Allan Holdsworth: an Homage

Allan Holdsworth: an Homage

Guitarist Allan Holdsworth has left the stage. As this is a cycling publication, it may seem odd that such a passing would be of note here. Why memorialize a guitarist who wasn’t even a household name to most lovers of music?

Holdsworth, as it turns out, was a cyclist. A roadie. One of us.

Years ago, I met him following a show at The Iron Horse in Northampton, Mass. His crew was selling concert T-shirts with two chainrings on the front. I hung out following the performance and went up to shake his hand; granted a second or two in his presence, I asked the significance of the chainrings and that’s when he informed me that he was a cyclist. Cycling, as it turned out, was his other great passion. He was living in Los Angeles and would escape the studio and go for rides to free his head or to work through compositions.

He was scheduled to return to New England a year later and we talked of getting together for a ride. I promised to hook him up with a bike and show him our roads. Alas, the tour was canceled.

I attempted to sell a cycling magazine on an interview with him, but never managed to. Even his management company was dubious of the value of an interview with him for a bunch of “bikers.” But I saw in his devotion—and he was, by his own admission, devoted to cycling—an example for all cyclists.

Holdsworth, for the uninitiated, occupies his own warren deep down a very long rabbit hole. And unless you pass gatekeepers like Genesis and King Crimson, he’s unlikely to be of interest. But for people who sought out progressive rock and jazz/rock fusion, he was a God. He was revered by the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Mahavishnu Orchestra founder John McLaughlin once said he’d steal everything from Holdsworth if only he could figure out how to play it.

His music was dense, technically challenging, just the sort of thing a modern Salieri would have decried for ‘too many notes.’ But music of this genre has been important to me because I see both listening intently to it and playing it as a way to chase flow. The most difficult-to-play pieces are the ones that helped me find flow and in listening to difficult music, I often lost myself.

His ensembles were collections of the music world’s finest. Playing with Holdsworth was a notch on your belt like few others. He worked with the likes of bassists Jeff Berlin, Jimmy Haslip, Skuli Sverisson and Tony Levin; drummers Gary Husband, Chad Wackerman and Terry Bozzio (the latter two being Frank Zappa alums) and keyboardist Alan Pasqua.

More than just a guy who could play fast, Holdsworth had a lyrical sensibility, a way to make a flurry of notes a single statement. He was Exhibit A in the golden age of guitar. I wonder when we will see his talent again.


Image: Kuumbwa Jazz


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  1. Geoffrey Knobl

    I love almost all prog related stuff so put links in the comments to him and/or his band’s compositions, especially if it’s some place I can actually listen to the stuff! Perhaps an song of his in on Aural Moon?

    1. Author

      Drop by Spotify for an introduction to his work. They’ve got his boxed set, “The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever,” which, despite the lofty title, may undersell his influence a bit.

      Tracks not to miss:
      Letters of Marque
      Water on the Brain Pt. II
      Devil Take the Hindmost (incredible passage of quintuplets in the guitar solo)
      Metal Fatigue
      Non-Brewed Condiment (I once heard keyboardist Alan Pasqua take the head at the end of the tune and struggle to keep it at tempo; so fast and fluid was Holdsworth.)

      He was on the first album by U.K. (U.K.) and did several recordings with Bill Buford, but was at his best solo.

      I believe the boxed set contains every solo work of his save the 1976 recording for CTI which owner Creed Taylor released before completion. Holdsworth usually declined to list it among his recordings he was so displeased.

      Wish I could have heard one of the shows he did with Tony Levin and Terry Bozzio. What a thing that must have been.

    2. Peter Huppertz

      YouTube to “in the dead of night” by a band called UK. Wait for the guitar bit and then pick up your jaw from the floor. 😊

  2. Steve

    Huge, huge loss. Yes, there were a lot of notes, but each was very carefully chosen. Harmonically rich and challenging compositions. His work with Bruford is still near the top of my frequent play list. RIP Mr. H.

  3. Ed

    From the Wikipedia page-

    Holdsworth lived in California from the early 1980s. Cycling was one of his favourite pastimes. He was also a keen aficionado of beer, with a particular fondness for Northern English cask ale.

    Cycling and beer- at least he did not let success ruin hm and kept track of priorities!

  4. Kevin Miller

    Great commentary on the significance of finding flow. I’ve been a longtime off and on musician and cyclist both. I am trying to ensure both stick this time around and as I get older I appreciate the struggle and suffering that come from both cycling and music as well. RIP Allan, and long live Prog!

  5. Peter Huppertz

    Steve Hunt, a keyboard wizard and avid cyclist, told that he moved to the Visa area specifically for the hills. He also told that Allan (10 years or so Steve’s senior) would destroy him uphill. “I just turned around and went home, haha.”
    And of course, a track named Tullio didn’t get its name out of the blue…

  6. alexmoskalyuk

    British jazz fusion stylist Allan Holdsworth — the a guitar hero s guitar hero — passed away yesterday at age 70. 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. — Louise, Sam, Emily Rori”

  7. Ron Dobbs

    Just last night I learned of Allan’s passing. I am as well a musician and life long cyclist. After being a Holdsworth fan for most of my 67 years the shock and truth of his death is profound. In the late 70’s I passed a local music club in Baton Rouge La with a sign reading TONIGHT UK 9PM $2.50 COVER. I thought it was a joke but went anyway. The club was basically empty so I had a front row seat to the finest display of excellence. I never will forget that evening that about 30 people witnessed the pentacle of musicianship. The original had spoken. RIP Allan and thanks for setting the mark. Loved and missed by many. RD

  8. Ray C Parrish

    Thanks Padraig, a wonderful acknowledgement of the Maestro. When will we see this kind of talent again? It’s out there now, but it won’t be “this talent”. Allan created a unique world of music in itself. So well known by guitar nutes and gear heads for amazing speed, that is not where the real uniqueness is found. It’s in his chordal textures of the songs, insane appreggios that connect them combined with a unique grouping of effects. There will never be another Allan Holdsworth, never. The is now Beethoven, Bach…..and Holdsworth.

    Ray C. Parrish
    aka the Tucson Bass Player [and so much more]

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