John McLaughlin’s second solo record, Devotion, was released in 1970 on the Douglas label. I was 13 years old when I purchased it at Tanforan Shopping Center in San Bruno, California. I recall this, because I was 25 cents short of the $3.98 purchase price. Maybe the record-store employee was enamored by a 13-year-old kid buying a psychedelic fusion album, because he gave me the record and told me to come back when I had the remainder of what was owed—which I did.
Devotion was created as McLaughlin was segueing from being a sideman to a realized composer, pre-Mahavishnu Orchestra, and he wasn’t happy with it. He is even quoted as saying producer Alan Douglas “destroyed it.” I’m not one to argue with the great Mr. McLaughlin, but I disagree. I think this is a fantastic record, due to its unique psychedelic-fusion stylings, and it influenced me greatly. I can’t even fault Douglas for his almost amateurish production of double-tracking two soloing guitars (reminiscent of Ike Turner’s “Right On”). Somehow, the solos work together as they weave in and out over the spirited rhythm section of drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Rich. I dig it.
One of the musical high points of the album is Larry Young’s organ solo on the title track, where he plays a mystical solo incorporating A Lydian (E major over an A pedal). That sound was very new to me back then. Young’s solo climaxes when he introduces a G natural, which, to this day, gives me chills. The other noteworthy tracks are “Marbles”(which was covered on 1972’s Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles Live) and “Don’t Let the Dragon Eat Your Mother.”
Sure—there is a wealth of great McLaughlin music that might be superior to Devotion, but this album has been close to my heart for 40 years, and there is nothing like it. McLaughlin once said, “A guitarist has to go the extra mile.” I think of these words when I’m feeling lazy or uninspired. Obviously, McLaughlin has gone that extra mile many times. He’s an intelligent musical pioneer, a phenomenal sideman, a great composer, and a guitarist with an amazingly distinct voice. He’s my guitar hero.