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John McLaughlin: On The Road, Part 7: Stories from the Road


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Seventeen dates from coast-to-coast over twenty-three days, thousands of miles traveled by air and road, and thousands of happy fans later, guitarist John McLaughlin and his group, The 4th Dimension— keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband, bassist Hadrien Feraud and drummer Mark Mondesir—along with tour manager Christophe Deghelt and soundman Sven Hoffman, have now gone their separate ways. While they'll be reconvening again in the spring of 2008 for a European tour, a tour as extensive and intensive as the just-completed North American one is filled with memorable experiences and "road warrior" stories—some good, some not-so-good but, in the final analysis, all part of life on the road.

McLaughlin, during his introductions at the final performance in Toronto, Canada on October 5, made a couple of important statements: "I want to introduce you to these outstanding musicians. You may not know who they are now...but you're gonna." While fusion fans may have been familiar with Husband and Mondesir, few will have heard of young bass phenom Feraud, unless they've picked up a copy of his self-titled debut on Dreyfus, released earlier this year. But there's little doubt that this tour has raised the profiles of everyone involved.

The Life of a Tour Manager

McLaughlin also said: "I would like to thank our sound engineer Sven Hoffman and our tour manager Christophe Deghelt... you do not see them, but we really need them." Truer words were never spoken, as Deghelt and Hoffman did everything to ensure that the group could focus on nothing but the music. According to Deghelt, "I keep in mind John's words on stage after our last performance of the tour in Toronto. It is a good formula to describe what we are supposed to do. John is our hero, and only a few words from him are really a great compliment and recognition of our work. No need to say, Sven is my best friend on the tour."

But in those few words there's so much that's implied. "The first goal," Deghelt says, "is to have the musicians happy, take care of them, and make it possible for them to give the best onstage, and protect them from any hassles during traveling, hotels, sound checks and the rest. You need to take a lot on your back, and I love it!

"On this tour I was in charge of organizing all travels, all payments, all the expenses, coordinating the time schedule for each show with all the promoters, setting up and preparing stage with Sven, taking care of interviews, guests lists, coordinating with the booking agency, the management agency, and our accountant (in charge of the withholding taxes). As you can imagine, it is a lot to do: almost two thousand emails received on the tour, dozens of phone calls everyday, and it must be as smooth as possible.

"In fact, you can drive a van with the equipment, book a nice table for a dinner on a day off, find a Roland Cube 60 in NYC (John's amp), go to the Social Security, send a Fedex with the CWA forms, buy aspirins, change a flight ticket, arrange comps for musicians' friends, give a call to the next hotel to make sure you are pre-checked in upon your arrival, find an adaptor for a power supply, set up a drum kit onstage, deal with check-in of gear at every airport—all of this on the same day. The tour manager is not only the guy who puts the towel and bottles of water on stage, or picks up the money at the venue. Thanks to my computer, a good internet connection and Excel, that really helps to make it possible. Thanks also to Leila, our back-office assistant, who really helps and supports my job.

"For the audience, musicians are very lucky people, traveling all over the world, having success everywhere, and making their money in the best conditions. They consider we have a wonderful life, and they are dreaming about having the same life. They do not imagine how hard it is to travel everyday (especially flying in those days), far from our families, our homes. New hotels everyday, not that much time to rest, not much sleep, being tired, traveling, airports, different food and living out of suitcases. This makes every performance more appreciable. A tour is like a marathon, and musicians are performers but also hard workers. Every day on tour is a fifteen-hour rush...and believe me, musicians are really strong people!"

Stories from the Road: The Case of the Lost Bass

Every tour has its stories, and there were some good ones here. "Hadrien's bass is certainly the most amazing story of the tour," Deghelt explains, "and I must confess one of the most surprising ones of my career. First time in New York City for Hadrien, we arrived one day early. After a nice dinner at Kitano's hotel, we decided to hang with Hadrien and Sven, and I was happy to bring them to the Zinc Bar, one of the most 'vibing jazz clubs' and my favorite place. Hadrien had in mind to jam and brought his bass there. We did not stay that long; we were already tired after two weeks of tour.

"On the way back to the hotel, we took a cab. It was already late, and the driver decided to drop us off at 40th street and Park Avenue, two blocks from our hotel, as he was on his way back home. As it was not a tour expense, I did not ask for a receipt, and while I was paying the run, I thought Hadrien was taking his bass that was in the cab's trunk. We walked back to the hotel, and after one minute, I realized that Hadrien did not have his bass. Too late to run, the cab was gone, and we did not have his number or his name, and he had our bass, the one that we were supposing to use for the concert at Town Hall the day after. A panic situation....

"I went back to the hotel, explained to the Kitano's guest service and we started to give calls to Lost and Found, the 311, the police...I was told that without any information it would be almost impossible to get back the bass... More than eight thousand taxis are driving at night in the Big Apple. As we say in French, we would have more chance to find 'a needle in a bundle of hay.' I could not sleep the whole night. The morning after, we went to guitars stores on 48th Street, giving all the details about the lost bass, and finally bought a new one. As we had only a small chance to get back Hadrien's bass, it was the best option. I did not want to inform John about it, especially before the Town Hall concert, and create more stress than necessary. He just noticed that Hadrien had a new bass at the sound check.

"During that day, and others, I kept calling all the numbers I had, and also had very nice support from the Kitano's hotel (highly recommended) to try to find the bass. Even if we stayed very discreet, the buzz was growing... and everyone in the guitar business knew that the bass of a French guy playing with the great John McLaughlin was lost in a taxi cab, which would make it impossible to sell it without drawing attention. Leaving New York, we told everyone involved that we will give a great reward to get the instrument back. Hadrien was desperate, and confessed to me he was praying to [the late] Jaco [Pastorius] to give him a hand. This bass, a Ken Smith model, was a very unique one, and his favorite.

"After three days, I received a strange phone call from the Kitano, giving me the cell phone number of a taxi driver that might be able to help, and then called him. The Kitano's team was really taking care of our problem, and I would highly recommend this hotel for the professionalism and the kind attention of its personnel. I called the guy right away. He was a musician, a saxophonist and a taxi driver. He was not the driver of our taxi, but certainly helped and explained to our driver how important a musical instrument can be for a musician. He was the one to help, thanks to him.

"We were playing in Pennsylvania, and Tony Grey, another great bassist, went to the Bronx to get it back, give the reward and drive the instrument to Bethlehem, PA. Hadrien was so happy (and so lucky too). I cannot imagine that we were so lucky. The hand of God, of Jaco, who knows? No need to say that from this day, Hadrien kept his bass with him always, and will never forget it again!"

Stories from the Road: A Special Welcome

The kindness of strangers bailed Feraud our of a serious situation, but there were other instances where the situation, though not so extreme, was still rewarded, thanks to Deghelt's strong people skills and his ability to find ways out of uncomfortable situations. "Another nice story is our arrival in Montreal," Deghelt explains. "It was almost the end of the tour; we arrived from Philadelphia, really toasted, in the afternoon. It was a travel day. Coming from United States, we had to go through Customs. Afternoon arrivals meant we were in at the same time as all the flights from Europe, so the queue was really big, almost six hundred people waiting, so there was at least one hour's wait in the queue.

"I was near John and saw, in his face, how painful the situation was, how tired he was at this moment. He just said to me how sad he was to have to wait so long. I told him that he was John McLaughlin, and he deserved a special welcome. He smiled, but was not really convinced I could find a way. I love this kind of situation. I went straight to a very nice lady of the security, told her I was with John McLaughlin, coming for a very important concert in Montreal, that we were very late and kindly requested her help to avoid this very long queue and save time for my musicians...and guess what, she helped me... and took us straight to Customs, avoiding this long queue.

"I could not believe it, I was so happy for them... I saw John's smiling...'Christophe's rules,' he said. In fact, when you have the chance to work for such great and unique musicians, you have to be the best all the time. That is why I've found the energy on every tour to give the best of myself. John makes you better all the time."

The Musician's Perspective: Gary Husband

From the perspective of the musicians, the rigors of the road are hard, but worth it, especially when it's possible to feel the evolution of a band over even the short course of just under three weeks. Speaking before the October 4 Ottawa gig, Gary Husband had a few things to say about the experience of working as a group: "There's certainly a more settled feeling. Hadrien, Mark and I, we've got our work cut out for us, and I think for this band, however long it stays around—and hopefully for a while—I think it's very important for us to work on a kind of cohesion.

"For me, a sense of tension and release, as opposed to just tension. Don't get me wrong, I love frenetic, I love ball-to-the-wall playing, but I think that we really all have to work. Hadrian said to me the other day at sound check, 'Would you mind not playing this bass note when you play the chords,' and I had to ask myself, 'Why did I play a bass note, because I don't usually play a bass note as a root to a chord, and why did I do that?' I don't know. Maybe I was missing one, and so we have to sort these things out, but also be a really flexible and dedicated support for John. He demands interaction, he doesn't want to hear the same solo every night, he wants to be kicked in the ass, so to speak, and he wants some friction."

While almost every night was recorded and will be evaluated by McLaughlin for potential release, possibly as in digital download-only format, sometimes things conspire against getting the best material on disc. "Unfortunately," Husband says, "I think the best night that we had was New York. I think the rest of the band thought so too. A lot of magic happened that night, but thanks to some bureaucratic bullshit it didn't get recorded—it was absolutely forbidden for us to even take a personal memento of it, which was a real shame because we missed out on a really good one there. But I think there are some good nights in the can, and if they could see the light of day I'd be really pleased."

One of the remarkable characteristics of the 4th Dimension tour was that regardless of the high energy, balls-to-the-wall frenzy Husband talks about, there was a deep lyricism, in fact perhaps some of the most consistently lyrical music McLaughlin has played. "John's a very different person today," says Husband, "in the way he plays, the way he improvises, the way he writes. There's a lot of breathing space, something that I've really been trying to encourage in myself.

"I think John is just playing absolutely brilliantly. And what's also on view here is this really under-sung quality of his—that he's really a rhythm guitarist extraordinaire. He did rhythm with The Free Spirits and his acoustic trio a lot, but it's there in exemplary form on [Miles Davis'] A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1970), and ever since then, the way he played behind Miles, he's been like a comping, rhythm guitar god."

Being a double-threat (at the very least, since Husband's also a fine writer)—a remarkable keyboardist and drummer—meant that there were opportunities for the group to explore some powerful two-drummer interaction. Husband's "jungle kit," with a bass drum, snare and single tom, along with two very unusual looking cymbals, was constructed just for this purpose. "There's a company called Factory Metal Percussion," Husband says, "and they make kind of like a cymbal substitute; very dirty, very trashy, and I thought that would be a really great idea for this, particularly since it's very distinctive from normal cymbals. So you really sense this when I'm playing with Mark.

"Also the drum sound—very small compared to his—John's really into this jungle kind of thing. It's nice to have a small sound up against a big sound; a trashy sound up against a clean sound that gives it distinction. Also there are different aspects with the double drum thing. Even this afternoon you could see we were looking at different ways we could stir it around and circulate it, for it to be really effective."

A few closing thoughts from Husband focus on what he and, no doubt, everyone in the group aims for, and with the European tour next spring, there's every reason to think that the group will be able to leverage on what they've achieved here in North America, and move things even further forward. "For however long it lasts, I want it to be a great band," explains Husband. "This isn't a retrospective, it's not a copy of anything.

"Right now you see a lot of big names getting together, and it doesn't always lead to cohesion; it's not a guarantee, as great as everybody is. I think they're often kind of clumsily put together. When a band has longevity and can continue to grow, become more focused and coherent in all aspects and really develop, it's just a wonderful thing. I love bands when they get really settled in."

Comparing the group that played in Durham, North Carolina on September 13, 2007 to the that one wrapped up the tour in Toronto, there's no doubt that there's been significant growth and cohesion. There's also little doubt that the group will continue to evolve on the 2008 European tour. Meanwhile, those who were fortunate enough to catch John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension's North American tour have plenty to be thankful for. And with McLaughlin's new studio CD (which will also include a "making of" DVD) due out early in 2008, along with the Official Bootleg (Abstract Logix/Mediastarz, 2007) from the tour, the recently released The Gateway to Rhythm (Abstract Logix, 2007) DVD and the Mahavishnu Orchestra Live at Montreux 1974/1984 (Eagle Vision, 2007) double-DVD, there's plenty to keep McLaughlin fans happy.

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