John Mclaughlin, Ramnad Raghavan And A Story Of Mentorship

Posted by Aaron Davison on Saturday, September 29, 2012 Under: September 2012
Today's post is a great story about the power of mentorship from producer Gary Gray.  Gary and I recently created a course all about how to produce music that meets the industry standards necessary for licensing music in film and television.

Save 20% off our course this weekend only.  Check it out here:

Over to you Gary….

"Thank you Aaron.

Now that students from all over the world are busy working on the course that Aaron and I put together; “How To Produce Music That Will Get Licensed And Make You Money,” I’ve had a chance to closely interact with many of them via email, Skype, critiques and phone calls.

As mentioned in Part 3 of the last blog series, I have found that the common denominator of ALL of my most recent Market Research is summed up in one word: MENTORING.  This is what Indie Musicians from around the world need and want more than anything in order to crank out consistent industry standard tracks from their home studios and land actual licensing deals - and make money with their craft.  As I mentioned, I have been very lucky -  I have extensive experience - both being Mentored and in Mentoring others - and count Mentoring others as one of my strongest passions.

In order to fully convey the power of a Mentorship – having been mentored by some of the world’s top musicians and executives in the Music Industry -- I share with you now this inspiring true story, details and all, so that you can re-live this unforgettable life-changing lesson that taught me for the first time what Mentoring was all about.

Ramnad Raghavan, one of the world’s most respected mridangam (Carnatic [Southern] Indian Percussion Instrument) players, Mentored me personally when I was 21 years old. I lived in Cleveland at the time and was assisting Ramnad in transcribing ancient Indian musical pieces into Western Notation.  Every Thursday at 4:30PM I would show up at his home and he would sit me down in the living room, hand me a mridangam drum and sit down across from me about 3 feet away.  He would say nothing. He would simply play a rhythm on his mridangam then nod his head towards me and look me straight in the eye, as if to say, “Now you play that.”

I would attempt to repeat what he had just played.  If I didn’t play it perfectly, without saying a word, he would simply play the same rhythm again, and nod. Depending on the complexity of the rhythm he was teaching me, a number of minutes (or hours) would pass until I was able to play it perfectly.  Once I did, he would then play another rhythm and start the process all over again. When he felt I had made good progress for the day, we would end that part of the lesson.

Then, he would ask me if I was experiencing any confusions, problems or challenges IN LIFE. If I had any to discuss, he would relate each subject to music, and express his experience and wisdom in facing similar situations.  Always he would weave music throughout his discussions with me, making comparisons between life and music, showing the parallels and the differences. He would often tell me, in his distinctive Indian dialect, “Gary (pronouncing it “Geddy”), Music is the master, not the musician. The musician is not the slave. The musician is the messenger. The musician is not the master.  The musician is the messenger.  Your purpose is to deliver the message from the composer to the listener. You are not the message.  You are not the master. You are the messenger.”

Though dedicated and totally willing at the time; I was young.  With youth comes delay sometimes.  As in delayed wisdom. There are other less poetic names for it, but we’ve all seen it.  And we’ve all been there. It’s that feeling inside -- that you already know what the teacher is teaching you.  I heard what he said -- but it wasn’t until he SHOWED me that I totally got it.  I got to see what Mentoring really means. It means showing the student how it is done; while explaining to him or her what to do exactly, and cautioning him or her about what not to do.

Here’s how he showed me. . . here’s how he Mentored me:

One Thursday at 4:30PM I showed up for my lesson.  We proceeded through my lesson, exactly as described above. At 7PM I was leaving his house.  As I walked towards my car, Ramnad called my name, “Geddy!  Come back here. Now!”  I turned around and he had this almost mischievous look on his face. . . but I wasn’t sure if he was being serious or kidding.  He was very intense in both arenas; Serious and Humor, and just as hard to read.  I thought, “OK, now what?”

He reached his right hand out towards me.  His hand was clenched, palm down.  Without saying a word I could see in his eye that he wanted to put something in my hand.  I stretched out my right hand and held it, palm up, under his. He put something in my hand, closed my hand with both of his, and looked me straight in the eye without flinching.  He said, “Geddy, this is where your next lesson is. Be there on time - Saturday at 6AM. Now go!!”  He turned me around and gave me a firm shove, with love for sure, towards my car.

Being 21, I instantly stopped, turned around and opened my hand.  There was a crumpled piece of paper that had a NY apartment address on it; Manhattan to be precise.  I looked up instantly, saying, “Ramnad, what the. . . ? Uhm. . . What is this? Ramnad!!”  The front door banged shut behind him as he walked back into his house. I followed, of course, and we had a funny/serious conversation.  Funny to him.  Serious to me.

“Ramnad, I can’t be in NY on Saturday!”

“Geddy, this is the most important lesson you will ever be taught, so you must be there.  Now go home!”

“I can’t afford this with such short notice, and I have gigs!  And I have plans Ramnad!”

“Go home Geddy.  I see you in NY on Saturday.  I said Go!”

He won. I went home, crumpled paper still in hand. But it still wasn’t funny to me.  Yes, I was excited for sure, but this was Thursday evening and I had to figure out how to change major plans and be in NY on Saturday – at 6AM!

The Most Important Lesson Ever

At 6AM, Saturday morning, I pulled my rental car, which my Dad helped me secure, up to the address on the crumpled piece of paper.  I had never been to NY City before.  OMG. This was not what I knew to be an “apartment.”  It was more like a Mansion, connected to another Mansion, which was connected to another Mansion, etc. I walked up the long flight of marble stairs to the front door.  There was an ornate knocker on the door, just like in the movies.  But it was 6AM, so I knocked softly with my hand.  The huge door creaked open a crack and a beautiful Indian girl, with a flowing red and gold Sari and a Bindi (dark red dot of color in the middle of the forehead) peered out. I had never seen her before.

“Geddy!” she said, “You are here!  Come in!”

She slowly opened the door and as I walked in I could see about 12 people sleeping on various make-shift beds on the floor.  Almost every one of them was Indian. 

“Come, here is your place. Rest,” she said. Being in a mild state of culture shock, I didn’t say a word.  I smiled and placed my stuff next to my bedding and lay down. As I rested my eyes, I heard two people arguing in the kitchen.  Everyone else in the room continued to sleep, even as the arguing crescendoed. 

“Use your manners!  Don’t be an ass!  Come on man!”  It was Ramnad!  I recognized his voice anywhere. 

“Ok, ok, ok.  You’re right.  I’m sorry, I was just in a bit of a hurry. You’re right.  My bad.”

“Don’t do it again!”

“Ok, ok. I won’t do it again.”


“Geddy!  Hey John, come here, meet my best student from Cleveland, Geddy!  Geddy, you made it on time (laughing) meet my best student from New York, John!” I shook John’s hand.

Wait a minute.  No.  This could not be. 

Was it?

Was I shaking hands with the legendary John Mclaughlin?  The man Jeff Beck says is the greatest guitarist alive?  The man who played with Jimi Hendrix?  The man who played with Miles Davis?  The leader of The Mahavishnu Orchestra?  The leader of Shakti?

It was.

Fast Forward

Ramnad hands me another piece of crumpled paper.  Again, I think, “Now what?” But this time I don’t feel “serious.”  I feel only excited.  I eagerly uncrumple the paper and read the address. A long Island address.  I don’t say a word to Ramnad, except, “What time?” 

“6:15PM he says.”

I don’t even answer him.  He knows I’m there.

6:15PM. Long Island New York. Venue: “My Father’s Place”


Ramnad grabs me and leads me to the green room.  He opens John’s acoustic guitar case and hands the guitar to John. As he closes the guitar case, he looks me in the eye and without taking his eye off of me he points to John and says, “play.”

John starts playing an incredible Indian flavoured lead/groove.  Ramnad listens without taking his eye off of me.  I’m 6 inches from Ramnad. 12 inches from John. Ramnad starts playing “drums” on John’s acoustic guitar case.  I’ve never experienced music like this before.   Ever. Especially not this close up.  Ramnad stops playing, still looking straight at me.   He points to John again, “Keep playing.”  John keeps playing, not missing a beat.

Ramnad takes my left hand and holds it palm up with his one hand.  With his other hand he takes my right hand and moves my right hand in a rhythmic motion, like clapping, but alternating between the clapping with my palm and waving my hand in the air, in a specific pattern.  Palm, palm, wave, palm, palm, palm, wave. Over and over; this same pattern. Palm, palm, wave, palm, palm, palm, wave.

I felt the groove; 12312341231234 – They were jamming in 7/4 time.  And I was to be the “conductor” beating an ancient carnatic tala that Ramnad was showing me how to do. 

He was Mentoring me.

And there I stood, in the presence of two of the most accomplished musicians in the world, conducting them. While my teacher, my mentor, my guru stared straight into my eyes without flinching, watching my every move. Of course, none of my friends believed me when I told them this, but that didn’t matter.

I am a musician.  I am a messenger.  I am not the message. I am not the master.

I am a messenger.

“What did you just learn?”

That was Ramnad’s only question when they finished warming up. 

It was somehow very easy to answer him, because I was SHOWN. I was there. I experienced it. 

“I just learned that in order to perform as a unit, you must be in complete communication with not only your instrument, but with each other.”

Ramnad slapped me on the back and smiled the biggest smile I’d ever seen. . . yet.

He held up his index finger and said, “That is partially right.  You are about to learn the full lesson.  Come!”

He handed me his mridangam (drum) and pointed up the stairs.  At this venue, backstage was on a lower level and in order to position yourself in front of the curtain to go out on stage, you had to climb 12 stairs.  Ramnad was positioning the players in a certain order all in a line, approaching the stairs.  He put me in the front of the line.

All of a sudden I heard, “Ladies And Gentlemen, Please give a true New York City welcome to the Legendary John McLaughlin, Ramnad Raghavan and Shakti!”

I felt the familiar firm shove from Ramnad behind me when the curtains opened and there I stood, holding his mridangam with over 2,500 people cheering loudly.  Ramnad chuckled and said, “Geddy, put my drum on the stage. . . here.” I walked over to where you pointed and gently laid his mridangam down on a silk blanket. I then started walking back to the stairs.

By this time, the musicians were positioning themselves, setting up, and the crowd had settled down, a magical electricity in the air as you could feel the apprehensive excitement of the crowd. 

Above the murmur of the crowd and the sound of instruments tuning up you could hear all throughout the venue, quite clearly, “Geddy!  Where are you going?  Come back here!  You see that chair?” he pointed to stage right.  “Yes” I replied, a bit numb and in shock that I was being singled out in front of 2,500 people and some of the top musicians in the world.

“Go get it and put it right here.”  He pointed to the exact center of the stage, right in the middle of the band members.  I wasn’t sure what it was for, but I put it exactly where he wanted it.

I started walking off the stage.

“Geddy!  Where are you going?” he chuckled.  He looked at the audience with a big grin and you could hear people cheering and laughing.  Ramnad stood up and walked the perimeter of the front of the stage, engaging the audience with his magical charisma that you could only know if you met him before he passed away in 2009.  Without words, you could see him move an audience, hold their attention, embue life and whatever emotion he wanted straight into their souls. It was as if he were spreading the power of music without the music.  His instrument was silence and his song was his soul.  He just shared it.  That’s the best way I can describe it.  He just shared it without reservation, but with deadly focus and accuracy.

“Geddy!” he said, still looking at the crowd.  They were smiling, laughing, some were cheering.

He pointed behind his back at the chair and said, “Sit down in that chair!  I want you to look, and listen, and learn!”

I sat right down in that chair.  Right in the middle of the stage.  Right in the middle of that band.

And I looked.  And I listened. And I learned.

The first five minutes was the most uncomfortable five minutes I had ever experienced. But after that, the lesson started sinking in.  Slowly at first, and then I started getting it.

He was SHOWING me.  He was Mentoring me.

The Morale Of The Story

After the concert,  before he asked me what I knew he was going to ask me, I had my answer:

“I just learned that in order to perform as a unit, you must be in complete communication with not only your instrument, not only with each other, but with the audience as well. You must do so as a messenger, as a team of messengers.”

Ramnad looked at me, with a serious look on his face.  He held out his hand, just as he had on his front porch when he gave me the address to NY.  “Now what? I thought.  I walked up to him and held my hand out under his, waiting to be handed another piece of crumpled paper with some who-knows-what directions on it.

He broke out into a big grin and opened his hand like a children’s magician, showing an empty hand.  He gave me a bear hug and whispered in my ear, “You have learned your lesson. Go home!”

He turned me around and gave me that familiar firm shove.

I never looked back.  That was the last time I saw him.

But because of his ability to Mentor, I can mentor. And I carry his spirit in everything I do.

My goal is to pass that spirit on to other students, so that they will some day Mentor as well.

From the East To The West

In the course, “How To Produce Music That Will Get Licensed And Make You Money,” we cover many techniques that you can use in your home studio right now that will give you an edge on the competition in order to land actual licensing deals.

Those techniques all lead up to the exchangeable product that you are producing – a finished masterpiece recording that you can present to supervisors, publishers and the like with confidence, knowing that you have a product that will meet today's increasing production standards in the music licensing industry.

In the course Aaron and I created we cover everything you need to know to bring your music up to "broadcast quality" standards that are absoutely necessary in order to license your music in film and television.

Save 20% off the regular price of the course this weekend only!

More info here:



In : September 2012 

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