Farewell Allan Holdsworth: Guitarist Dies @ 70

Jazz fusion guitar god Allan Holdsworth has died. Not many details surrounding his death were given, other than it was unexpected. He was 70 years old.

Allan Holdsworth’s family posted the following message:

“It is with heavy hearts that we notify everyone of the passing of our beloved father Allan Holdsworth. We would appreciate privacy and time while we grieve the loss of our dad, grandad, friend and musical genius. We will update close friends and family when service arrangements have been made and will notify the public of an open memorial service, which all would be welcome. We are undeniably still in shock with his unexpected death and cannot begin to put into words the overwhelming sadness we are experiencing. He is missed tremendously.
Much Love,
Louise Holdsworth, Emily Holdsworth, Sam Holdsworth & Rori”

Allan Holdsworth had a music career that spanned over four decades. Known for his advanced musical knowledge, combining complex chord progressions with intricate solos, his influence on countless musicians is undeniable. Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Alex Lifeson, John McLaughlin, Steve Vai, John Frusciante, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen, John Petrucci, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eric Johnson and Tom Morello have all named Holdsworth as an influence.

“Holdsworth is so damned good that I can’t cop anything. I can’t understand what he’s doing. I’ve got to do this [does two-hand tapping], whereas he’ll do it with one hand…to me Allan Holdsworth is number one”” -Eddie Van Halen

“One of the most interesting guys on guitar on the planet is Allan Holdsworth. I really respect his playing.” -Frank Zappa

“I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of the guitar. I don’t think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can.” -Robben Ford

“Hearing Allan’s guitar playing for the first time was a cathartic experience for me. His guitar sang, it pushed musical boundaries, and it rocked. His brilliant approach to harmony is completely original, beautiful and spellbinding. His technique and improvisational skills make him a true guitar god, the jaw dropping kind, and the kind that influences many a player in all styles of music. On the issue of legato playing, he is the king, and anyone interested in going down that path has to hear what Allan has accomplished. To witness him playing with Tony Williams’ band, a Gibson SG around his neck, Small Stone Phaser and Marshall stack in tow, at the intimate club My Father’s Place in Roslyn, NY, was something I’ll never forget. He ripped a hole in the guitarist’s-space-time-continuum that night! And we’ve never been the same.

“You know, I should say at the beginning, a big difference between me and Allan is that I built on stuff that Allan pioneered, and in a small way (chuckles) I tried to assimilate a lot of what he did on the guitar technically. So it’s very different. His musicianship was so far ahead of mine when I was starting out, looking at books and picking out scales and stuff;

“Allan was in a stage where he was constantly reinventing guitar, and I was a fan in the audience, you know what I mean?

“So I’d have to say in all honesty, I’ve taken from Allan Holdsworth, and tried to figure out, “How can I use what this guy has done to further what I’m trying to say?” —Joe Satriani

“Besides being emotionally swept away by Allan’s use of melodic color, most of the time I am utterly stunned and confused as to how he is playing what I am hearing. His chops and inner ear completely defy my own inner musical eye and reasoning and I’m left in a blissful state of humility and surrender.” —Steve Vai

“Allan’s beautiful and unique chord voicings have always had an impact on me. His approach to guitar is one of a kind. He pushes the limits of the boundaries of electric guitar, and his lead phrasing would make Charlie Parker smile. His playing is essential listening for any guitarist, of any style, so they can see that the only limits we have are the ones we put on ourselves.” —Eric Johnson

“Allan Holdsworth also has a strong style. A long time ago, Jens took me to see him in a small club in New York. I had to take my hat off to him.” -Yngwie Malmsteen

“I totally agree that Allan is one of the greatest guitarists ever – his work on the mid-70’s Tony Williams records was revolutionary and changed everything for guitarists everywhere. It is a real mystery to me why he is not a household name. but it really doesn’t matter, his contribution is large and i think all musicians know it.” -Pat Metheny

“Allan plays legato parts like a violinist. His right hand might as well be a bow, because his left hand is like Paganini’s. You can call his playing whatever you want to, but it will still fry your brain if you try to figure it out. John McLaughlin, Michael Stern, John Scofield—all of us just scratch our heads and go, ‘Damn!’” —Carlos Santana

“I’ve known Allan and his music for 30 years now, and after all this time he still amazes me. His concept is still advancing with his playing, and his technical prowess, which is phenomenal, is in complete harmony with his musical direction—and this is a very advanced direction. I recall a show I saw him at in London about 14 years ago. After the concert I said to him, ‘If I knew what you were doing, I’d steal everything, but I don’t know what you are doing!’ Allan laughed.” —John McLaughlin

“His guitar playing is totally original and that in itself is rare. But even more rare is that his playing also seems to be impossible to emulate. When I was a teenager I used to learn the beginnings of many of his solos but they would usually venture into what was for me impenetrable territory, often just a quarter of the way in. One can imitate his pull-off, bar, and vibrato technique, as sometimes players do, but the shit where it sounds like he’s blowing air into his guitar and playing super fast in the way that a great saxophonist would, I haven’t heard any other guitarists be able to imitate. You can hear his influence on EVH, but Eddie doesn’t go into that dissonant territory and the blowing air effect is not there when he’s playing fast. As a kid I was amazed that Holdsworth wasn’t using his right index finger on the neck, but now I realize the angle and the muscles in action for right hand tapping would never create that sound as for whatever biological/scientific reason there is a certain lack of true force in right-hand tapping. At its best, two-hand tapping has a beautiful fluidity but it doesn’t have a quality of sound you’d call strength, while his fast playing certainly does. I believe it is only with his very unusual muscle and nerve setup in his left hand and arm that such a sound is possible on the instrument. He sounds like he’s blowing into it hard when he’s playing super fast.

“To my taste, guitar doesn’t lend itself to playing fast as well as other instruments. I think the possibilities of approaches to doing it are limited in comparison to instruments like the piano, the saxophone, or the drum machine. Something about the guitars physicality in correspondence to our muscles and hand angles just doesn’t seem to offer the potential for expression at lightning speeds that those other instruments do. To me, he is one of the few people who totally overcomes those limitations and is totally expressive whilst playing fast and makes it sound natural, relaxed, and effortless—and, at the same time, exciting and intense. It always sounds like there’s a musical/emotional idea there and it never sounds like he’s playing scales or exercises, which almost all flashy guys of the last 25 years generally seem to be doing a big percentage of the time, though I’m no expert.

“My favorite stuff of him is that first I.O.U. album and Road Games. Those are just beautiful records and he seems to be hitting a peak around that time—so inventive and unprecedented. I’ve heard that his stuff in Tempest is interesting in that his tone sounds like Clapton. I want to hear that. The UK record is awesome as is the stuff with The New Tony Williams Lifetime. Those were staples for listening to and playing along with when I was 15 and 16. And they always sound great when I’m in one of those phases and come back to them. Oh, and the two Bruford albums are extraordinary. I used to love learning from that stuff. Fun to try things that are impossible!” —John Frusciante

“I discovered Allan “by accident” when I was 12. A friend of mine asked me to swap my Slade Alive album for his Tempest record, which was Allan’s first recording on a big label with a rock band. I fell in love immediately with his unique phrasing, tone, vibrato, etc. After that I became an avid fan and many years later when I finally met him and he accepted to play on my solo album, I felt exactly the same chill going down my spine that I had felt many moons before when I first got my hands on that Tempest record. If you’re any type of musician you have a duty to listen, understand and let your mind be blown away by Allan Holdsworth’s work because his music isn’t just about guitar playing, it’s so much more. It would be like saying that Coltrane’s music is about sax playing or that Monk was just about the piano. Listening to Allan will inevitably help develop anyone’s musicianship.” —Alex Masi

Allan Holdsworth Bio (from Moonjune Records)

Allan Holdsworth is widely regarded by fans and contemporary musicians as one of the 20th century’s most prominent guitarists. He is one of a handful of musicians who has consistently proven himself as an innovator in between and within the worlds of rock and jazz music. Many of music’s best-known instrumental masters cite Holdsworth as that rare and shining voice—a legendary player who continues to push the outer limits of instrumental technique and the electric guitar’s range of tonal and textural possibilities. Particularly during the 90s, Holdsworth has enjoyed the recognition so many musicians strongly feel he deserves, given that he has developed his career outside the big label mainstream and has consistently produced his own recordings with complete creative control since the mid-80s. Despite the uncompromising nature of Holdsworth’s predominantly genre-defying solo projects, he’s no stranger to all-star jazz festival line-ups or large venue rock audiences. Musician Magazine placed Holdsworth near the top of their “100 greatest guitarists of all time.” There’s never been a shortage of media attention or acclaim for Holdsworth’s accomplishments and originality. An inductee of Guitar Player Magazine’s Hall of Fame, Holdsworth is a five-time winner in their readers’ poll.

Beyond his ability in improvising mercurial solos and sculpting the guitar’s voice into an ever-expanding range of textures and colors, Holdsworth has dedicated his energies to develop many different aspects of guitar technology. This has included new “baritone” variations of the instrument, his own custom 6-string designs (one most recently manufactured by Carvin), the invention of electronic components for the recording studio, and exploring the possibilities of guitar-based synthesizer controllers. Holdworth’s ability to improvise over complex and challenging chord voicing’s always reveals a deep emotional base and a strong, imaginative personality that is as instantly identifiable as any among Holdsworth’s generation of guitar and jazz masters.

The sounds of Django Reinhardt, Jimmy Rainey, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass , Eric Clapton, and John Coltrane were among this English musician’s early inspirations when he began to work professionally as a musician in his early twenties. Born in the city of Bradford , England , Holdsworth had been extensively tutored in aspects of musical theory and jazz appreciation by his father, an accomplished amateur musician.
Holdsworth paid his musician’s dues early on working the dance-club circuit, where he began to meet fellow musicians who hailed from the south. One of England ‘s best jazz tenor saxophonists, Ray Warleigh, heard amazing potential in Holdsworth’s playing and brought him along to participate in jazz sets at the onset of the 70s, including sessions with Ray at Ronnie Scott’s in London.

Holdsworth’s career brought him to international audiences suddenly in the early 1970s, when he joined drummer John Hiseman’s short-lived but much acclaimed “progressive” rock band, Tempest. A decade later, Tempest vocalist Paul Williams would team up with Holdsworth again to form Holdsworth’s IOU band and create their independently-released debut recording, which prompted Holdsworth to move his home from London to Southern California.
By 1975, Holdsworth had developed a reputation as one of England ‘s best, underrated guitarists in what was then the avant-garde of English instrumental music ensembles, the legendary group, Soft Machine. Holdsworth’s trademark sound is evident with a technique that routinely soars with supersonic intensity, and one of its earliest available samplings can be heard on the 1974 Soft Machine studio release, Bundles.
Holdsworth’s career throughout the 70’s saw a series of feast-or-famine periods all too familiar to many of the most talented musicians. While his reputation in Soft Machine attracted international audiences, he also gained the attention of one of jazz’s greatest drummers, the late Tony Williams.

Tony was known for his pivotal role in bringing Miles Davis to explore rock-based riffs and motifs in an improvisational context. Holdsworth recorded on one of the most celebrated fusion albums from the mid-70s, Believe It , (Epic), as a member of the Tony Williams’ New Lifetime. This marked the beginning of Holdsworth’s career as a legendary journeyman, but one rarely performing before U.S. audiences.
Between 1976 and 1978, Holdsworth’s guitar sounds and solos emerged as a mesmerizing tour de force and he participated in many of that era’s landmark jazz-fusion and instrumental rock recordings by Jean Luc Ponty , Gong and Bill Bruford. Late in the 70s, the once dominant genre of classic British “prog rock” stumbled on unsure footing as the punk and new wave bands rose in commercial prominence. Drummer Bill Bruford, a founding member of Yes who later joined King Crimson, suggested Holdsworth participate in a new project featuring the formidable rhythm section of King Crimson and the brilliant young violinist and keyboardist, Eddie Jobson, who had worked with both Frank Zappa and Roxy Music.

The resulting self-titled debut album, U.K ., became what was later considered the last and greatest milestones of ’70’s progressive rock. The band’s sound was at the time both technically and artistically at the cutting edge of rock music, given the coupling of Jobson’s innovative use of synthesizers and electric violins, coupled with Holdsworth’s unconventional chord voicings, searing solos, and passionate melodic phrases.
The U.K. “supergroup” setting was as brilliant as it was short-lived, and egos and questions of creative direction led to a split between Bruford and Holdsworth on one side, and Jobson and bassist John Wetton on the other. In 1996, Guitar World Magazine cited Holdsworth’s contribution to U.K . as the factor in naming it one of the top 10 rock guitar albums “of all time.”
In 1978, Holdsworth decided he wanted to pursue a different, more live-based direction as opposed to his recent participation in lush, studio-crafted masterpieces. He sought out a more immediate, less intricately arranged band context than what had been established with Bruford, in order to explore a rock-oriented musical context that also explored extended instrumental ensemble improvisations. Holdsworth wanted to rediscover some of the energy and dynamics that had been so memorable in his live performances working with Tony Williams, and reluctantly parted company with Bruford’s band. Holdsworth began to develop his own trio with two other Northern English musicians, drummer Gary Husband, and bassist Paul Carmichael, which begun Holdsworth’s first touring band as a leader, the now-celebrated IOU band. Their first recording IOU sold exceptionally well for an independent release, and Holdsworth’s friend and admirer, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, proved instrumental in securing IOU a recording contract with Warner Bros.

Executive Producer Ted Templeman wanted to experiment with a “mini-album” concept, which resulted in the 1984 Grammy-nominated release, Road Games, which featured vocal cameos from long-time Holdsworth collaborator, the legendary Jack Bruce. It also featured a new American line-up, with Jeff Berlin and Chad Wackerman comprising the rhythm section. However tensions with the label over creative control led to a split between Holdsworth and Warner Bros. In 1985 Holdsworth signed with the Enigma label, enjoying creative control, and Jimmy Johnson joined the group after Jeff Berlin’s departure to pursue his solo career. Holdsworth then recruited one of the most respected L.A. session bassists, Jimmy Johnson, leader of Flim and the BBs. The last version of the IOU band went back in the studio and with some notable guest appearances (among them bassist Gary Willis and original IOU drummer Gary Husband) contributed to tracks for the highly successful release, Metal Fatigue (1985).

In 1986, the release of Atavachron demonstrated Holdsworth’s focus on instrumental music, continuing his core band with Johnson and Wackerman. Atavachron also featured stellar guest appearances by two of Southern California’s most sought after jazz keyboardists, Alan Pasqua and Billy Childs. Like other Holdsworth recordings to follow, it proved to be a summit for great drummers, with guest contributions from Tony Williams and Gary Husband. Husband’s increasingly successful career eventually led to Holdsworth’s appearance as a studio musician and band member with Level 42 for their 1993 release, Guaranteed.

The follow-up to Atavachron, Sand (1988), marked a new period with Holdsworth concentrating on his exploration of the Synthaxe, a revolutionary guitar-like synth-controller. Holdsworth received the winning award in Guitar Player Magazine’s poll as “best guitar synthesist,” for many consecutive years afterward. With Secrets (1990), Holdsworth returned to his association with Enigma records (which became the Restless label), featuring an album recorded mostly with the great session drummer Vinnie Collaiuta, who later joined Sting’s band and had previously worked with Frank Zappa and Jeff Berlin. Secrets further revealed Holdsworth’s rich harmonic vision and unleashed more distinctively “Holdsworthian” music, an enigmatic style that continues to invert, push, and transform the boundaries of more conventional rock, fusion, and jazz forms.

During this period the keyboardist from Stanley Clarke’s touring band, Steve Hunt, joined Holdsworth’s band. In the early 90s, Holdsworth also appeared in a jazz “supergroup” and at festivals with other great jazz and fusion legends, including Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, and Michael and Randy Brecker among others. 1992’s Wardenclyffe Tower furthered an exploration of Holdsworth’s own designs for baritone electric guitars (built by luthier Bill DeLap) and broadened the use of his chordal orchestrations and solo phrasings via the SynthAxe.
In 1994, Hard Hat Area was released on Restless Records, with the latest version of Holdsworth’s band — including Icelandic bassist Skull Sverrisson, Gary Husband, and Steve Hunt. It provided one of his most satisfying projects from the quality of group interplay — capturing the players in top form, and providing a performance context with more energy and chemistry. The album is considered one of his finest solo efforts.
The release of Holdsworth’s next album project, None Too Soon (1996), marked a departure in style from this impressive string of previous group projects. It provided Holdsworth the opportunity to showcase his interpretation of some classic jazz standards and several originals by one of England ‘s best-known jazz pianists, Gordon Beck. Holdsworth recorded some of his favorite, lesser-known jazz standards, along with several Gordon Beck originals, in a “straight-ahead” jazz vein, drawing upon Beck’s talents as an arranger. The rhythm section teamed for the project included bass prodigy Gary Willis and drummer Kirk Covington, both members of the West Coast based fusion powerhouse, Tribal Tech.

None Too Soon built upon the same chemistry established in a brief recording session of the same musicians featured on a Beatles guitar tribute titled “Come Together” (1994, NYC Records), in which this same group covered Beck’s arrangement of the Beatles’ “Michelle.” With this monumental rerlease, Holdsworth produced a refreshing jazz recording that realized a different perspective on his playing, while demonstrating his appreciation of standards as penned by John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Django Reinhardt and Joe Henderson. None Too Soon offers listeners a compelling and swinging musical journey, including a riveting, updated interpretation of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is The Ocean” and a blistering twist on the Lennon / McCartney classic, “Norwegian Wood.”

Building on the supreme sonic craftsmanship Holdsworth realizes in his home studio in Southern California, The Brewery, Holdsworth’s next solo recording is considered one of his greatest musical masterpieces. The Sixteen Men Of Tain marks a further exploration of traditional jazz motifs, and, as a first on his solo projects, an acoustic rhythm section. Holdsworth’s tenth solo album marked the debut of a new band formed with bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Gary Novak, both West Coast session men. First released in 2000, a special edition with two additional tracks was released via Eddie Jobson’s label, Globe Music, in summer of 2003. ‘Tain’ marked a new direction in a forward-looking jazz vein and blended together a new vision explored to a degree in the more traditional jazz arrangements found in None Too Soon.

One frequent topic of discussion among Holdsworth devotees was the fact that after well over a decade of touring with stellar players, Holdsworth had never approved the release of any live recordings by his bands, or any of those with him as a guest performer for that matter. In Fall 2002, Sony Japan released Holdsworth’s first ever live recording, featuring Jimmy Johnson and Chad Wakerman in which Sony featured the trio’s performance show as a showpiece for their next generation of state-of-the-art five-channel sound technology. In late 2003, Alternity Records will release a second landmark Holdsworth live recording, Then!, featuring a quartet performance from 1990 with keyboardist Steve Hunt, along with original IOU drummer Gary Husband, and Jimmy Johnson. Recorded originally in digital 24-track, Then! covers material from a broad swath of Holdsworth’s recording career: from his days with Tony Williams’ Lifetime, up through Hard Hat Area. It also includes three never-released group improvisation tracks — not to mention some of Holdsworth’s most powerful and ferocious solo flights ever captured on tape.

Holdsworth spent time later in 2002 completing production duties for the recently released Softworks album Abracadabra, which featured alumnus from different eras of the legendary English experimental band, Soft Machine. Holdsworth toured with the band in Japan in the summer of 2003, which included saxophonist Elton Dean, bassist Hugh Hopper, and drummer John Marshall.

In the past decade Holdsworth has varied his music career, engineering and inventing electronic sound-processing tools, including The Harness. He has several unique electric guitar designs now produced by Carvin, and has worked with luthier DeLap in conceiving custom baritone and piccolo guitars. In fact one of the larger and longer baritones is featured on all three improvised pieces in the new live album, Then! In his expanded and improved home studio, Holdsworth is already writing material for a new album of original pieces, is working on completely a previously-started project, and is planning to participate as a guest musician in several other projects (notably, continuing his musical contributions with Chad Wackerman’s solo albums) and as an engineer/producer.

2012 has marked his return to center stage, touring worldwide (with itinerary managed by MoonJune Bookings) primarily in a trio format. The initial trio to begin the stateside and European Late Winter / Spring leg of the tour featured the legendary jazz bassist Jimmy Haslip and the Aussie progressive sensation Virgil Donati on drums. (Jimmy Haslip would be replaced by Anthony Crawford in the latter 2012 “European Tour, Chapter 2.”)
With his nomadic, ever-evolving selections of instruments and gear, Holdsworth remains never quite satisfied in his eternal “quest for the perfect tone.” It could be argued that his innovative, masterful approach to tone, technique, chord voicings and note selection mark him as a guitarist who has done more to redefine the instrument than any other player in the modern electric era.

With such an extensive resume as both a visionary solo artist and prominent member (or sideman) of many legendary progressive jazz-rock bands, it’s clear to see why Allan Holdsworth has remained one of the most revered, influential musicians of the past four decades.

Today is a very sad day.
My dear friend has left us..
Allan was undisputably one of the most original and influential musicians of all time.
One of my absolute favourites ,hands down.
We’re all a little bit better because of what he brought us.
God bless
Allan Holdsworth.
Yngwie Malmsteen

Allan Holdsworth’s unique contribution to the electric guitar is unquantifiable. I remember him saying to me once that his goal was to create a catalog of music that was undiluted. Well, that he did…. Dear Allan, you were extraordinary and from all of us who you’ve touched so deeply with your brilliance, we are grateful. Rest in deep peace my friend.
Steve Vai