Interview By Jeff Melton
Walter Kolosky has written two books for publisher AbstractLogix. His second
book is a dedicated and objective effort surrounding the brief history of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and its members. His single-minded approach to
addressing the story of Mahavishnu allowed him to speak with many famous rock and jazz musicians who were directly influenced by their unique power and
intensity. Mr. Kolosky has provided a distinctive insight into the inner workings of the group, and he has shed new light on arguably the first and finest fusion
band on the planet (the book is subtitled "The greatest band that ever was"). I am indebted to the author for his time and candor for this interview. Also, many
thanks to Scott Steele for editorial assistance. – Jeff Melton.
Eclectic Moonlight: How were you first introduced to the music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra?
Walter Kolosky: When I was a kid, there used to be a show on the ABC TV Network called In Concert. It was on every
Friday night at 11:30. It featured all the great rock acts of the day. One night I was watching it and it was pretty bad. I was
thinking of turning it off and going to bed because I was bored and tired. For some reason, I left the show on. Finally the
last act came on. I'll never forget the announcer saying, "Ladies and Gentlemen. The Mahavishnu Orchestra", I thought to
myself what kind of name is that? The music started immediately. I was mesmerized by the visual and sonic power of the
band. It was like nothing I ever heard. It was wild, yet organized. It was powerful, threatening to crack my television screen.
The audience was beside itself in exultation. It was draining, yet invigorating. What was this music? I would say I was
hooked within ten seconds. It was one of those moments of discovery that affected the rest of your life. I knew it right
away. In fact, within a few weeks I had given away all of my Black Sabbath and Ten Years After records. I would return to those bands years later on CD, but the mold had been cast.
Eclectic Moonlight: When did you first see the band and what was the personal impact to
Kolosky: After running out and getting the band's first two albums, I couldn't wait to see the Mahavishnu Orchestra live. After all, that was what they were best known for: a
phenomenal live experience. I saw them in the late summer of 1973 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. They were on the bill with a local band made big: J. Geils. The impact
wasn't quite as great as seeing and hearing the band that very first time on my small TV, but it was still another pivotal
moment. Almost 35 years later, I remember the immense volume of the band. It easily surpassed any sound I had ever
heard and the vibrations from it that traveled from my toes right out through the top of my head.
Eclectic Moonlight: How did you decide to take on writing a book about the band?
Kolosky: Someone should have written this book before me. So, the opportunity was there for the taking. I took it. I believe
very much in fate. But, sometimes you have to give fate a hand. They say you should write about something you know. I
know about the Mahavishnu Orchestra. So I went about trying to find out everything about the MO that I didn't know. I also
decided early on that I wasn't going to write some professorial tome that a lot of books that deal with jazz and music do.
This was not going to be that easy, because the Mahavishnu Orchestra was a very skilled and technical band. I believe
many authors would have gone on with page after page of analysis. But, to me, the importance of the band to its fans was
not only in its virtuosic capabilities, but also in its ability to make you feel something inside yourself. Great music, in my
opinion, is more felt than heard. Therefore, I was going to write as an informed fan - almost as an insider - talking to my
friends about the dynamics behind the band and its successes and ultimate failures. I was not going to write as a critic. For
those that demanded analysis, I created a companion website for the book for them to expound all they want. All that being
said, I had no thought of writing a book until about two months before I did so. I was compelled.
Eclectic Moonlight: How easily was it for you to speak with the band members? Did you get to do any research in person?
Kolosky: I realize that the fame the Mahavishnu Orchestra currently has, though seemingly growing exponentially every day over thirty years after it
played its last note, is still within a small niche of popular music. But, to me, meeting any of the players of the band was tantamount to a meeting
with the Pope. I mean, to me, these are people I grew up worshipping. I spent considerable time talking to four of the members and communicating
with the other one via email. I found it very easy to talk to them all. First, I was going into these conversations with a lot of knowledge. I like to think I
knew what I was talking about. This made me feel comfortable. (This is why I would be quite nervous meeting the Pope). I certainly asked 100
questions I already knew the answers to but, since the format required direct quotes, I asked them anyway. Second, at their core, these guys were
all very easy to talk to. When time permitted, and it didn't always, the ex-members of the MO answered every question in a
thoughtful manner. At least those questions they wanted to answer. ;-) Of the band, I would say I have certainly spent the
most time with guitarist John McLaughlin. But, I have been lucky enough to have met keyboardist Jan Hammer and bassist
Rick Laird a few times and drummer Billy Cobham oh so briefly a few years back. I was hoping to finally meet violinist Jerry
Goodman at the NAMM show recently, but we couldn't hook up. Of course, I spent many hours on the phone with the MO,
later members of the MO and many of the people that surrounded the group and such admiring musicians as Herbie Hancock, Jeff Beck and on and on. It was a thrill.
Eclectic Moonlight: Were there any musicians that you couldn't contact or weren't cooperative in providing information for the book?
Kolosky: There were really just two musicians that I thought I could get some time with because I knew they were really
fans of John and Mahavishnu, but it didn't happen. One was Sting (who is a well-known fan). I remember reading an article
years ago in which the writer mentions that when he went to Sting's rehearsal, Sting was singing the melody of a
Mahavishnu tune with a fellow musician while discussing how the tune worked. I had inside connections that were very
helpful. But at a certain level with a great and famous star like that, you have to go through a "gatekeeper" to actually get a
proposal through to him. I reached that stage and couldn't seem to get Sting's "gatekeeper" to mention my request to
Sting. I was told Sting was just too busy. It is too bad, because I know he would have had some interesting things to say.
I also thought that Carlos Santana would cooperate. After all, he and John have been friends for over 30 years. Again, I had
a person who made a very good effort on my behalf but was told Carlos was just too busy. After three attempts, I gave-up. I
just had to accept what I was told and move on. That being said, I am tremendously grateful for all of the wonderful and
noted artists who were able to spend some of their valuable time with me. Overall, I would say, 95% of the musicians and
other participants made it quite easy for me. In fact, I think quite a few of them went out of their way to discuss
Mahavishnu. To me, this just was indicative of how much they admired the band.
Eclectic Moonlight: Your quotes from Jeff Beck were quite insightful as he is still a big fan of the band and its members. Were you able to speak with
Jeff at length? Did he have any recollection of a double bill with the MO II band gigs? I know they played together in Seattle in 1975? There are also
rumors of bootleg recordings with Jeff coming on stage with MO to close out their opening set.
Kolosky: I did interview Jeff over the phone. When I said "hello" and
thanked him for agreeing to spend some time talking about Mahavishnu, he very simply said, "How could I not"? We did not discuss the tour with MO II;
there are boots, but I have never heard any. It was clear from our conversation and some of his aside comments that he would love for the
Mahavishnu Orchestra to reunite for a show or shows. Of course, he is friendly with John and Jan and I know he wishes that those two had a better relationship.
Eclectic Moonlight: Please tell me about how your publisher expressed interest in the endeavor.
Kolosky: There is a great website called AbstractLogix run by the indefatigable Souvik Dutta. The site focuses on
progressive music from all around the world and has signed wonderful players to recording contracts. I thought his site
would be a good launching pad for a book I wanted to write a few years ago called Girls Don't Like Real Jazz, so I
approached him about it and AbstractLogix became a publisher. It was a no-brainer for Abstract when it came to the MO book.
Eclectic Moonlight: Did you also try to speak to old band management, roadies, or fans?
Kolosky: I spoke to everyone! I was so lucky that I was able to contact roadies and managers and musicians and fans. I
was also very grateful that with very few exceptions, these people were so forthcoming that it was like a treasure trove of
information. That's good and bad, because you end up with so much information that it takes hundreds of hours to
transcribe and sort and then put into some meaningful narrative. It is one of the reasons I chose the format I did. I wanted
the people to tell the stories. And to a great degree, I believe all people are equal on this earth, so to me what a fan who
saw the band in Milwaukee says is just as important as what John McLaughlin says. So, you will notice that throughout
the book, comments from the perceived greats are mixed in with comments from the average fan. I think it tells a more
complete story that way. I received tremendous help from such roadies and managers as Elliott Sears and Joseph D'Anna
and from friends and fans such as Rod Sibley and Ted McCallion. As I said, everyone who is either in the book or helped me with it is of equal value.
Eclectic Moonlight: Tell me about any unique research you may have done for the project.
Kolosky: I have a different kind of answer for this. First, I would say, overall, I treated this story as if I was a reporter who
had no knowledge of the history. That way, you tend to ask questions that "normal" fans would ask. But, at the same
time…I have been researching this book my whole life without writing anything down. It is just as John McLaughlin says
about music. Sometimes you just have to "throw away everything you know" in order to create something new. That was
my approach for this book. I believe I owed the music and its fans the best story I could tell. This band had to be written
about in a different way. So far, from the critical and fan reaction I have received, some of which can be found on the book's MySpace page (www.myspace.com/mahavishnubook), I believe I made the right decision.
Eclectic Moonlight: Were you aware that John McLaughlin had considered Jean Luc Ponty for the initial line-up of the band
instead of Jerry Goodman? Is there any truth to this statement or is it just an old rumor?
Kolosky: I do talk about this in the book. JLP was considered for the first MO, but it was decided early on that there would be too much red tape to bring him over from Europe.
Eclectic Moonlight: John has tried to reform the original line-up a few times but only managed to get Billy Cobham for the
1980's incarnation. Are there any reasons why the other members didn't participate? I have heard than Jan Hammer is the main man who has a beef with it.
Kolosky: I think there is a difference between just not being interested and having "a beef." Jan is actually still a fan of the
Mahavishnu Orchestra despite what people may have heard. I also think people's desires change all the time. In this case,
the players had different things going on. Some may have still harbored some bad feelings, others may have had
commitments. Others may have been really interested in new musical directions. You have to have five players all have the same interest at the same time for this to have ever happened.
Eclectic Moonlight: What are your top favorite pieces by the band and why?
Kolosky: My all-time favorite Mahavishnu piece is "One Word." It is true that it is the first tune I ever heard. But more than
that I believe it is the one composition that showcases everyone equally and also demonstrates the cohesiveness of the
band. After Billy Cobham's amazing solo, the band re-enters in such a tight and dramatic way. I can't see anyone matching those few seconds of re-entry into the atmosphere!
Eclectic Moonlight: How would you compare the second incarnation of the band to the first?
Kolosky: I think MO II (which John didn't really like the band to be called at the time) would be the second most important
fusion band behind the original line-up. That being said, they were not as good as the original band live and were not better
than Weather Report. The band was still great in its own way, which was different. But the original band was absolutely
transcendent and comparisons of any bands with it would be impolite. I think Visions of the Emerald Beyond from the
second incarnation stands up to any fusion record ever made. It has been unfairly overlooked.
Eclectic Moonlight: What is the status on the live recording from Sony/Epic as far as you know?
Kolosky: The damn thing is sitting there ready to go. Who knows?
Eclectic Moonlight: What do you think were the most important gigs for each of the lineups, and why?
Kolosky: Well, in the book, I mention the real turning point, or the point in which everyone knew there was really something
beyond special going on, was the first MO's Carnegie Hall performance in December of 1971. I hope your readers will go
out and buy the book to learn all about that. The bottom line was that it showed that the band was already developing a
loyal following that meant the MO should be headlining in some big places. I don't know if there was a consensus important
gig for the second unit. If I had to choose one, I would say it was probably their gig at the 1975 Schaefer Music Festival in
Central Park. Drummer Narada Michael Walden talks about it at length in the book. All of the fusion stars of the day were in attendance and the pressure was on.
Eclectic Moonlight: Is there any possibility for legitimate DVD releases of the ABC TV In Concert Program footage or any other long bootlegged stuff?
Kolosky: If we are talking exclusively about the original line-up, it does not appear there is a chance for commercial
releases of these events. The economics aren't there for the new conglomerates that now run things. They have no clue for
artwork either. Sometimes you can overcome the financial aspects of these situations, but you need a dedicated person on
the inside. I don't think there is one currently, but I hope I am wrong.
Eclectic Moonlight: Does John harbor any feelings about getting combinations of multiple line-ups together and then film it?
Kolosky: I really can't speak for John. I write in the book that he is a very stubborn guy. But, I have certainly seen him do
things he has said that he is not going to do. I think everything with John is a vibe. He is a great artist and therefore can
change his mind on a dime. I think in the end, it would be about the music. Does it fit what his mind is hearing? Is it what
he wants to play now? Those are probably the real questions.
Eclectic Moonlight: Did the band really break up after John read the group interviews in Crawdaddy magazine on a plane trip
Kolosky: Well, it is not as simple as that. Many things led to the end, and that was probably the straw that broke the
camel's back. Distilled, the break-up was inevitable due to sudden fame, exhaustion and a lack of communication.
Eclectic Moonlight: Are you familiar with the John McLaughlin book by Paul Stump? Your book covers a lot more ground than Stump's.
Kolosky: Paul's book was more about John than the Mahavishnu Orchestra, so the ground covered would be different. Paul
did contact me at the time and I supplied him with McLaughlin archival material. I don't want to comment on another
author's work. I will say he contacted me about this book and he was gracious.
Eclectic Moonlight: Are there any further archival releases under consideration for release in the future?
Kolosky: I would simply say I doubt it, but stay tuned.
Eclectic Moonlight: Were you surprised when you discovered Beatles links through Nat Weiss to Brian Epstein and later with George Martin?
Kolosky: Well, I went into this project knowing about the Beatles' connections. But to interview those connections: Sir
George Martin, legendary sound engineer Ken Scott, and the Beatles U.S. manager and MO manager Nat Weiss was a
great thrill. I believe they offered valuable knowledge to the Mahavishnu story. Imagine that the album Sir George Martin is most proud of producing was Apocalypse
from the Mahavishnu Orchestra! That's amazing!
Eclectic Moonlight: Do you have any stories of bad live gigs? I have the Jabberwocky bootleg from Syracuse 1971 where
Jerry is out of tune for much of the gig.
Kolosky: I did seek out these stories, but they are far and few between. Certainly everyone agrees that certain shows on
the last Japanese tour were not good because some of the guys weren't speaking with each other. This was, according to
what I understand, the only time the band didn't leave any hostilities off stage. Ken Scott tells a funny story about a radio
transmission bleeding into the band's amplifiers during a gig in London. But, as a general rule, it didn't seem that there were any nightmare gigs. Memories fade.
Eclectic Moonlight: Can you elaborate on the Yes connection? Mahavishnu played a couple of bills with them in 1972,
including one at the Crystal Palace. Yes held MO in high regard, and the bands had similar outlooks on music influenced by technical proficiency and spiritualism, would you agree?
Kolosky: Not much more I can add to your question really. Yes' admiration of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was clearly evident in a Rolling Stone
article from the times written by Cameron Crowe, who would later go on to great fame in other artistic endeavors. His life was chronicled, by him, in the very good movie Almost Famous
. He wrote that Yes revered Mahavishnu. The discussions in the Yes' dressing room focused on how they could take the same dedicated approach to
music as the MO. Over the years I have seen comments from Yes' members about this time and how important it was to them as a band.
Eclectic Moonlight: What is your opinion of Goodman and Hammer's album Like Children"?
Kolosky: I must confess that I never really listened to the album much at the time. I think this was because I was angry
about the break-up of the MO. During this time, if something didn't hit me right out of the gate, it was toast. I know I have
to revisit this album. It was just recently re-released. Eventually, I would get over my anger and follow and support Jerry
and Jan's careers. Jan and Jerry were not really getting along themselves at the time. So it is my guess, some of this may
be heard on the album. But I will listen with older and wiser ears this time.
Eclectic Moonlight: In your opinion, what would it take for Billy Cobham to speak with John and resolve any issues they had
in the past? Do you think this would be a means to opening a door for a reunion? Have you spoken to Billy about his big
band disc of Mahavishnu pieces? If so, what has it been like to revisit those pieces again?
Kolosky: Interpersonal relationships are beyond science. They are unexplainable. Billy and John have an issue or two that
needs to be straightened out if any type of playing together will ever take place again. I would say there has definitely been
some softening of positions of all the members. The actions of some former members and recent comments all indicate
this. They were the greatest band that ever was. You don't forget that. Odds of a reunion are small. As someone who has
come to know a few of these people on a more personal level, I just hope for personal reconciliations. Some of that has
occurred and I am so happy about that. After that who knows? Billy has said that the recent HR Big Band MO tribute album Meeting of the Spirits
was one of his best. Just a few months ago, he and Jerry Goodman teamed up with HR again to play Mahavishnu. Who would have ever thought that could happen?
Eclectic Moonlight: Do you know if JLP and John have their reconciled issues?
Kolosky: I can only speak of Jean-Luc, who has told me he holds no grudge against John. I have no idea if there has been any recent contact between the two or what John feels.
Eclectic Moonlight: Is there any chance that the Montreux video from 1975 will get released?
Kolosky: Yes, if plans are followed through. Look for a spring or summer DVD release with bonus material from the 1980s Mahavishnu.
Eclectic Moonlight: Have you heard the McLaughlin box with that MO performance? What is your take on the performances?
Kolosky: I would say I prefer live recordings not be taken from the soundboard.
Eclectic Moonlight: Now that the Mahavishnu Project is up and running, have any former members of MO expressed interest in playing with them?
Kolosky: Not to my knowledge. Of course, the Mahavishnu Project did support Jan's performance at last year's MoogFest
in NYC. Isn't that weird too? There are a lot of Mahavishnu-related happenings, have you noticed?
Eclectic Moonlight: What do you know about John's September tour with Gary Husband? Considering Gary's recent CD of Mahavishnu, Shakti pieces, the show could cover much of the same material.
Kolosky: I have asked about the music. I knew it was a foolish question because as I answer you, I don't think they even
know yet! To me, this has always been one of the main attractions to John's music. I know it will be something unexpected each time.
Gary is a tremendous musician who I know is fulfilling a dream. His fantastic album, Meetings of the Spirit, is his homage
to the McLaughlin's compositions over four decades and features a heavy dose of Mahavishnu inspiration. I can't help but
think John, Gary, Bassist Hadrien Feraud and drummer Mark Mondesir will be kicking ass. And if I had to take a guess,
transfixed listeners will be getting more than just a few tastes of Mahavishnu. To me, that is what Power, Passion and Beauty
and all of the current Mahavishnu-related projects are all about: trying to describe music that is transcendent and
timeless. I am just happy that I was around to hear it and spread the word. It was my duty.
Jeff Melton's MySpace Site: www.Myspace.com/expojeff
Book Publisher: AbstractLogix. http://www.abstractlogix.com/