ALLAN HOLDSWORTH Trib­ute in mu­sic and words

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS - Our thanks to all the gui­tarists who have con­tributed to this trib­ute. More im­por­tantly to Allan Holdsworth him­self for the unswerv­ing mu­si­cal in­tegrity he dis­played through­out his life­time, and the in­cred­i­ble out­put that touched so many so deeply - as ev

We an­a­lyse what made Allan such a spe­cial mu­si­cian, with our ‘Holdsworth For Mor­tals’ les­son and heart­felt tributes from top play­ers.

Steve Lukather

He heard mu­sic from an­other di­men­sion. He didn’t play like a ‘ gui­tar player’ or think like one. I think the gui­tar was just a way for him to get what was in his head out to the world. He had an as­tound­ing way of play­ing such beau­ti­ful mu­sic: those chord clus­ters... and just the right note af­ter a jaw-drop­ping le­gato flurry that de­fied the hu­man hand’s abil­ity to play such a thing! He was also a kind and very funny man. His kind­ness and gen­tle spirit touched ev­ery­one he met yet he al­ways thought

he was not play­ing well, or was not happy with any­thing he played, which was in­sane to me and ev­ery­one else that heard him. His­tory will re­mem­ber him like we re­mem­ber Coltrane. A unique and orig­i­nal voice. I only wish he would have re­alised it him­self. Maybe now he does look­ing down at all the mu­si­cians he touched who revered him. It is a sad day for mu­sic. I was hon­oured to know Allan. We had a few laughs along the way as well. I will cher­ish those mo­ments!

Carl Ver­heyen

I got to know Allan in the ’70s and would oc­ca­sion­ally get to­gether to play at his house. That was al­ready in­tim­i­dat­ing enough, but one day we de­cided to play his song Three Sheets To The Wind. I was in­stantly hum­bled when he showed me the chords he used for the blow­ing changes be­cause my left hand couldn’t reach th­ese voic­ings! The next morn­ing I locked my­self in a room and re­fused to come out un­til I could go from a first po­si­tion C chord to each of th­ese chords. That was step one. But step two, ac­tu­ally blow­ing over those changes was much harder. I’m still work­ing on that 40 years later!

Allen Hinds

The first thing that at­tracted me to Allan was not only his tech­nique, that was sec­ond to none, but the emo­tion he could put into one note as well as the emo­tion he could put in one of his ‘sheet of sound’ fast flur­ries. He just has a beau­ti­ful touch. He made ‘out­side’ gui­tar play­ing sound good. And you knew it was Allan af­ter hear­ing one note. Be­fore slow down soft­ware, YouTube or even home com­put­ers, I re­mem­ber sit­ting for hours, cross-legged with the hi-fi at 16 and 1/2 speed, try­ing to fig­ure out what he was play­ing. Grow­ing up in Alabama, I heard a lot of coun­try in­spired mu­sic but never har­mon­i­cally as dense as his mu­sic. He made it ap­proach­able, at least to my ears. I never came close to him har­mon­i­cally but I owe a lot of how I ap­proach and hear things to Allan. The Tony Wil­liams record­ings, and the Jean-Luc Ponty stuff were my first real ex­po­sure with chord pro­gres­sions that were rel­a­tively di­gestible. Then I got Vel­vet Dark­ness and Road Games. I wore out Metal Fa­tigue when it came out. Then years later, his play­ing with Level 42, he brought so much class to that band.

Brett Garsed

Allan’s body of work is so pro­found that it’s very hard to choose just one song to high­light. That said, I have lis­tened to Low Lev­els, High Stakes from Hard Hat Area a lot! I’m mainly speak­ing about the solo here as it’s the best ex­am­ple of un­be­liev­able tech­nique and heart-wrench­ing emo­tion that I’ve ever heard. I’m con­vinced that if Robert Johnson him­self heard that solo he’d recog­nise it as the blues. Or, to para­phrase Mr Spock (I think Allan would ap­prove!) ,”It’s the blues Jim, but not as we know it.” And sadly, we shall never know his like again. The har­monic den­sity and tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­ity re­quired to just get close to it def­i­nitely puts his canon in the same realm as the great clas­si­cal com­posers. I’ve of­ten thought he should have been wear­ing a tux and play­ing his mu­sic in the grand­est au­di­to­ri­ums for roy­alty!

Tim Lerch

It’s safe to say that Allan’s fluid le­gato sin­gle lines are what sets him apart from us mere mor­tals. But I find his har­mony equally, if not more, fas­ci­nat­ing. Many of his com­po­si­tions are or­ches­trated with rich har­monies played si­mul­ta­ne­ously along with the melody. Of­ten his voic­ings are built with ei­ther very wide in­ter­vals or clus­ters with plenty of 2nds rub­bing beautifully. Ma­jor and Mi­nor 3rds tend to be rare, cre­at­ing a beautifully am­bigu­ous sound­scape. A great ex­am­ple of this is Look­ing Glass. The open­ing voic­ing is par­tic­u­larly widely spread with 1 and 5 on the bot­tom two strings and 11 and 9 on the top two strings fol­lowed by a sim­i­lar voic­ing a whole step lower us­ing 1 and 5, and #11 and 9. The next few voic­ings have just slightly less of a spread. Allan con­tin­ues with this har­monic ar­chi­tec­ture for the rest of the tune - the great Ted Greene clas­si­fied th­ese voic­ings as V-10 and V-5). The over­all ef­fect is quite lovely and ethereal.

Paul Gil­bert

Like many permed early ’80s Van Halen­ites, I first heard about Allan Hold­worth when Ed­die Van Halen men­tioned him in in­ter­views. So I bought One Of A Kind by Bru­ford, and the first U.K. al­bum, and I re­ally liked them both. But when Allan re­leased I.O.U. it was my first un­fil­tered dose of his har­mon­i­cally chal­leng­ing writ­ing style. Each spin of the al­bum took my ears fur­ther into new mu­si­cal ter­ri­tory. The words ‘jazz’ or ‘fu­sion’ never seemed any­where close to what Allan was do­ing.

i’m con­vinced that if robert johnson him­self heard allan holdsworth solo­ing he’d recog­nise it as the blues Brett Garsed

It cer­tainly wasn’t mu­sic that would fit along­side Au­tumn Leaves in a ho­tel lounge. It was emo­tional, au­then­tic, and weird in the most pos­i­tive sense. And the gui­tar play­ing had mo­ments of ef­fort­less and thrilling ath­leti­cism. I was in­spired to stretch my left hand fur­ther, and make my le­gato play­ing stronger. I was too young to get into the club where Allan played when he toured in the early ’80s. But my friends boot­legged the show, and gave me the cas­sette. Allan’s live solo on Road Games was out­ra­geously ‘out­side’, and opened my ear to sounds that I haven’t heard any­where else. I still don’t know how he did that. I’ve got to find that tape. And I should men­tion that his vi­brato was beau­ti­ful.

Marty Fried­man

Allan and I did a show to­gether in Bal­ti­more and we shared a dress­ing room. He was friendly and we got to talk­ing mu­sic pretty deeply. He brought up the con­cept of re­fer­ring to chords as ‘fam­i­lies’ and notes as ‘fam­ily mem­bers’. I was fa­mil­iar with that way of think­ing al­ready, as I have my own ‘note/ fam­ily’ con­cept. Dif­fer­ent from his, as it turns out. So just as I thought I had a firm grasp on what he was bas­ing his un­ortho­dox style around, he says “Let me show you what I mean” and takes out a piece of old school yel­low lined notebook pa­per. On it was what looked like trigonom­e­try (what­ever that looks like) with plus and mi­nus signs, num­bers, let­ters, var­i­ous ge­o­met­ri­cal shapes and the like. When he started to ex­plain all this, I acted like I knew what the hell he was talk­ing about for about a minute, then I said, “I gotta call Ron (Jar­zombek who was play­ing gui­tar in my band at the time) be­cause he is a math­e­mat­i­cal the­ory mon­ster, He will prob­a­bly un­der­stand this way bet­ter than I will.” So Ron came over (you can see the pic of this very moment on my FB fan page) and those two got along like gang­busters. What I got from it was that it was ba­sic jazz im­prov con­cepts, but strictly avoid­ing any ‘main­stream’ chord voic­ings like the plague and fol­low­ing th­ese un­ortho­dox chords with the sys­tem of hi­ero­glyph­ics writ­ten on his yel­low pa­per.

Oz Noy

Holdsworth was the great­est gui­tar player to ever lived! His mu­si­cal con­cept and play­ing was out of this world, he cre­ated a whole lan­guage that never ex­isted be­fore in mu­sic and he was the only one to re­ally use it. In a weird way to me he wasn’t re­ally play­ing gui­tar, it was some­thing else that was just trans­port­ing his mu­sic. He didn’t seem to come from blues or be-bop or clas­si­cal mu­sic, it was all in his play­ing in some kind of way but his mu­sic re­ally came from out of this world, from some other planet. My favourite record of his is Metal Fa­tigue and my favourite solo is Devil Take The Hind­most from that record. To me that’s a per­fect solo that shows all the el­e­ments of his style and mu­si­cal­ity; I’ve been try­ing to play that solo for 30 years with no suc­cess and will prob­a­bly keep try­ing for 30 years more!

Bill Nel­son

If any­one de­serves to be called ’the John Coltrane of the gui­tar,’ it’s Allan Holdsworth. Revered by so many great gui­tarists, his tech­ni­cal prow­ess was stag­ger­ing. It wasn’t just his hyper-fast, fluid, le­gato lines that im­pressed, it was his so­phis­ti­cated har­monic sen­si­bil­i­ties and a tone that was closer to reed play­ers and syn­the­sis­ers than straight gui­tar. His chord work could be just as im­pres­sive as his lead lines, wide stretches as well as close ‘clus­ter’ chords that at times ap­proached an ab­stract, avant-garde sound akin to some of Derek Bai­ley’s atonal­ity.

There seemed to be no lim­its to his mu­si­cal ex­pres­sion. Tokyo Dream from his Road Games mini-al­bum is a great ex­am­ple of his more lyri­cal side. It be­gins with a rel­a­tively sim­ple sound­ing chord melody, the gui­tar through a cho­rus pedal, re­verb and pos­si­bly an Even­tide Har­moniser to achieve a sound not un­like an elec­tric piano or key­board. If you watch the live in Ja­pan per­for­mance of this piece, you can see Allan us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of pick­ing and tap­ping to achieve this ef­fect. It looks ef­fort­less, but is far from easy. When the lead lines kick in we’re treated to gor­geous, liq­uid sus­tain and an end­less stream of notes that twist and turn with beau­ti­ful har­monic com­plex­ity. It’s a per­fect work of art.

Mike Ke­neally

The first at­ten­tion-get­ting thing about Holdsworth in the ’70s was of course his lead lines, which seemed sim­ply im­pos­si­ble. It was his play­ing on Bru­ford’s Feels Good To Me al­bum that first knocked my head side­ways; but it was Abing­don Chasp on the sec­ond Bru­ford al­bum (com­posed by Holdsworth) which gave me a taste of the breadth and width de­fined by his in­fin­itely rich chord pro­gres­sions, which I can only de­scribe as cos­mic in scope. Both his com­pos­ing and his im­pro­vis­ing take my breath away, and still strike me as im­pos­si­ble. And yet, there he was - he did it.

Rusty Cooley

The first time I heard Allan was around 1985. His tone, phras­ing, su­per hu­man le­gato tech­nique with a tremen­dous reach that he used for four finger per string runs and un­reach­able chords was just out of this world. Devil Take The Hind­most from Metal Fa­tigue is stunning. The solo en­com­passes a lot of the things that I love about his play­ing. His use of the bar for fluid vi­brato around 1:35 is beau­ti­ful and quirky at the same time and at 2:26 the su­per le­gato note flurry left the young me shak­ing my head!

One of my all-time favourite Holdsworth licks is at 2:45, I be­lieve it’s aug­mented in na­ture but not re­ally sure what he’s do­ing there! When I lis­ten to Allan I re­ally don’t lis­ten as a mu­si­cian but more as a fan, I just en­joy it. I don’t try to an­a­lyse or grab my gui­tar, I just lis­ten and I don’t think any other gui­tar player has had that ef­fect on me. There will only be one Allan Holdsworth that’s for sure and he will be greatly missed.

Alex Skol­nick

Allan Holdsworth was self-crit­i­cal on a level that con­founded his devo­tees, par­tic­u­larly of the pe­riod of his work that included his stint in Tony Wil­liams’ New Life­time. With re­spect to Mr Holdsworth, many of us con­sid­ered him pro­foundly wrong in this re­spect and as ev­i­dence, look no fur­ther than the solo on Red Alert (from TWNL Be­lieve It).

As is the case through­out his work, Holdsworth demon­strates a du­al­ity of trav­el­ing to lofty heights yet seam­lessly re­turn­ing, never los­ing his place in the mu­sic. A tune like this is an espe­cially great way to

i don’t lis­ten to allan as a mu­si­cian, but more as a fan. i just en­joy it. i don’t try to an­a­lyse it or grab my gui­tar Rusty Cooley

ev­ery­thing i want to hear is there: touch, tone, note choice, phras­ing, tech­nique and huge heart and soul Andy Tim­mons

hear Allan, since un­like his later solo work - filled with polyrhythms and post-Coltrane chord move­ment that can some­times come across as a mu­si­cal equiv­a­lent of cal­cu­lus or trigonom­e­try - Red Alert has an easy-to-fol­low groove, a bit like Led Zep­pelin’s The Im­mi­grant Song with odd me­tres and vir­tu­oso pre­ci­sion, as well as a tone is far more ‘rock’ than Holdsworth’s later work, in which his per­fec­tion­ist dreams were man­i­fest in a tone that was far more synth- like (in­clud­ing the Syn­thAxe hy­brid). Through­out, Allan weaves be­tween ad­ven­tur­ous runs that most gui­tarists (in­clud­ing this one) would con­sider the mu­si­cal equiv­a­lent of jump­ing off a cliff yet - with a cat-like grace - he al­ways lands on his feet, and re­solves with beau­ti­ful, heart­felt easy-to-fol­low melodic lines.

One can clearly hear him as a source of in­flu­ence for Van Halen (an un­known youth prodigy at the time), par­tic­u­larly in his wide in­ter­valic pat­terns that flow sym­met­ri­cally across the fret­board in 4ths, as con­ven­tional scale-chord re­la­tion­ships are tossed to the wind. Though there is plenty of rep­e­ti­tion in the pat­terns it never gets bor­ing, par­tially be­cause he never stays on one idea for too long, par­tially be­cause there is such a sense of ex­cite­ment and beauty as well as the fact that it is all bal­anced by a sense of control - the sign of a very deep mu­si­cal sense.

One can also hear the whammy-bar used as an em­bel­lish­ment on a level pre­vi­ously un­heard of. Yet for all that this solo in­cludes, it is equally noteworthy and as­ton­ish­ing for what is not there: no lick that would ever over­lap with Hen­drix, Beck, Clap­ton, Page, Green, Gil­mour, Black­more or any other tow­er­ing gui­tarist of the time.

Andy Tim­mons

My in­tro­duc­tion to Allan Holdsworth was his play­ing on Jean Luc Ponty’s Enig­matic Ocean. The track Enig­matic Ocean Part 2 fea­tures the whole band trad­ing so­los and Allan plays twice. The first solo at 1:50 is truly killing, but his state­ment at 2:38 is the moment I will al­ways imag­ine when I think about Allan’s play­ing. Ev­ery­thing I want to hear from an artist is in there: touch, tone, note choice, im­pec­ca­ble phras­ing, amaz­ing tech­nique and huge heart and soul. My favourite track from his solo ca­reer is Tokyo Dream from the Road Games record. It takes an ex­tremely spe­cial soul to write and play like that. Of course, the play­ing is al­ways jaw drop­ping, but it’s his mind that in­tim­i­dates me the most. Lots of prac­tice and study might get you close to the tech­ni­cal as­pect of what’s hap­pen­ing, but you’ll never ‘think’ or ‘hear’ the mu­sic as he did and I sup­pose that’s true of any great artist that achieves that level of iden­ti­fi­a­bil­ity. Rest In Peace beau­ti­ful soul...We will for­ever be in ad­mi­ra­tion and awe.

Tim Miller

Allan’s lyri­cism and soul­ful de­liv­ery are two of my favourite as­pects of his mu­sic. Dis­tance vs De­sire from Sand is a sub­lime com­po­si­tion with one of Allan’s most lyri­cal im­pro­vi­sa­tions. It’s a beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of his lush chordal tex­tures, com­bined with end­lessly in­ven­tive melodic pas­sages and supreme dy­namic sen­si­bil­ity. I am also par­tic­u­larly fond of Allan’s play­ing on the Syn­thAxe, and this piece is a great ex­am­ple of what he achieved on the in­stru­ment.

Shaun Bax­ter

Allan Holdsworth is widely ac­knowl­edged for in­tro­duc­ing a le­gato ap­proach to gui­tar whereby the bulk of the notes are cre­ated by the fret­ting hand us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of ham­mer-ons and pull-offs. By lis­ten­ing to him, I learned to think of groups of notes as mov­ing holis­ti­cally and or­gan­i­cally like a shoal of fish or a flock of star­lings; fo­cus­ing more on des­ti­na­tion points rather than rigid rhyth­mic de­nom­i­na­tions. Apart from the fluid, free-flow­ing and in­tu­itive note-se­quences that re­sulted from his le­gato tech­nique, the lack of pick at­tack also in­tro­duced a form of frag­ile ex­pres­sion that was unique to the gui­tar, and ut­terly en­chant­ing to my young ears. Cou­pled with a sub­tle use of the vi­brato bar, it gave Allan’s play­ing a plain­tive and vo­cal-sound­ing sense of melan­choly that was both sen­si­tive and beau­ti­ful. This wasn’t his only con­tri­bu­tion. Allan ex­panded rock gui­tar’s tonal­ity in sev­eral ways: he used es­o­teric scales such as Har­monic Ma­jor and Di­min­ished which he de­liv­ered with the vir­tu­osic flair of a mas­ter jazz im­pro­viser, and would cre­ate ac­com­pa­ny­ing chords by link­ing notes from those scales to form ex­tended har­monies nor­mally associated with mod­ern clas­si­cal mu­sic; he also in­tro­duced a com­pletely atonal ap­proach that stemmed from freeform jazz, a style with its roots in the avant-garde se­ri­al­ism of Arnold Schoen­berg. As a re­sult, Allan’s mu­sic wasn’t for the faint-hearted. It was chal­leng­ing. His style also wasn’t without its lim­i­ta­tions: al­though a mas­ter of play­ing in odd time sig­na­tures, his play­ing could never be termed rhyth­mic, per­cus­sive or ag­gres­sive: el­e­ments that many lis­ten­ers would con­sider vi­tal to a well­bal­anced mu­si­cal diet; how­ever, the colours that he did choose to use in his pal­ette to­tally be­witched le­gions of gui­tarists, en­gen­der­ing a fa­nat­i­cal de­vo­tion that ex­plains such a gen­uine sense of loss in the gui­tar com­mu­nity since his death. For me, my big­gest mu­si­cal in­flu­ence has gone, and life won’t ever be quite the same again.

Dave Kilmin­ster

Devil Take The Hind­most is one of my favourite Allan Holdsworth tracks. Fea­tur­ing the in­cred­i­ble rhythm sec­tion of Chad Wack­er­man and Jimmy Johnson, Allan is just blaz­ing... his tone, tim­ing and le­gato tech­nique are ut­terly flaw­less (as al­ways), but I par­tic­u­larly loved how he could solo over a static (G Mi­nor in this case) vamp and make it sound so in­ter­est­ing!! I re­mem­ber tran­scrib­ing some bits at the time, and re­alised that he was us­ing a scale that I hadn’t come across be­fore, some­thing which he later re­ferred to in his 1992 in­struc­tional video as the ‘Sym­met­ri­cal’ scale (1/2 - 1/2 - whole - 1/2 - 1/2 - whole - 1/2 - 1/2 - whole), a nine-note scale which he fur­ther spiced up with string skip­ping, and his won­der­fully vo­cal and unique use of the whammy bar. Un­usu­ally for Allan, there are even some pinched har­mon­ics and blues licks dur­ing the solo. As he typ­i­cally avoided such licks I al­ways imag­ined him play­ing this solo with a cheeky grin on his face.

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