Sunday, May 20, 2018

John Mclaughlin - 1970 [1992] "Devotion"

Devotion is the second album by the English jazz fusion guitarist John McLaughlin, released in 1970. It was recorded shortly after McLaughlin left the Miles Davis band and prior to forming The Mahavishnu Orchestra. McLaughlin was unhappy with the resulting album. On his website, he writes: “In 1969, I sign a contract in America for 2 records. First is 'Devotion' that is destroyed by producer Alan Douglas who mixes the recording in my absence.

This music is very important in that it is a continuation along the trail blazed by Jimi Hendrix (Electric Ladyland and the Band of Gypsies), Cream (Wheels of Fire), Miles Davis (Miles in the Sky, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew), Tony Williams Lifetime (Emergency and Turn it Over--the latter recording included drummer Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, Larry Young (Khalid Yasin) and bassist Jack Bruce).

John McLaughlin began this journey jamming with Graham Bond, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker with the Graham Bond Organization back in 1964 in London blues clubs, when the world was intensely focused on the the music of the Beatles.

As we fast-forward five years to 1969, New York City, John has been initiated into the Miles Davis Directions movement with The Tony Williams Lifetime being his main focus for his evolving musical talents. Jimi Hendrix is also in New York, successfully taking the electric guitar far beyond traditional rock borders, and John, with the music of Devotion, is attempting to tap this base and create one of his own. Guitarist Eric Clapton and the Cream in 1968 were also expanding the boundaries of rock and blues jamming as can be clearly heard on the recording "Wheels of Fire" on the portions that were recorded live at the Fillmore.

Devotion is the crucial mix of a jazz-rock, blues guitarist, a Jazz keyboardist, a blues/rock drummer (very similar to Ginger Baker), and a rock/blues bassist with slight overtones of the Beatles. This fusion mix is one of the very first recorded outside of the Tony Williams Lifetime which included John and Larry. Also heard on Devotion are Buddy Miles and Billy Rich who both jammed and recorded with Jimi Hendrix. Buddy Miles was also appearing live with Jimi Hendrix and Billy Cox in the Band of Gypsys when this music was recorded.

John's guitar playing at the top of this music is just superb. The interplay between all musicians is clearly heard here as both John and Larry clocked many hours together with the Tony Williams Lifetime and Miles Davis and clearly have a musical and spiritual feel for one another. Buddy and Billy also have great feel for each other after playing and recording in the the Buddy Miles Express and later jamming and recording with Jimi Hendrix. It was recommended that Billy Rich and not Billy Cox replace Noel Redding in the Jimi Hendrix Band, but due to a past friendship with Jimi, Billy Cox won out.

The three compositions which I feel define this production are "Devotion", "The Dragon Song" and "Purpose of When." Take the time to listen and you too will hear the expanded rock, blues, and jazz improvisations (with no vocals) and the lack of traditional rock/blues musical confinement that these four musicians experience as they blaze this unchartered trail. As you listen, remember that at the time of this release the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Band of Gypsys, and Cream have all disbanded, and no Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Corea & Return to Forever, Jeff Beck & Jan Hammer Band, Terje Rypdal Band, or Soft Machine with Allan Holdsworth exist yet.

If possible, purchase the 1992 Restless/Metrotone Original CD release of this music, which is not a remaster from a vinyl record but is from the original studio master tape from the 1969-1970 Alan Douglas, Stefan Bright production.

Devotion was created as McLaughlin was segueing from being a sideman to a realized composer, pre-Mahavishnu Orchestra, and he wasn’t happy with it. He is even quoted as saying producer Alan Douglas “destroyed it.” I’m not one to argue with the great Mr. McLaughlin, but I disagree. I think this is a fantastic record, due to its unique psychedelic-fusion stylings, and it influenced me greatly. I can’t even fault Douglas for his almost amateurish production of double-tracking two soloing guitars (reminiscent of Ike Turner’s “Right On”). Somehow, the solos work together as they weave in and out over the spirited rhythm section of drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Rich. I dig it.

One of the musical high points of the album is Larry Young’s organ solo on the title track, where he plays a mystical solo incorporating A Lydian (E major over an A pedal). That sound was very new to me back then. Young’s solo climaxes when he introduces a G natural, which, to this day, gives me chills. The other noteworthy tracks are “Marbles”(which was covered on 1972’s Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles Live) and “Don’t Let the Dragon Eat Your Mother.”

Sure—there is a wealth of great McLaughlin music that might be superior to Devotion, but this album has been close to my heart for 40 years, and there is nothing like it. McLaughlin once said, “A guitarist has to go the extra mile.” I think of these words when I’m feeling lazy or uninspired. Obviously, McLaughlin has gone that extra mile many times. He’s an intelligent musical pioneer, a phenomenal sideman, a great composer, and a guitarist with an amazingly distinct voice.

Originally released in 1970 but re-released regularly since, Devotion is a hard driving, spaced-out, distorted hard-jazz-rock album featuring organist Larry Young, drummer Buddy Miles, and the little known bassist Billy Rich. This album was recorded close to the period when McLaughlin had been jamming with Jimi Hendrix, Young, Miles and Dave Holland. Terrible bootlegs exist of some of their jams, but bad sound quality and McLaughlin's guitar on the fritz make the bootlegs a ripoff.

Devotion was also sort of a ripoff. To this day, McLaughlin is angry about the way former Hendrix producer Alan Douglas mixed this record. Apparently, Douglas spliced bits of music together here and there that were not supposed to be connected. Despite this obvious problem, and the fact Douglas paid McLaughlin only $2,000 to record both Devotion and My Goal’s Beyond , this album is chock full of wonderfully ominous riffs and sounds. Devotion is an overlooked landmark album.

“Marbles" opens up the album and is truly an early fusion masterpiece. (Some CD reissues of Devotion have changed the order of the tunes...don't ask why). The catchy hook is infectious. Years later, McLaughlin would employ the same riff often while with Shakti. You should also check out Santana’s cover version on his hard to find album with Buddy Miles, Live.

McLaughlin focuses more on tension and dynamics than on speed, and Larry Young plays mysterious and otherworldly chords. Miles keeps a constant thud-thud-thud churning throughout and Billy Rich effectively doubles McLaughlin’s themes. No slow ballads. No pretty melodies. This is just pure unadulterated jazz-grunge. Those familiar with the Mahavishnu Orchestra will enjoy picking out the passages that would later become signature tunes. Devotion is awfully messy at times, but you won’t mind cleaning up afterwards.

Track listing:

"Devotion" – 11:25
"Dragon Song" – 4:13
"Marbles" – 4:05
"Siren" – 5:55
"Don't Let the Dragon Eat Your Mother" – 5:18
"Purpose of When" – 4:45


John McLaughlin – electric guitar
Buddy Miles – drums, percussion
Larry Young – organ, electric piano
Billy Rich – bass guitar



  2. QUOTE: "On his website, he writes: “In 1969, I sign a contract in America for 2 records. First is 'Devotion' that is destroyed by producer Alan Douglas who mixes the recording in my absence."

    No, he doesn't. Check it out at

    1. You are right. There is no mention from John on his web page concerning this album, which is excellent btw. Thanks for the post!