The last chapter of Power, Passion and Beauty - The Special Edition eBook is an homage to the individual members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. So many heartfelt comments were offered, that the eBook just didn't have enough space. This page includes all of those who offered their thoughts about John, Billy, Jan, Jerry and Rick et al.
Homage to the Mahavishnu Orchestra
Steve Howe: John was a guitarist who always seemed to stand out in my mind. I first met and saw him when I was a young player. John got on stage and had his amplifier propped up on a stool. I think this is where I adopted the approach I used in Yes, and throughout really, of placing my amp so that it was always playing at the back of my head.
John Abercrombie: Billy was actually the first drummer I ever played with in the fusion context. I played with him in the group Dreams. I started out playing with the best, and one of the originators of this fusion style. He was the father of that style of drumming. He was a jazz musician who had an interest in rock. He was into playing funk beats and things that other jazz drummers couldn’t do. You could never imagine Elvin Jones or Philly Jo Jones playing rock music. He was probably the most powerful drummer I played with – especially in those days. Nobody could match that velocity and speed. He was able to play in all those odd meters and make it sound as if it was in 4/4. You never got the feeling this was hard for these guys, but especially Billy, being the heartbeat of the band…I don’t think there was any other drummer on the planet that could have done what Billy did.
Jeff Beck: Jan had the advantage of keyboard control that you didn’t have with guitar. His sound was so clear. He knew how to get a clear, compressed sound. Every single note could be heard. What a person to have that! In the hands of someone else it would have been a disaster. His playing is so concise and devilish and fiery. That is what drew me in. Jan is still my hero on keyboards. No one has ever got past him.
Jean-Luc Ponty: I thought that Jerry brought an interesting contrast of style to that band with his mix of classical, rock and American folk, as opposed to the other members’ influences that were leaning more towards jazz, blues and East Indian. Jerry is a strong and original player.
Marc Rossi: Jan Hammer almost singlehandedly liberated the keyboard player from the tyranny of the fixed note - that is, not being able to bend notes and play as expressively as singers, guitarists, violinists, and others can. It worked when he did it not because of the novelty, but because of his musical depth, skill, and virtuosity he brought to it. Jan turned expressive synthesizer playing into a real and viable musical voice, which simply hadn’t existed before. In my opinion, this is equally important an instrumental innovation as J.S. Bach’s usage of the thumb in keyboard playing, Charlie Parker’s turning the saxophone on its head, and Jaco Pastorius’ bass innovations. It is of historical importance.
Kai Eckhardt: I can only assume what it must have been like to anchor that kind of intensity. Rick Laird, in my mind, was the therapist of this music – listening patiently and grounding some of the most traumatizing, devastating emotional roller coasters of the day.
Carlos Santana: John is capable, like Wayne Shorter, of articulating the unknown. I have seen John go into a place in which I am rooting for him and screaming like a cheerleader. “Go man! Get it!” He is my favorite guitar player. He and Otis Rush, really. I am grateful to God that he is my friend and brother.
Narada Michael Walden: I sat cross-legged on the floor right behind Billy Cobham during rehearsals for the Love Devotion Surrender tour. What a monster! We had never known the likes of him before. He was the first in history of that kind of combination of James Brown funk meets jazz, rock, fusion and Indian...all of those things in one person who had the power of King Kong. At that time, I had no idea I would be following him in the future of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Steve Morse: John has always had the combination of incredible technique, aggressive drive, and disciplined creativity mixed with total abandon. And that’s just talking about the way he solos. It is deceptive how complete his technique is, since he incorporates some very difficult intervallic jumps, sometimes at the same fiery tempos that other great guitarists would be doing linear, repetitive runs. The music he writes is haunting, edgy, and punchy like heavy metal. I’ve seen him with Mahavishnu many times, with Shakti, with the acoustic trio, and have had the great pleasure of working with him. He was so forgiving of my nervous, awkward playing when I auditioned to be on the acoustic tour, and was patient with my many questions. On tour, he treated me like a little brother, always a warm greeting and encouraging me with my playing. He knows that I’ve been totally influenced by his work with Mahavishnu, but he never tried to put me down for showing so much of his influence over the years. I think it is safe to say that I am one of his biggest fans.
Bill Frisell: John has really been a huge inspiration to me. Somehow I feel he hasn’t really been acknowledged the way he should be. When I hear him – I can’t even figure out where it is coming from. It is more than just the guitar. The music he is playing is absolutely unique. He has actually come to see me play a bunch of times. He is very supportive of what I am doing. The first time I saw him in the audience, I just about had a heart attack.
Henry Kaiser: You’d never seen a drummer like Billy Cobham before. You would never see that much power on stage. I’d go see others, and there just was not that incredible power that Billy Cobham had. Billy Cobham would break a drum stick and be playing for a few seconds with just one drumstick and his feet. And he would still sound like three drummers.
John Scofield: The Mahavishnu Orchestra was just slicker and faster and more 3D than anybody had been up to that point. They were super tight, super loud – like a rock band from India on steroids at 45 rpm.
Joe Zawinul: Jan Hammer was always a great musician, one of less than a handful who understood the meaning of playing electronic keyboards. My favorite Moog player. He was talking. An inspiration to me.
Jeff Beck: No one has ever got better than John McLaughlin. He’s cut a new asshole for a lot of people. I don’t like to use that word – but it seems fitting in this case.
Gary Husband: One of the other wonderful things about Billy during this period was that I always felt he always had enough in reserve, always had some headroom, in terms of control. You just knew he could take stuff further if he needed to. He was really on top of that. That’s probably some kind of advanced athletic philosophy he was using right there.
Steve Lukather: Rick was the glue while everyone else freaked out.
John Abercrombie: I find it hard to separate John’s playing from the music itself. The music was the platform for the way these guys played. John’s Indian influence was starting to come out. His tremendous technical ability was becoming more evident than it had ever been. He was making technical advances. He was literally pushing the guitar to its speed limits. He was above the speed limit. In fact, he was about to be arrested for playing too fast. Nobody I had ever heard had that kind of technical command of an instrument. Nobody could play an instrument like that.
Peter Erskine: Billy Cobham was a key element in that music, of course. His uncanny understanding of rhythm, coupled with his incredible power and speed, not to mention his distinctive sense of funk and style, all contributed towards making the Mahavishnu Orchestra as relevant and evocative as they turned out to be for so many of us. Billy had incredible charisma and chops in that band!
Mark Feldman: I remember an afternoon at the Goodman home. Jerry came in the house from an afternoon of tennis. His brother and I were listening to the Heifetz recording of the “Sibelius Violin Concerto” on the record player in the front room. Jerry just picked up a fiddle off the table and played the rest of the piece with the record, in perfect unison.
Trey Gunn: I did my best as a young player to try and be influenced by John McLaughlin, but it just wasn’t possible. I had no idea what he was actually doing. So, I would just try to fake it by playing as fast as I possibly could and persist in phrasing notes that were out of the key!
Steve Hunt: Jan Hammer is one of those masters from the ’70s, like Zawinul, Corea, Duke and Hancock, that would forever change the way keyboard players would sound and play. Jan’s impeccable feeling of time and his out-of-this-world melodic lines – obviously not coming from the traditional jazz language – made him stand out and worked so beautifully with John’s Mahavishnu Orchestra musical concept.
Carlos Santana: John McLaughlin is when you go to Paris and see the Champs- Elysees where there is this big circle with all the streets connected to it.
Jonas Hellborg: I don’t know if Rick is overlooked. I would rather say that he was spared from the exaggerated hype and adulation that was bestowed on a lot of musicians from that generation. He went on to have a life and have other great contributions to mankind as a photographer and bass player. That group would have musically fallen to pieces without Rick’s solid bass playing.
Joe Zawinul: John McLaughlin is an amazing individual. Everything he has done and everything he does is meaningful. From his work with Tony Williams, Miles, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, until today...probably the most significant guitar player and certainly one of Music’s more powerful personalities in the last 30 years. Plus, he is a human being. I mean it.
Darol Anger: Jerry was the first violinist to venture into the realm of heavy amplification that only guitarists inhabited till then. He was also not bound by any particular stylistic bonds, i.e. classical, jazz, or country. He merely played his own stuff, really, really well in the context of this incredibly challenging material.
Frank Gambale: A friend sent me video tape of two live concerts from 1972. What Billy plays is physically impossible.
Wayne Krantz: I never tried to imitate John’s playing. It was too fast for me to pull off the turntable, which was how we did it in those days. But, the whole spirit of the ensemble, the writing, and the way they were all going for it, became part of a template for me about how bands are supposed to work.
Jim Beard: There’s the obvious fact that John is the founding father of speed metal guitar playing and one could even say Mahavishnu Orchestra was responsible for inspiring many of the musical syntax and phonetics of the instrumental rock & metal genre.
Stephan Crump: I was just starting to play the electric bass when I first heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Shortly thereafter, I got Rick’s book that deals with various modes and pentatonic scales, which offered me some clues into what was informing his playing and the Mahavishnu Orchestra music. It would be years of studying jazz before I would really begin to figure that stuff out. Then, when I moved to New York in 1994, I began playing some of the Mahavishnu music with a few different groups...and finally, with the Mahavishnu Project. That project had me reaching deeper into what Rick was doing, although in performance, I would most often take what he did as a foundation for bringing my own voice to the material, which is, to me, the only honest way to approach making music from any repertoire. Like any great bass player, he helped the band by connecting the rhythmic, harmonic, and even melodic, framework...and in this band, that was quite a responsibility. To me, his lines always give a sense of inevitability, so much are they part of the music’s success.
Trey Gunn: What I hear most in some of the Mahavishnu recordings is a similar thing to what I hear in Coltrane’s later work. It’s not the notes per se, but that the notes are the voicing of a search. The soloing is a searching for something. It’s as if the player is looking through a telescope, trying to see something, and what we get by watching the search is the sound they leave behind.
Carl Orr: Billy Cobham’s drumming was the X factor: unique powerhouse rock drumming from a guy with a serious jazz pedigree. Billy was, and remains, one of the great drummers of history. In no small part due to Billy Cobham, the Mahavishnu really rocked!
Gary Husband: Jan has always had this stark, deep, classical Eastern European harmonic discipline. I feel that upon that discipline, he truly uniquely molded a jazz/improvisational style for himself – one that was of monumental influence and inspiration to me particularly. There’s always been a terrific command, discipline, intelligence and clarity in his melody and harmony, but always together with this boisterous and propulsive sense of rhythm, too. He’s just one of the all-time great musicians for me. I feel that with all these qualifications, his contribution to Mahavishnu was invaluable. As a musical voice, his strength, quite simply, was such that it translated through piano to electric piano, organ and moog synthesizer quite effortlessly. That’s actually quite an achievement! I feel Joe Zawinul also achieved this in his own way, but in retrospect, I really can’t imagine Mahavishnu Orchestra musically working in anything like the same way that it did, with any other keyboard player, to be honest. For me, he was so, so right.
Wayne Krantz: I played with Billy years later, which was thrilling given the history. His trio played opposite Tony Williams at the Blue Note in New York for a week. One night it was just me, Billy and Tony, hanging after the show up in the dressing room. I just sat and listened to those guys toss it back and forth. I’ll never forget that night. Meeting John recently had a similar impact on me. What these people did was so important for us early on, when everything one heard really mattered. I am grateful to them for everything they gave me.
Barry Cleveland: John’s pioneering work with guitar synths is well documented, and there’s not a lot that I can add to what has already been said. I am reminded of a comment Robert Fripp made years ago when asked about overcoming the inherent shortcomings of early guitar synths, which tended to glitch produce ghost notes. He made the point that one had to pick extremely cleanly and evenly in order to successfully trigger individual notes, and added something along the lines of, “I mean, John McLaughlin clean, not just Larry Coryell clean.”
Joe DeRenzo: I was introduced to the Mahavishnu Orchestra by jazz guitarist and luthier Alan Simcoe. He had hipped me to The Inner Mounting Flame, and as a young drummer, I was very taken by the force-of-nature style of Billy Cobham. The drum solo on “One Word” from Birds of Fire provided hours of analysis on how to apply almost every one of the 26 rudiments to the double bass kit.
Steve Hunt: Now that I’ve had the chance these past few years to play Mahavishnu music in the Mahavishnu Project, I can further humbly appreciate the intricate mastery in which Jan interpreted the music. I don’t know any modern keyboard player that hasn’t been hugely influenced by Jan Hammer. He will always be remembered as one of the great innovators.
Percy Jones: Rick Laird, I thought, was an understated and very important part of that band. He was really the kingpin and foundation for the whole thing. He gave the band a bottom end anchor and coherency that a busier player would probably have failed to do. His well-timed bass parts locked the whole thing together. I met him years later at his place in NYC, where he pulled out an electric upright and began playing some beautiful straight-ahead lines. It was another side of his playing that I had never been aware of.
John Novello: Although I don’t personally know Jan, spiritually I feel I have known him all of my life. He’s the kind of musician I have always took notice of – meaning someone who not only took responsibility for the craft of his instrument and the craft of music, but somebody who also had the personal integrity and courage to FULLY express himself no matter what the musical occasion was. He is both eclectic and completely original at the same time, which is very difficult to do. One minute he’s playing smoking B-3 as on my favorite CD Timeless, and then ripping off synth solos sounding like Jimi Hendrix and better than most guitarists, and then the next minute playing acoustic piano with rich harmonies and always with taste. He touched my soul. He’s my kind of player. On Niacin’s last CD, it was my honor and pleasure to arrange “Blue Wind” from the Jeff Beck Wired CD. I tried to capture Jan’s vibe by alternating back and forth from the B-3 and synth. His soulful melodic sense, when to use his chops and his rhythm prowess are superior. And to boot, he’s a great composer and drummer. Thanks for all the inspiration Jan!
Herbie Hancock: Billy brought a very dynamic, powerful yet virtuosic aspect to jazz-fusion drumming. He did things that were astounding to listeners, people who watched him in concert and to other drummers. They were amazed at what he could actually do on the drums. It brought out a real physical reaction in them.
Dennis Chambers: Then I heard them play that stuff live and I heard how Billy played “The Dance of Maya.” He’s breaking up the drum fills going through the melody, which is something I never heard before. John is playing a melody. Jan is playing a melody. Jerry is playing a melody and Billy sounds like he is falling down a flight of steps. He is doing these drum solos that somehow land where the down beat was, even when the tune is in 20 or 21 or something like that. That was a hard thing to do. I don’t even know how the band could focus on what they were doing individually, with Billy doing what he was doing.
John Abercrombie: Before Mahavishnu, I had heard Lifetime in Boston. I got to meet those guys a bit. I knew Tony (Williams) a little bit from him being from the area. That was a really unusual band. It was the loudest thing I had ever heard in my life. John was playing some odd brand of guitar and it was all painted psychedelic. The sound was so different from anything I had been listening to before that. It was very inspirational. The music was very dark, as I recall. I wasn’t drawn to it in some ways because it kind of sounded scary. There was one solo that John took that always stood out in my mind. It was a feedback solo. He turned towards the amp and somehow managed to extract things that sounded like an orchestra from the amp. It was sort of like what Jimi Hendrix would do, but more orchestral. I couldn’t figure it out. It had to do with feedback and he was trying to control it and coming out with some beautiful sounds even though they were deafeningly loud – they were still beautiful somehow.
Michael Mondesir: When I first heard “The Dance of Maya,” I was amazed at the music but at the same time it felt like HOME. Hearing the band inspired the thought, “I’m going to play bass and I’m going to play with THESE guys!” Rick was the guy who gave clear evidence of the “floor” of the music, the “one” if you will. Rick made it sound so easy.
Stu Goldberg: Jan was welcoming and supportive to me when I first joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra in New York, and every time I saw him thereafter. I remember him inviting me up to his studio in upstate New York to hang out and jam one weekend. Among his many talents, he was a monster drummer. We jammed for hours with me on piano and Jan on drums at his studio.
Barry Cleveland: With everyone else in the band – including the drummer – playing around the pulse, someone had to anchor the time and outline the harmonic framework. I’m sure that’s why Rick Laird was chosen for the role. One more fulltime soloist and the compositions would have spun off into the stratosphere.
T Lavitz: Jan is truly a great composer as well as a musician. As a keyboard player though, it is hard to describe what he did for me (or is it to me?) His impeccable sense and delivery of rhythm sets a high standard. His lead synth playing really is better “guitar” playing than 9 out of 10 guitarists. For the keyboard player who wants more out of rock and roll than just the basics, I feel that the early ELP stuff, combined with Jan’s synth playing, does for keyboards what Hendrix did for guitar.
Pat Metheny: Seeing John play like that was like watching a virtuoso classical violinist for me or something. I almost didn’t even recognize it as the same instrument that I was trying to play. His technique was so specific and suited to the advanced concept that he had generated and manifested with this group, that it was abstract in a way, and ultimately impossible for me to reconcile that with the more straight-ahead to avant-garde concepts that I was involved with. Yet, it was clearly jazz for me. The language and especially the relationships between players had every connection to the larger tradition. In another important way, it simultaneously honored and extended that tradition by forging a relationship between those players by way of John’s incredible compositions and the realities of that moment in time – a moment of spontaneous improvisation that was fresh and new – but also that resonated so deeply with the cultural feeling that was so pervasive then.
Otmaro Ruiz: When I was still in Venezuela, I didn’t even have a stereo. My friends would tape cassettes for me. The most advanced music was being played by Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra. I never was sure about who was doing what, because I didn’t have access to that information.I didn’t even know the names of the members in the bands. I remember to this day, hearing the most incredible keyboard solo in my life. And then I was told that it was Jan Hammer. It was from Mahavishnu – but to this day I couldn’t tell you from which tune or album because I didn’t have the facts. I had never heard anyone approach keyboards that way. It became an immediate influence. Over the years, I developed a good memory for phrases and analyzing what I heard. This is how I learned. Up to this day, that solo comes out in the way I play when I play synthesizers.
Simon Phillips: Billy became a huge influence on me. I started out as a dixieland/swing drummer. I was not interested in playing rock until I was about 14, so my roots are “straight-ahead.” However, when I got into playing rock, I changed my style totally – and my setup and concept of playing. I felt that playing with power was most important and totally shunned any double-stroke playing. When I heard Billy, his execution was so perfect, so much power and ridiculously fast. He also had a “deep pocket,” and I was instilled with the importance of playing in time and with a pocket by my father from a very early age. So, Billy’s approach was my guideline.
Bill Frisell: John is one of those guys. Every time I hear him I have to rethink everything. You would never know from listening to the way I play. There were times back then that I would be listening to tons of his stuff and trying to play it.
Herbie Hancock: Jan had an amazing technique on synthesizer, particularly in his solo work. It sounded like a voice singing, on one hand, and like a cross between a violin and guitar on the other. The nature of those instruments allowed that, and he took full advantage of it. The use of pitch-bending was relatively new for keyboardists at that time. He made an art out of it. I would say he, George Duke and Chick Corea were founding fathers in that department. They each had their own techniques. They were the foundation for what went on with pitch-bending in the future.
Mark Egan: I enjoyed Rick’s playing very much because he glued the band together. A group with such heavyweight improvisers needed to have an accomplished bassist like Rick to lay down the groove. It always seemed like Rick played perfect parts with a great feel. He was invisible in a great way.
Joey DeFrancesco: When I first heard Jan Hammer with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, I was knocked out. I found it fascinating that Jan could come from playing piano in Sarah Vaughan’s band to this experimental electric music. Jan is very eclectic and has roots in the B-3, which explains a lot [chuckles].
Steve Khan: I have been fortunate to share various stages around the world with John McLaughlin, and I’ve always enjoyed it immensely. He has always treated me with kindness and graciousness. He is, without question, one of this music’s greatest visionaries. He is someone who has transcended his virtuosity and only used it as a tool for the betterment of the music to be served. He’s a great, great artist, and I truly admire him greatly. Beyond this, to me, he stands as a great gentleman.
Leland Sklar: Rick Laird was a great bass player and perfect for the Mahavishnu Orchestra. They did not need a virtuoso bass player but rather one who could hold that whole thing together. He was The Guy.
Mitch Forman: Jan Hammer basically wrote the book on playing synth leads. I remember being blown away upon hearing the first Mahavishnu CDs. Being able to trade licks with McLaughlin is not an easy feat for any keyboardist.
Gayle Moran Corea: John is the master of guitar. He is the world’s greatest player.
Joe Deninzon: Jerry was the first violinist I heard playing through a distortion and a wah pedal, and knowing what to do with it. He had, and continues to have, a unique way of phrasing. I hear a great deal of guitar influence in his violin playing. I think he was more influenced by Hendrix than Heifitz. It still sounds radical, by today’s standards, to hear a violin played like that, and I can imagine how revolutionary it was in 1971. I’m surprised that more violinists haven’t picked up on that sound since.
John Abercrombie: Underneath it all, Rick was so concentrated on keeping things together. Somebody had to. I think what he did was allow everyone else the freedom to do what they did. You always find out in bands that someone has to take control.
Steve Topping: Words can only hint at John’s first impact upon me – I was 15 years old. It was like a force of nature. The elemental vitality compelled me to listen and to laugh with joy. Quite simply, he scintillated. Ever since, he’s been up there in the firmament! John is a musically restless soul, who with daring and intelligence found truth in colliding.
Rob Thomas: Actually, the iconic Jerry Goodman moment for me is the tune, “Introduction” on The Flock’s first record. I’ll never forget hearing that and the whole record for the first time. He just totally dusted all the electric rock violinists I’d heard. Some of them had their own thing, which I dug and still dug after hearing that music, but Jerry was on a whole other level. I was also inspired by the fact that he was doubling on guitar and violin in a band, something I proceeded to do in bands for several years before I gave up the guitar for the bass. When he showed up in Mahavishnu I was already very aware of him. When I finally heard the IMF, I thought, of course...that was Jerry on the radio playing “You Know You Know.” No wonder I liked it.
Adam Holzman: Gil Evans once talked about “sound innovators,” people like Miles, Bird, Coltrane, Jaco, and Hendrix – who redefine the sound of their instrument and create a new vocabulary that becomes widely followed by a million other players. Jan Hammer did this with the synthesizer. I think part of the reason Jan arrived at his breakthrough with the Minimoog was because of his background as an organist. While most of my other keyboard heroes came to the synthesizer from the piano or Fender Rhodes, Jan, being a great organ player, had a lighter touch and a natural flair for single note synth soloing. When Mahavishnu came out, the Minimoog was a new instrument, but to this day it is still considered by many, including me, to be the coolest synthesizer and Jan’s voice is still its definitive sound. He is the “Charlie Parker” of the Minimoog, unquestionably the greatest lead synthesizer player of all time. To say that I listened to Jan Hammer a lot when I was growing up and learning to play would be an understatement. His playing is part of the fabric of my life!
Pete McCann: No single guitarist has accomplished more in his career than John McLaughlin. He led us guitarists into the era of jazz-rock fusion, forging new sounds and techniques inspired by Indian classical music, Hendrix, Miles and Trane. His legacy of great bands and recordings broke new ground, and he shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. McLaughlin has played every type of guitar – solid-body electric, arch-top, semi-hollow body, synth-guitar, steel string acoustic, nylon string acoustic – and the amazing thing is that he wails on all of them! I have studied and transcribed his early work and I can’t imagine where jazz guitar would be today without John McLaughlin.
Danny Gottlieb: Billy was and still is one of my heroes. He still touches me in a very deep way. The great bassist Chip Jackson, while on the road with Elvin Jones, described Elvin’s drumming as “seducing” or “intoxicating.” Billy does that to me. He is so interesting, strong, and individual, that I just get drawn right into his playing. He is an amazing jazz drummer, musician, and just one of the greatest in the history of the instrument.
Fareed Haque: Jan is truly one of the most innovative keyboardists ever. More unique in many ways than Corea, Hancock or Zawinul, and certainly melodically and rhythmically more innovative, Jan is one of the signature chordal and melodic elements that define Mahavishnu, even more than John in many cases, yet Jan’s genius is understated and textural – his solos never draw attention away from the music, but add to the groove and richness of the textures.
Nat Janoff: I really feel that John is one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. I don’t know who else could play and write in so many different contexts. It’s truly mind boggling when you think about all the amazing groups and developments in music he’s been a part of or helped create.
John Abercrombie: I think Jan is kind of a genius, in a way. When I first met him, when we played together, he would invent things. He was fabulous at that. He used to play me some Czech folk songs. Then we would play them together. I would play electric bass. We’d play in bands and we would play these little beautiful Czech melodies with chord progressions, and he would improvise on them. It seemed like he could do anything he wanted to do with music. He just breathed it.
Barry Cleveland: McLaughlin’s knowledge base and experiential resources are immense, drawing on myriad influences and traditions worldwide and throughout history – and his mastery is an amalgam of all of those factors. I’m not really qualified to opine on his playing much beyond that. You might as well ask what made Coltrane’s playing technically stand apart. As for emotional aspects, fire is clearly the most active element in his personal constellation of energies, and one gets the sense that he has access to an unlimited supply of it.
Gary Husband: I just rejoice that John had sought Jerry Goodman for the group. Look at everything you get in that package – a totally captivating, charismatic, relentlessly inventive improviser with this stirring, deep classical aura to him – he has this inherent “rocker rebel” element. There are aspects of country in there – just a complete individual. Indeed, one of the greatest joys of my life was the moment he agreed to be a part of an ensemble I put together myself recently, the Force Majeure band. I’d managed to secure the services of some of the greatest and most formidable of today’s jazz and fusion musicians for this lineup, but it was Jerry’s presence that brought about a very particular special wonder to the whole project. He was spectacular – just spellbinding and mesmerizing everyone, every night. I dig everything about him. Jerry’s got the edge. He plays loud, and he don’t got any jazz manners!!! It’s the heart and the soul you get from him. Naked. Visceral. Magic. And what a beautiful, sweet man to boot.
Dominic Miller: I think John is one of the most influential guitarists in our galaxy and perhaps beyond. What sets him apart is the way I believe he puts his musicianship ahead of his guitar. Many people might argue this point, saying he’s a “shredder,” but I don’t agree. His construction of chords, melody and all around concept is second to none.
Michael Mondesir: EVERYTHING I know about music, especially the ability to play with so called odd meter, I learned from Jan Hammer! I worked with him in 2004 on Jeff Beck’s tour...literally a dream!
Gary Husband: Billy looked the epitome of cool, too. I was very affected by the way people “looked” when they played, back when I was a kid. The aviator glasses, the plexiglas Fibes kit, and...as I say, all this intensity delivered with such ease and command. He changed everything for me when I discovered him. I’m pretty sure it must be that way for most of my generation of drummers, coming up around then.
Steve Kindler: Mahavishnu John McLaughlin had such an unusual aura about him. He was playing in rock music, but he wasn’t a rock musician. He was playing at huge volume, but still with an unbelievable technical proficiency. He had short hair when the style was to have it long. And, then he had this double-neck guitar that he would play the shit out of. You just couldn’t believe what was coming out of that instrument. Everything about him was unique.
Steve Morse: I first heard Jerry with The Flock on vinyl. He sounded amazing, with a definite wild side to his sound, not a sweet violin sound at all, but with intentional harmonics. When I saw him with Mahavishnu, I thought it was the most perfect combination: his rock edge with John’s jazz-rock angularity. Jerry was a little mysterious to me, since sometimes he wouldn’t be smiling onstage. So, years later, I finally got to meet him with the possibility of us working together. I had no idea what he was like as a person. It turns out that he is genuinely warm, gregarious, and incredibly funny with the ability to improvise a solo or a joke to fit any situation. He plays just like a shredding guitarist. In fact, he is so much like a guitarist that many people say they can’t tell if his solos are coming from a guitar or violin. He is so fluid and confident as a soloist, that he still inspires me with his solos on stage.
Herbie Hancock: John introduced a virtuosity to guitar playing, that had not really existed to that extent before. I think it was the influence of the Indian music and the ragas and the different rhythms and techniques that came primarily from India and that part of the world.
David Balakrishnan: I first heard both Jerry Goodman and Jean-Luc Ponty before either were in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, back in my high school days in the late sixties/early seventies. My friends and I had a band called Moonfleet – what can I say? We modeled it after the popular classical-rock groups of the day, like Yes and Emerson Lake & Palmer. I had already started playing rock violin, which back then was almost unheard of, and in fact, by then I had also already heard Jerry Goodman through his recordings with a group called The Flock. He was a big reason that I started playing rock violin. Back when I was in 10th grade or so, I saw a picture of him on the back of the first Flock LP. He had really long hair that he was waving around wildly as he was playing, and I thought that was so unbelievably cool. Plus of course, he was already an amazing player and I was especially affected by the way he was able to sound like a great rock guitarist on the violin, which woke me up to the fact that even though the violin was so strongly associated with the square music of my parent’s generation, in essence, it was what the early rock guitarists were trying to sound like when using loud amplification to produce sustain. It also seemed to elicit more attention from girls, certainly more than playing Mozart did, and this was an area I needed all the help I could get.
Steve Howe: Being English, I think I own a bit of John McLaughlin. Perhaps, it would be better to say we adopted him. There are only so many musicians in England that you can really look up to like that. For me, it is John McLaughlin and Albert Lee.
Darol Anger: With the advent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the return of the violin to mainstream contemporary music began in earnest. Jerry Goodman, Jean-Luc Ponty, and others such as Richard Greene and Don Harris started a wave which is beginning to crest 30 years later. Goodman really opened the way to an integrated approach using the Western European stylistic legacy of the violin in a rock and jazz context. In this way, he can be compared to Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli, who also incorporated a European violin style to craft a personal violin sound, in contrast to Stuff Smith or Jean-Luc Ponty, who attained their signature styles by discarding standard “violinistic” ideas of tone and phrasing and incorporating horn or fiddle sounds. At any rate, Jerry Goodman got the violin in front of a large number of people who might never have imagined that that instrument was capable of that kind of power, and helped start a revival of interest in the instrument among modern musicians, that continues to expand today.
Carlos Santana: I like the John McLaughlin that plays with Miles on Jack Johnson. That’s the one with the wah wah that plays through a Marshall with a Fender guitar. I know sometimes John may get uncomfortable when I say that. There are many facets to John McLaughlin, but I still like the one that was hanging around with Miles. Miles brought something out of him that was so freaking funky that it scared the hell out of Jimi Hendrix [laughs].