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John McLaughlin's American Farewell Tour with Jimmy Herring

Alan Bryson By

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"As I was saying before, with Mahavishnu, that really exploded. America embraced that band and that music, so because I really don't know if I will ever be able to make another tour, if that's the case, then this is a farewell tour. And this brings that music full circle. As you know from the live record, we've already brought a couple of tunes up to date. And Jimmy himself, who was a real fan of Mahavishnu Orchestra, he's got a couple of tunes in his set. And that third set with the mass bands, where we'll have three drummers, or two drummers and three keyboard players, two guitarists, and two bass players. Jason will be up there with his violin, but he sings good, and plays good keyboards—he's a monster musician. Jimmy's got a great band, and the 4th Dimension are on my case every night, which is of course exactly what I need. It's called, don't let the boss get lazy."

"We'll all be on stage and we'll all be playing the heavyweight tunes from that era. There are some tough tunes, and I know because I've been going through the scores, and that is some crazy music I wrote in those days. All I can say is thank God I worked with a guy at Warner Music, I think it was around 1974, and he said we've got to put all this music in written form. You know the book Mini-Scores with the Mahavishnu music, I mean, if I had to transcribe all that that. I remember some of it, but there are some lines and some notes, it's really difficult, and to transcribe that from a record you go back and forth and write it—oh man, this book saved me hundreds of hours of transcription."

I happened to speak with Souvik off-the-record over a year ago, just after the two guitarists had agreed on the tour. At that time John McLaughlin's expectation was that he and Jimmy Herring would co-headline, alternating nightly on who would open. As you can imagine from Jimmy's comments above, the idea of opening for his idol was impossible to accept. By using the excuse that the altering show would make life difficult for the crew, Souvik was able convince John to give up that idea. When I asked Souvik about the co-headling he responded: "I know from John's perspective this is about equals. His feelings for Jimmy Herring are so deep and so strong, and I know Jimmy is relieved the he goes on first and John goes on second." In the end the joint third set turned out to be ideal for all concerned.

Souvik shared this about the tour: "Jimmy's band is working to have a pool of 25 songs for the tour, also some new material, and they are keeping some surprises that they haven't been doing on the summer tour. John's set will be an hour with the 4th Dimension. The final set is going to be from all those great Mahavishnu albums, and they may venture out into the Miles Davis territory. All nine guys will be on stage and John wants it to sound like an orchestra." Jimmy is known for relentless dedication to practicing, and it appears he's stepped it up a notch for this upcoming tour. His wife shared a couple of photos of the solar eclipse with me and mentioned it was the only thing so far that had gotten Jimmy to take a break from practicing.

Souvik shared this about special guests: "Yes, people should expect surprises, and John wants to handle it himself... I have a very stong sense there's going to be a lot of surprises in a lot of places."

For jazz fans this tour will be special in another respect. Jimmy's friend Paul Hoffman of Pulse Lighting, who does Widespread Panic's lighting (and many others) will be on the tour. Souvik related: "Jimmy tells me this guy is the best of the best!"

I asked John if he would be willing to do one final concert with the tour in Europe and perhaps have it recorded by one of the European television stations to preserve a bit of musical history: "Oh I know, my agent is saying he knows a lot of Europeans who are calling him, but listen, if the Gods will it, then I'll be there. Everything right now depends on my hands, and if my hands are good, then I'll be there!"

So just like his song, there is still "Hope."

Let us indeed hope that John McLaughlin's arthritis is held in check and that he will continue to defy age. If you're in North America you don't want to miss this historic tour.

Photo credit: composite of two original photos by Pepe Gomes provided courtesy of Abstract Logix. Composite and effects by Alan Bryson
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