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- For me, I can still say music is God, music is the face of God. That's everybody, that's the hearts of men. And that's important to me. But that's not the way everybody sees it. And, of course, what happened in interviews, especially in collective interviews, was that people would ask me questions and I would talk about development and ideals, about which I already have talked too much this afternoon, and these questions would be posed to the other musicians and they would say, "We don't want to feel that way at all, we're not into that."
- On the visionary differences between McLaughlin and amongst other members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as quoted in Fripp, Robert. "Coffee and Chocolates for Two Guitars". Musician No. 45, July 1982.
- Whether people accept this music or not, I don’t give a damn. I know how good—and right—the group is. We all sell out to a point. And don’t get me wrong, I like living comfortably and having a nice car. But if money determines your art, then what’s the point?
- On the criticism of his acoustic band Shakti, after temporarily retiring his electric period with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as quoted in Jerome, Jim. "John McLaughlin Pulls the Plug on His Guitar, but He's as Electrifying as Ever", People Magazines. 21 June 1976.
- I practice all the scales. Everyone should know lots of scales. Actually, I feel there are only scales. What is a chord, if not the notes of a scale hooked together? There are several reasons for learning scales: one, the knowledge will unlock the neck for you -- you'll learn the instrument; second, if I say I want you to improvise ofer Gmaj7+5, then go to Eaug9-5, then to bmaj7-5 --well, if you don't know, what those chords are in scale terms, you're lost. It's not all that difficult, but you have to be ready to apply yourself...
- There's no record industry, and so musicians I know, because I get mail from young musicians, I mean, they're really just struggling to survive, because they're not gonna get a record contract! So what are they doing? To survive? Like I did? I mean, okay I drove trucks, and sold caviar and repaired instruments just to survive. But in the end, you know, I'm in the studio, you know, recording rock music, pop music, whatever! Whatever gives me money to put in my, you know, food in my mouth. And so there's a lot of great musicians today, they're just looking for a gig! And what are the gigs that are going around? The gigs with pop bands or with smooth jazz, funky jazz, you know, a lot of this kind of cliched music. I'm sorry to criticize it like that, but I grew up with Tony (Williams) and you know Miles (Davis), (John) Coltrane, and real things, where there's blood all over the floor, blood all over the stage, that's what the passion's all about.
- On record industry, as quoted in "John McLaughlin: State of the Musical Arts", by The Snapshots Foundation; directed by Jonathan Bewley, YouTube, Jul 11, 2014
- ...The music was evolving with society, and society, if you recall, there was a narcissism that entered society in the 80s. Saturday Night Fever, you know, hey! This whole LOOK, the LOOK about things, and the look almost became more important of the content...
- On music and society in the 1980s, as quoted in "John McLaughlin: Challenges to creative music", by The Snapshots Foundation, YouTube, Nov 8, 2016
New York Times interview (1972)
- An audience is just a mirror of what's happening on stage, and if what's happening on stage has love in it—real feeling and conviction and strength and purity—then we are truly reflecting them, because it is their own nature that is coming back. Everything is. The music is. For me, the only barriers in music are the barriers in the musician and in the equipment he has to use. If a musician has no barriers within himself, then there are no barriers within his music. His only battle is with the problems of expressing his true nature against the difficulties of the real world—the limits of his amplifiers and his guitar or his piano or whatever, the limits the outer world places upon the natural perfection of the spirit.
- When describing the sources of his music
- A musician is like an ear for humanity, just as a painter is like an eye for humanity. The sounds somehow exist in a different sphere, the musician listens, and brings them out for the world. There's the mystery: that someone can hear something that is essentially soundless and make it into sound.
- On his spiritual view of music.
Quotes about McLaughlin
- John McLaughlin. He's the one, that's the killer. You might hear anything; that's because John has the knowledge.
- I don't relate to all this in exactly the same way that John [McLaughlin] does and yet we all meet at the same points eventually, can't find a label for it, but I know what it is when I get there. It's funny, you know, sometimes the way I experience the music is with a total involvement with doing feel the music getting better and better, and gradually it becomes like a light at the end of a hallway, and I just want to get there as quickly as I can to see where it's going to go.
- Billy Cobham on relating to McLaughlin's being, influenced by Sri Chinmoy, as quoted in "Call Him Mahavishnu" By Don Heckman, May 14, 1972, The New York Times.
- What John McLaughlin did with the electric guitar set the world on its ear. No one ever heard an electric guitar played like that before, and it certainly inspired me. ...John's band, more than my experience with Miles, led me to want to turn the volume up and write music that was more dramatic and made your hair move.
- Chick Corea, on how Return to Forever was influenced by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as quoted on page 19 of the September 1988 issue of DownBeat magazine (interview with Chick Corea by Josef Woodward)