“What I haven’t I done? I haven’t done billions of things!” says John McLaughlin when MusicRadar questions what the legendary and progressive guitarist has left to achieve.
It might technically be true, but McLaughlin’s done considerably more than most to contribute to the evolution of guitar playing, whether it was his fretwork on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, forming prog/fusion orginators Mahavishnu Orchestra, or his virtuosic collaborations with friend and flamenco legend Paco de Lucía.
“I’m not the sort of chap who can sit down and write music,” says McLaughlin. “When it comes, I’m happy.”
Ahead of the release of his new album Black Light (due 21 September), the pioneering player shares his wisdom and reflections on everything from the art of improvisation, to playing with Hendrix and the common errors of guitarists.
“I think this band [4th Dimension] is probably the greatest band I’ve had since the Mahavishnu days. They’re just outstanding players and fantastic guys, too. There’s a marvellous kind of complicity developed, so that when we go on the stage, everyone’s thrilled…
Perfect discipline is equal to perfect freedom
“Of course, we all [as improvisors] need the discipline to stay together. That’s one of the things that makes it great is that we all have the discipline, but also the freedom with the discipline will just bring anarchy in a way. This is what free jazz is.
The man who knew
“[There’s a track on Black Light dedicated to Paco de Lucía, pictured] - El Hombre Que Sabia. It means ‘The Man Who Knew’ - and Paco knew.
“That particular piece is one we should have recorded last year, the two of us, and he was particularly fond of this piece, so it really is a kind of homage to him.
“I discovered flamenco when I was 14, before I even got involved with jazz music. I was so crazy about flamenco music. I wanted to be a flamenco guitar player.
We all speak music
“[When you’re looking for collaborators], it’s the music that speaks first. This is the language of musicians.
The boost shall set you free
“I was never really a fan of this ‘cool guitar’ [tone]. I was playing with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce and Graham Bond and all of those guys then, and I got a big amp because I wanted more feedback.
Hanging with Hendrix
“In the mid-60s I was playing not only with Miles, but I also went to New York to play with Tony Williams the drummer and Mitch Mitchell adored Tony. He was Tony’s greatest fan. So every time we were in New York and playing a slog - four one-hour sets a night - there was Mitch.
Advice for the young at heart
“What I would recommend to guitar players is that they need to learn to read [music]. Guitar players are notorious about not reading, but music is your personal language, you need know how to read it and write it.