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At about 12:30 A.M. one early morning in 1973 I was watching the ABC television show In Concert. Every Friday night In Concert featured excerpts of live performances of the famous rock bands of the day. The show was quite diverse. You may see James Taylor and The Grass Roots one Friday and see The Hollies, Grand Funk and Sly Stone the next. Where I lived, near Boston, the local FM rock station would even simulcast the show so you could hear the concert through your stereo. It was an entertaining show and I watched it every week.
But, this particular program was different. The show had been a very lackluster hour. Several very bad groups were featured. It looked like an early night. But, I didn¹t turn the TV off. Then it happened.
The commercial ended. The show¹s announcer, Chip Monck from Woodstock fame, announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen. The Mahavishnu Orchestra". I said to myself, "Who"? Well, it took me about two minutes to decide this was the greatest band that ever lived. What was this music they were playing? There is no singing. John McLaughlin, the guitar player had a crew cut and was playing two guitars at once. Why was there a violin player? The drummer was some sort of wild robot. The music was frightening and simultaneously thrilling. While there seemed to be no real structure to the music, its strange rhythms had me in a trance. At the same time, I felt as if a truck had hit me. I could not sleep for a very long time after those ten minutes of musical insanity.
The very next day I went to our local department store and bought an album called Birds of Fire. I threw it on my turntable I had found at the town dump and had laid into an oversized boot box. I then flipped on my homemade Heath Kit amplifier and closed my bedroom door. I was not prepared. The music literally stole me. Within weeks I had given away all of my rock records. Black Sabbath was gone. Ten Years After was gone. Some lucky friend was the new owner of all of my Pink Floyd.
I went down to our local library and voraciously researched John McLaughlin. I discovered John Coltrane through him. I found Miles Davis through him. I discovered this music was being called Jazz-Rock. McLaughlin was my gateway drug to jazz music.
Over the years I have slowly replaced many of my rock records with their CD counterparts. After all, we cannot live on bread alone. But, I can never replace the influence the music of John McLaughlin has had in my life. I do not have a religious devotion to his music. I do not like it all. Rather, I have the respect one has for another human being who is searching for something which may be just out of grasp, but who perseveres and learns valuable lessons with each reach.
Many years ago I made my living, if you could call it that, as a newspaper and radio reporter. I also hosted a weekly jazz radio program. Due to a lack of talent and the need to earn a living wage, I left that realm and entered the business world. My interest in jazz and John McLaughlin never waned, however.
Several years ago, I offered to write some short reviews for the new John McLaughlin website, Pages of Fire. Andres Didrik from Estonia, the Site¹s founder, kindly accepted my offer. Several years ago the Site changed into the able hands of David Marshall, who has been kind enough to continue to feature the reviews. I have written a review of every John McLaughlin album in which he was the bandleader or co-leader. Each review is relatively short in order to accommodate the average Internet user who only has so much time. These reviews are written for both John McLaughlin fans and those who may be new to his music. Many of the reviews have little known anecdotes I have gathered from my years of being a John McLaughlin fan. There is even some humor attempted from time to time. I do suggest that you read the reviews in order from the oldest to the newest. I have written the reviews in a narrative style. If you skip earlier pieces, you may miss references located in later reviews. I hope you find some enjoyment in them. - Walter Kolosky
UPDATE 2002- My John McLaughlin reviews are now located at a special John McLaughlin tribute page at Allaboutjazz. Just go to the link found on this page.
Walter Kolosky is a businessman and freelance writer who lives with his wife Hatty and daughter Anna near Boston, MA USA. (Photo by Frank Sibley)