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John McLaughlin: On The Road, Part 1: The Interview

John Kelman By

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You cannot get more personal than with music. But I've a personal philosophy that the more personal you get the more universal it actually becomes.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

It's been nearly a decade since legendary guitarist John McLaughlin toured North America with an electric fusion band. With a new group, The 4th Dimension, and a new label, Abstract Logix, McLaughlin will be hitting the road in September, 2007 for a series of dates that will take him coast-to-coast in the United States, with a handful of Canadian dates also booked.

All About Jazz Senior Editor John Kelman will follow McLaughlin and his outstanding group—keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband, young bassist Hadrien Feraud and drummer Mark Mondesir—as they converge for a series of rehearsals and their first gig at the Carolina Theater in Durham, North Carolina on September 13, 2007. AAJ's multi-part series will also include coverage of the final three dates of the tour, in Canada, beginning October 2 in Montreal. AAJ's extensive coverage will provide unprecedented insight into how a tour evolves, from inception to completion.

To set the stage for what's to come, John Kelman spoke at length with McLaughlin about the tour, the group, his relationship with Abstract Logix and the changing face of music and the music industry.

Leaving The Majors Behind

A changing landscape—where artists working in marginalized genres now receive little, if any, support from major labels—has caused many to rethink their approach to getting their music out to the public. McLaughlin, an intrepid explorer of new technologies as early as the mid-1970s, when he worked with one of the earliest guitar synthesizers, views this as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. "I'm a big fan of technology, I must admit," McLaughlin explains. "It's part of society. I can understand people who don't want to be tied up to the internet, don't want a mobile phone, and I admire that even. But personally, I think these inventions, these discoveries are wonderful. Of course they can be abused, but nevertheless it's part of the world, it's part of the way we communicate, and it's been radical in the transformation of the music industry, the music world.

"This is the birth of the small label, the new phenomenon, the marginal music. The big labels are going the way of the dodo as far as people like me are concerned, because I'm in the marginal side too, a little more known only because I've been around for a long time. But, nevertheless, the big record companies, they're dying. The writing was on the wall in the '70s, when blank cassettes passed seven billion dollars in one year; they [the record labels] should have known it was another aspect to how people could access music. And it was just as inevitable with the CD. Once Sony agreed to music being copied that opened the floodgates.

"But there are good sides and bad sides. On the bad side, for example, I left Universal in February, 2006, in the sense that I did not resign with them and my contract finally expired in February 2007, a year later. But I'm very happy not to be with this label anymore, and it's a shame, because I'm going to have to put records out my own way, but I'd much rather do it, because the labels are like my 360 guitar synthesizer system in the '70s, with six Minimoogs, one for each string—they're like an unwieldy elephant. It's like we're back to E.F. Schumacher, you know, 'Small is Beautiful.' You have to be fluid and spontaneous."

Abstract Logix began life as an online storefront for all things fusion and more in 2003. In the past couple of years, however, Abstract Logix's founder/president Souvik Dutta has begun transforming it into a bonafide record label, releasing two of 2006's best fusion discs—guitarist Alex Machacek's [sic] and keyboardist Scott Kinsey's Kinesthetics. Abstract Logix may be small, but it's remarkably ambitious, and did more to get the word out about Machacek and Kinsey than Universal did for McLaughlin's last record, the superb and stylistically assimilated Industrial Zen (Verve, 2006).

McLaughlin's relationship with Dutta goes back a few years. "It started a few years ago," says McLaughlin, "he came over [to Europe] about seven years ago on a Shakti tour, and he was selling records here in Europe, so I got to meet him. And then we [Shakti] did an American tour, must have been four years ago, and he was there. And I got to see how he worked and what kind of attitude he had.

"Four years ago we were planning the instructional DVD, This Is The Way I Do It (Mediastarz, 2004), and so we made some inquiries, because it's a box set—three DVDs, minimum five years work for your average guitarist. We contacted some distributors and they said 'Yeah, we'll distribute it and you'll get 40% and we'll take 60%,' and I said, 'Wait a minute, we just spent $175,000 on this production, what did you give? Nothing.' 'Yeah, well that's the way it is.' No it isn't. So we said 'No, we don't believe that, sorry, we'll see you later.'

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