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.
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