April 15, 2017 – Allan Holdsworth was born on August 6, 1946 in Bradford, Yorkshire, England. Holdsworth was originally taught music by his father, who was a pianist. First a saxophone player, he gravitated to the guitar at the age of 17 and caught on quickly. Entirely self-taught, his protean, virtuosic style became a source of amazement even to his more famous peers. He began working professionally as a musician in his early 20s, inspired by the likes of Django Reinhardt, Jimmy Raney, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass and John Coltrane.
After playing in local Leeds outfits, he relocated to London, where he was taken under the wing of saxophonist Ray Warleigh. By 1972, Holdsworth had joined progressive rockers Tempest, appearing on the group’s self-titled debut a year later. There followed an association with Soft Machine (Bundles, 1974) before he joined Tony Williams Lifetime in 1975, appearing on the recordings Believe It and Million Dollar Legs. Through the ’70s, Holdsworth appeared on recordings by Gong (Expresso and Gazeuse! in 1976 and Expresso II in 1978), Soft Machine (1977’s Triple Echo, 1979’s Time Is The Key), Jean-Luc Ponty (Enigmatic Ocean, 1977), U.K. (U.K., 1978) and Bruford (1978’s Feels Good To Me, 1979’s One of a Kind) while also launching his solo career with 1977’s Velvet Darkness. There followed a spate of recordings a leader over the next decades, including 1983’s Road Games, 1985’s Metal Fatigue, 1986’s Atavachron, 1987’s Sand, 1989’s Secrets, 1992’s Wardenclyfe Tower, 1994’s Hard Hat Area and 1996’s None Too Soon. Most recent releases were 2000’s The Sixteen Men of Tain, 2002’s All Night Wrong, 2004’s Then! and 2005’s career retrospective, Against The Clock. In 2003, he also toured and recorded as a member of Softworks, which featured alumnae from different eras of the English experimental band, Soft Machine, including saxophonist Elton Dean, bassist Hugh Hopper, and drummer John Marshall.
An inductee of Guitar Player magazine’s Hall of Fame, Holdsworth was a five-time winner in their readers’ poll. His unconventional chord voicings, searing solos, and passionate melodic phrasess helped place Holdsworth near the top of Musician magazine’s ‘100 greatest guitarists of all time.’
Holdsworth forged a relentlessly exploratory approach to harmony, which he brought to bear on both the guitar and the SynthAxe, a guitarlike synthesizer that allowed him added control over his tone and flow. He had his own vocabulary of unorthodox chords, often involving far reaches across the fretboard. As a soloist, he executed lightning-fast melodies with remarkable fluidity.
Holdsworth was known for his advanced knowledge of music, through which he incorporated a vast array of complex chord progressions and intricate solos; the latter comprising myriad scale forms often derived from those such as the diminished, augmented, whole tone, chromatic and altered scales, among others, resulting in an unpredictable and “outside” sound. His unique legato soloing technique stemmed from his original desire to play the saxophone. Having been unable to afford one, he aimed to use the guitar to create similarly smooth lines of notes
Reviewing a performance by Mr. Holdsworth in 1983, The New York Times’ Jon Pareles wrote: “He pours out notes in a liquid rush without slurring a single one. His sense of harmony reveals itself in daring melodic extrapolations and in chords that are complex and impressionistic yet as transparent as folk music.”
Allan Holdsworth died from cardiac arrest on April 15, 2017 at his home in California.
Holdsworth has been cited as an influence by such renowned rock, metal and jazz guitarists as Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Greg Howe, Shawn Lane, Richie Kotzen, John Petrucci, Alex Lifeson, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Yngwie Malmsteen, Michael Romeo and Tom Morello. Frank Zappa once lauded him as “one of the most interesting guys on guitar on the planet”, while Robben Ford has said: “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.”
A 2005 interview with Allan sheds great light on his personality and approach to music and life’s demons.