In the 1960s he was under the musical and spiritual influence of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
lHis first album was Extrapolation (1969).
Among his favourite books are The Works of Vivekananda, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy.
His favourite pop song is Stevie Wonder’s version of Redemption Song (written by Bob Marley).
His favourite pop singer is Michael Jackson.
Guitar guru John McLaughlin, 71, is on a roll. Having released a new album, Now Here This (2012), John is set to perform at the Bonnaroo Music Festival (that also features Paul McCartney) in June at Tennessee. And hang on, if things go to plan, John (and his band 4th Dimension) will be touring India in 2014, with a stop in Calcutta! A t2 email chat with the Shakti member.
You are about to perform at Bonnaroo, one of the biggest rock festivals in the world....
I have played to audiences as small as 15 and as big as 120,000, so I really don’t care much about the size of the audience. Fortunately, people today are aware of what’s happening on stage... even with music that they don’t know. In my opinion the capacity of audiences to appreciate music cannot be underestimated.
Can we expect any surprise collaborations on stage, maybe with Paul McCartney, who is also performing at Bonnaroo?
Much as I am a fan of The Beatles, I would be very surprised if he invited me onto his stage! On the other hand, there are ‘pop’ artistes like Sting, who have (previously) invited me and other musicians onto their stage.
How many times have you been to Calcutta and anything you would like to say about the city?
I have lost count of how many times I’ve visited India, but not every time to Calcutta. That said, I am always happy to be in Calcutta because of my friends there, such as musician Debashish Bhattacharya, and even more because of the proximity of the Dakshineswar temple. I’ll never forget my visit to the temple in 2005. It was a very profound experience to see the room where Sri Ramakrishna lived and which has been kept intact and in its original condition.
You have been an admirer of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. How have they influenced you?
I became familiar with the name Sri Ramakrishna in the late 1960s and, of course, his two principal disciples, Vivekananda and Brahmananda. Truth to tell, I was influenced more by these two persons than Sri Ramakrishna himself. But, of course, behind these two spiritual giants was the giant himself: Sri Ramakrishna. I could say that Vivekananda was the epitome of spiritual strength. He himself says that all strength comes from the interior. Brahmananda was a giant of the heart. In a way, these two men incarnated the greatest aspects of Sri Ramakrishna’s realisation.
You have released Now Here This with 4th Dimension featuring Indian drummer Ranjit Barot. How was it performing with Ranjit?
He is one of your greatest musicians. Ranjit Barot has been with the band for about 18 months now and is a wonderful addition to the group. I’ve known and played with Ranjit for quite a few years as we met and played together at the Abbaji Festival in Mumbai in 2007. To have Ranjit in the band has added another ‘dimension’. He is THE Indian drummer who has successfully integrated the richness of Indian rhythms into jazz and jazz-fusion, and there again, without compromising himself or his music and traditions.
There is a possibility of you coming to Calcutta in 2014 with the 4th Dimension. How is the band different from Shakti?
The band itself is radically different from Shakti. One of the principal elements I am working on with this group is the harmonic element. Keyboardist and drummer Gary Husband and I have grown up studying not only jazz harmony, itself a deep subject, but western classical harmony also. As you know, harmony is not an aspect of either north or south Indian classical music.
Now while I can hear the beginning of the integration of harmony in the music of Bollywood, it is still in its infancy. In addition, there are aspects of jazz and fusion music that are still difficult to integrate into the music of Shakti. For example, the dynamics of jazz which can move from fortissimo (loud) to pianissimo (soft) in one second do not lend themselves easily to Shakti music.
Other examples are the elements of R&B or funk or simply rock. These elements have been integrated into jazz since the end of the 1960s and are now a part of the ‘jazz’ traditions. These also do not integrate themselves very easily into Shakti music without losing the integrity of both cultures, but in my humble opinion, Shakti is the kind of group that integrates our different cultures through admiration, respect and even love.
Have you ever seen McLaughlin perform live? Tell [email protected]
Don Bosco boy Souvik Dutta is now the man behind McLaughlin!
On April 28, 2002, bass guitarist Jonas Hellborg, the late guitarist Shawn Lane and drummer Jeff Sipe, who were on a tour, did a gig at my place in Raleigh.
It was broadcast over the Internet. We had to come up with a name for the site and I came up with Abstract Logix. I started to sell a few of Hellborg’s records and then a few of Zakir Hussain titles. When musicians came to Raleigh, I would go check them out, take photos, shoot a little video for the website.
John McLaughlin with Souvik Dutta
The 40-year-old DBPC ex-student is the founder of Abstract Logix and head of business development for DIY Media Services, a technology company that creates software for social media and beyond. He is currently based in North Carolina.
In 2003, I reached out to John McLaughlin’s management through Zakir Hussain and I was able to get a job on the Shakti Road Crew for a month. I was very happy to take time off from work and go out on the road, travelling all around America. Fortunately I was able to make some decent money from the tour and put it back into my web portal.
In 2005, I met guitarist Jimmy Herring, who was playing with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, through my close friend, drummer Jeff Sipe. Jimmy and Jeff had made the avant-garde recording called Lincoln Memorial (2005) and offered it to me for not too much money. I distributed the record in America and was able to get a license deal in some other countries. Eight years later (label was formed in 2005), we are about to release our 40th album.
John is one of my musical heroes. He gave me a break when he could have gone to any company in the world. I started to work for him in 2003 and 10 years later, I am handling his music releases, publicity and tour management and planning.
The music industry is in a state of disarray and the winners are going to be the ones that can adapt with the change and for me it’s very important to attach myself with the highest quality music.
(As told to AC)