LakshmiNarayana Shankar, was born in Chennai, India and is the son of the renowned carnatic violin maestro Vidwan V. LakshmiNaryana (who was also his guru). Not only does he come from such illustrious lineage, but he also has very accomplished siblings Dr. L. Subramanium and L. Vaidyanathan, each a maestro on the violin in their own right. His three sisters are also musicians as well. Shankars mother, Seethalakshmi was also a gifted vocalist and played the veena.
Shankar learned vocals from the age of two, violin from age five and played his first concert at seven in a temple in Ceylon during a festival. He gained considerable reputation in his early youth as an accompanist to some of the most eminent names in Carnatic music such as Semmangudi Srinivasar, Chembai Vaithyanatha Baghavatar, Palghat Mani Iyer and Alathur Srinivasa lyer. He was also a member of a unique violin trio with his brothers L. Vaidyanathan and L. Subramaniam.
Shankars early years were spent growing up in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) until he was eight. His father was a professer at Jaffna College of Music, but had to leave Sri Lanka due to communal violence in 1953.
After obtaining a B.S. in physics from India, Shankar came to the US in early 1969 and earned a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. It was during his tenure at Wesleyan, in 1972, that Shankar met up with John McLaughlin, who was studying the veena from Dr. S. Ramanathan. Shankar was aware of John because of a former roommate who had introduced Shankar to the jazz sounds of the west via the album Bitches Brew. Over a period of a few months, Shankar and John played together under informal settings and that marks the beginnings of what was to become Shakti in a few years.
Shankar gave that unique carnatic sound to Shakti that became the trademark of the group. If John brought the jazz and blues influence to Shakti, then Shankar brought that carnatic style to the sound and together it was a marriage made in heaven.
After the demise of Shakti, Shankar toured with John is his next venture of the One Truth Band and there too, Shankar brought his carnatic violin sound and beautifully and seamlessly blended it in a collage of electric jazz.
After the stint with the One Truth Band, Shankar had aspirations that were different than the aspirations and plans of John. Shankar wanted to experiment with pop and rock music and Shankar secured a record deal (1979) with Frank Zappas company Barking Pumpkin records that led to his first solo album in the west entitled Touch me There. One only has to hear it once to catch the strong carnatic raga influence in every note that he played on that album.
Shankar perhaps crossed paths with Frank Zappa during his One Truth Band tour of 1978 and can perhaps be traced back to a Berlin concert on September 7th, 1978. They may have met prior to this meeting, but Shankar did a guest appearance on a show on that date and the One Truth Band also played a gig that same night, perhaps as an opening act for Zappa. Shankars association with the Zappa family continues to this day. Rumour has it that Shankar spent a fair amount of time with the Zappa family while he was getting over his divorce with Caroline in the late nineties.
In 1980, Shankar invented a double bow ten string stereophonic violin. Shankar designed this unique instrument and it was built by violin maker Ken Parker. As per the details, this new violin could cover the entire orchestral range, including double-bass, cello, viola and off course the violin. Shankar has recently developed a newer more lighter version of this instrument.
In 1982 Shankar formed the pop/rock group Sadhu, later known as the Epidemics, with British composer, vocalist and keyboardist Caroline. Their two albums included a wide array of pop stars as guest Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Yoko Ono and Sting among others.
Shankar also was involved in various tours