never forget the day I discovered John McLaughlin's
music. I was just a 13 year old kid at an outdoor show
at Syracuse University in 1972. The audience sat in the
sun on a grassy hill while Ravi Shankar played - which
was mind-blowing. But what McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu
Orchestra came out and did next - the sound, the visual
element and especially the music - damaged me for life.
This short-haired guy played his guitar like he was
possessed. In my mind, what he was playing was a strange
new take on rock 'n' roll. The notes and rhythms he and
his band performed, not to mention the sheer attack of
it all, constituted something I had never considered
could have a place in the genre.
There's footage of that show on YouTube. I was terrified to look at it in case I could see myself as some awkward teenager on Billy Cobham's side of the stage. Luckily I'm not visible. But I wish everybody could have rock 'n' roll laid out for them the way it was for me on that particular day.
I know for a fact that the Mahavishnu Orchestra inspired Yes. And in later years McLaughlin was to exert a strong influence on the development of rock music, not by becoming a household name but because the few he touched went on, in turn, to touch millions. I guess you could say that his paintings launched a thousand ships.
And he still has the magic. I just bought Floating Point, one of his most recent records, which inspired me to write a song called 'Johnny's Dream' as a nod to McLaughlin on the new Masters of Reality album.