was proof jazz-rock could be commercially viable without bowing down to those corporate idiots at the record companies who wanted any virtuosity simplified. Those cretins, who introduced disco, eventually got their way and killed fusion music. I still hate those bastards.
"Friendship" also appears on John McLaughlin – The Montreux Concerts.

Every Tear From Every Eye

Musicians: John McLaughlin (guitar), David Sanborn (saxophone), Alphonso Johnson (bass), Patrice Rushen (piano), Tony Smith (drums)

"'Every Tear From Every Eye' is named because of the work of Edward Blake. I’m a fan of some of Blake’s poetry. And just the sentence itself is so poignant when you consider how many tears are shed every day." –John McLaughlin

The intro to the mournful slow tempo ballad "Every Tear From Every Eye" is in 4/4 time while its melody is in 3/4 time. Bassist Alphonso Johnson plays the root notes of the chords while keyboardist Patrice Rushen plays a counter line one octave below on her bass pedals. This is easier to feel than to hear. Saxophonist David Sanborn often doubles the melody and matches John McLaughlin’s stretched-out bends in a series of moving phrases that climb up and down the scales. McLaughlin’s solo is injected with emotion and presented in fits and starts. These fits and starts are sometimes quadruple the speed of the beat. And sometimes even double that! He uses his scalloped fretboard to stretch his strings as if they were made of taffy. Over a melancholy Rushen keyboard, Sanborn takes a poignant solo turn. "Every Tear From Every Eye" is pathos touched by an assurance things will improve. It is impossible not to be affected by it in some way.

Note: The reference to every tear from every eye comes from Edward Blake’s poem Auguries Of Innocence.

Also recorded by:
Arabella Sprot Quartet: Arabella Sprot Quartet

Do You Hear The Voices You Left Behind?

Musicians: John McLaughlin (guitar), Chick Corea (electric piano and Minimoog), Stanley Clarke (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums)

"Do You Hear The Voices You Left Behind" is dedicated to John Coltrane. The song is a contrafact based upon the changes from Coltrane’s "Giant Steps." Keyboardist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Jack DeJohnette add shadings to John McLaughlin’s slow but bursting-at-the-seams introduction. Then, at breakneck speed, each player blazes through this modern beboppish altered blues. McLaughlin phrases a lot like Coltrane, grouping notes in bunches and playing ascending lines each time through. His guitar over-modulates at times creating distortion on the very tip of his notes. Such power can be very hard to harness. Chick Corea gets two solo turns: one on electric piano and one on Minimoog. Fantastic! Despite the electric nature of the cut, Clarke plays acoustic bass. This also works. DeJohnette takes a short solo that is both busy and tasteful. He then acts as a breakwall for a frenzied 3-way conversation. This all-star fusion quartet absolutely kills on this number. You can bet Coltrane hears these voices.
"Do You Hear The Voices You Left Behind" also appears on John McLaughlin – The Montreux Concerts.
Also recorded by:
Gˆran Klinghagen: Triometrics
Vic Juris: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Are You the One? Are You the One?

Musicians: John McLaughlin (guitar), Tony Williams (drums), Jack Bruce (bass)

"We all are the one. This question comes from the book The Last Temptation Of Christ. One of the protagonists in the book is asking this question. It hit me right away between the eyes. Are you the one? Do we dare be it? Do we have enough courage to be the one we truly are? This is quite a question." – John McLaughlin

Only the absence of organist Larry Young, who was ill and soon to die tragically, prevented this from being a studio reunion of the quartet version of The Tony Williams Lifetime. Each player screams out the title phrase in exultation and/or exasperation. This is a hard driving, in-your-face question and answer jazz-funk assault. McLaughlin’s guitar sounds like a tuba played through a wah-wah pedal. There is a constant gravitational pushing and pulling as McLaughlin fills spaces Williams vacates and vice versa. In fact, Williams and McLaughlin are like two celestial bodies orbiting each other. The end result is a perfect equilibrium. Bruce’s solo includes every bit as much funk – even if it is European funk – as the other two. What a treat it is to hear this fusion power unit having so much fun!

There was a rumor floating around after Electric Guitarist was released that McLaughlin, Williams and Bruce were going to tour as a trio. It did not happen, but that sure would have been something.

McLaughlin has often revived the vocal aspects of "Are You The One? Are You The One?" in live performances over the years with the Trio Of Doom, the One Truth Band, the eighties Mahavishnu, and on the recording Live At The Royal Festival Hall, when the phrase hilariously shows up in "Blues For L.W."

Also recorded by:
Gary Husband: A Meeting Of Spirits
Nat Janoff Group: Mahavishnu Redefined II

Phenomenon: Compulsion

Musicians: John McLaughlin (guitar), Billy Cobham (drums)

John McLaughlin’s and Billy Cobham’s fierce guitar/drum battles were always one of the great highlights of any Mahavishnu Orchestra concert. Narada Michael Walden, who succeeded Cobham in the second Mahavishnu Orchestra, used to call these "duet solos" because the two players were in such sync. On the blistering "Phenomenon: Compulsion," Cobham and McLaughlin get down to the primal basics. The song could have been lifted right out of any Mahavishnu Orchestra
"duet solo" performance. The head of the tune is derived from the clever use of a rhythmic phrase inspired by the South Indian konnakol system previously described in this book. To get the amazing electric grunge, McLaughlin’s guitar was mixed down through a Marshall Time Modulator. The guitarist’s sound becomes almost pure rhythm and noise. McLaughlin and Cobham are like two world class fencers thrusting and parrying at great speeds. They know each other’s next move so neither can score a point! The two artists maintain the same telepathic relationship they shared in The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Cobham shuffles and grooves and even plays some tabla-type lines, but at rock volumes. By tune’s end it becomes self-evident these two players recognize no limits.

The main rhythmic motif used in "Phenomenon: Compulsion" is similar to the use of the konnakol introduction of "La Danse Du Bonheur." It will be heard over the years in live solos, duets and drum/guitar duels to serve as a cue that there will be an abrupt change in the music’s direction. Perhaps the best example will be found eleven years later on the cut "Mother Tongues" from Live At The Royal Festival Hall.

McLaughlin will revisit elements of "Phenomenon: Compulsion" in a very different way many years later on "Thelonius Melodius" on The Promise.
"Phenomenon: Compulsion" also appears on John McLaughlin – The Montreux Concerts.

My Foolish Heart
(Victor Young)

Victor Young wrote the music for the 1949 movie of the same name. The critics hated the movie, but liked the music. John McLaughlin detuned the bottom E string to an A on this solo guitar chord melody arrangement so he could use his thumb to create an octave with the 5th string. Incidentally, this was an idea he picked up from Tal Farlow. This provided a deeper bass note to accompany his full chords and pristine single-note runs. McLaughlin’s gorgeous sound was also aided by running his guitar through a Leslie speaker. His touch is impeccable. There is next to no improvisation. The melancholy ballad, which appears last on the album, is an outlier surrounded on all sides by heavy fusion. McLaughlin wants to calm the listener who just experienced an all-out sonic attack. He will often end concerts with a beautiful ballad for the same reason.
During his later Guitar Trio days, McLaughlin often used "My Foolish Heart" as the starting point for his solo presentation. An acoustic version will find its way onto McLaughlin’s Thieves And Poets in 2003.

Excerpted from Follow Your Heart: John McLaughlin Song by Song: A Listener's Guide by Walter Kolosky. Used by permission of the author. The book is published by Abstract Logix, and may be purchased in the U.S. here and internationally here.