Allan Holdsworth, Progressive Guitar Virtuoso, Dies at 70

Allan Holdsworth, known as a guitarist’s guitarist for his progressive rock and jazz fusion work with bands including Soft Machine, Gong, and U.K., died on Sunday, according to a Facebook post from his daughter Louise. He was 70.

Born in Bradford, England, Holdsworth had lived in Southern California for several decades. His complex guitar work was cited as an influence by musicians such as Eddie Van Halen and Robben Ford.

Holdsworth started out playing with rock and jazz fusion bands in the early ’70s and then joined up with acts from the Canterbury progressive scene, including Soft Machine and Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. He played with bassist Stanley Clarke, King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford’s solo act, and with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty’s band, and was then recruited to join progressive supergroup U.K. with Bruford, violinist Eddie Jobson, and bassist John Wetton. But he objected to the organized structures of a major touring band and left the group after its first self-titled album in 1978.

From the 1980s onward, Holdsworth released a number of jazz fusion solo albums with collaborators including Gordon Beck and Mark Varney, and continued to tour. “Road Games,” from 1983, received a Grammy nomination for best rock instrumental performance.

An early proponent of the guitar synthesizer, he endorsed instruments for the SynthAxe company in the 1980s. Reverb magazine described Holdworth’s music as, “This was quantum jazz fusion with a Fripp-esque legato style and truly otherworldly tones.”

Musicians including Joe Satriani mourned Holdsworth on Twitter.


Master Guitarist Allan Holdsworth Dies at 70

Allan Holdsworth, hailed by his peers as one of the most technically gifted guitarists of his time, has died at the age of 70. His passing was announced Sunday (April 16) by family members on social media.

The innovative muso shaped his reputation through the ‘70s as a master of prog-rock and jazz fusion with such acts as Soft Machine, Gong and U.K., but never quite struck the commercial success he richly deserved. His signature two-handed finger tapping style influenced the best in the business, from Carlos Santana, Frank Zappa, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, Tom Morello, Peter Frampton to Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen, who called him “the best, in my book” and “so damned good that I can't cop anything.” In a later interview, the Van Halen axeman declared: “Holdsworth is so damned good that I can’t cop anything. I can’t understand what he’s doing," and in in 2015 he told Billboard that Holdsworth was the last “new” guitarist he liked (Van Halen was eight years his junior).

As news of his death spread, Frampton remembered Holdsworth as a “brilliant unique guitar master player,” and Satriani tweeted, “You remain an enormous inspiration to me. Your beautiful music will live on forever.”

Born on Aug. 6, 1946, in Bradford, England, Holdsworth didn't pick up the guitar until he was 17, but he proved to be a quick learner. After moving to London, Holdsworth kicked off his recording career in the late ‘60s with the band ‘Igginbottom and through the ‘70s honed his craft with the likes of Tempest, Soft Machine, the Tony Williams Lifetime project, French-English outfit Gong, and U.K..

Holdsworth embarked on a solo career which launched proper with the solo album I.O.U., from 1982, and the following year earned a Grammy nomination for his EP Road Games (for best rock instrumental performance). Throughout the decade, he endorsed the SynthAxe guitar synthesizer and dabbled with headless guitars, resulting in his own signature headless model, initially created by Carvin and then under the Kiesel moniker.

As humble as he was talented, Holdsworth recorded a dozen albums from 1982-1993, all of which are explored on a retrospective boxed set titled The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever, which dropped earlier this month through Manifesto Records (he reportedly wasn't taken with the album's title, instead deferring that honor to other guitar heroes).

Holdsworth reportedly died Saturday (April 15), though the cause has not been announced. His daughter Louise paid tribute to the guitar great. “It is with heavy hearts that we notify everyone of the passing of our beloved father,” she posted on Facebook. “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.”

Allan Holdsworth Remembered

Allan Holdsworth stands as one of the most remarkable and innovative musicians of the past four decades. His unique approach to playing guitar made him not just one of the most intelligent musicians on the progressive scene, but a huge influence on the likes of Alex Lifeson and John Petrucci.

The British guitarist, born in 1946, first got noticed on the 1969 album 'Igginbottom's Wrench from the UK progressive band 'Igginbottom. In the 70s, he played with cult prog bands such as Nucleus and Tempest, before adding his talents to the likes of Soft Machine (he appears on 1975’s respected Bundles), The New Tony William’s Lifeline, Pierre Moerlin's Gong (Gazeuse! and Expresso II) and appeared on Jean-Luc Ponty’s Enigmatic Ocean (1977) . And in 1978, as proof his growing stature, he played on Bill Bruford's solo album Feels Good To Me.

It was the drummer who suggested Holdsworth should join Eddie Jobson, John Wetton and himself in U.K. His playing on the band's self-titled debut album helped to shape their sound, but the guitarist subsequently quit, because he felt their approach to live performances hampered his love of improvising. But he and Bruford stayed together for the Bruford album One Of A Kind.

By 1982, he was the acknowledged leader of I.O.U, who released an acclaimed, self-titled album the same year; it was hailed as being a jazz fusion masterclass, with Holdsworth truly blossoming as a genuinely magnificently fluent guitarist, capable of going in any direction he felt was required.

Thanks to Eddie Van Halen, a devoted fan who once told Guitar World “To me, Allan Holdsworth is Number One”, Holdsworth was signed to Warner Brothers, with the Road Games EP coming out in 1983; not only did this feature Jack Bruce on vocals, but got Holdsworth a Grammy nomination in 1984 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the title track, a sign that he was getting more mainstream attention. But Holdsworth soon left the label, feeling that it wasn't right for his artistic integrity.

His album Atavachron, issued in 1986, was a landmark because it featured the man playing the SynthAxe. In the coming years, not only was he closely connected to this cutting edge instrument, but became the public face of the SynthAxe. At the end of the 80s, Holdsworth was brought in to guest with Level 42 for live shows in London following the death of their guitarist Alan Murphy, subsequently playing on their 1991 album Guaranteed.

But by the mid-90s, his output had slowed right down, because of personal issues. But he still found time to tour in a supergroup with drummers Terry Bozzio and Pat Mastelotto, plus bassist Tony Levin; they performed improvised experimental music, which was very much his forté. He appeared on Derek Shenrinian’s Mythology in 2004 and he was also part of Sherinian’s progressive metal band Planet X, featuring on 2007’s Quantum.

Holdsworth's last all new solo studio album was 2001's Flat Tire: Music For A Non Existent Movie, although in 2015 did put out the compilation album Tales From The Vault, which did include some new material. This year he was the subject of a box set containing all his solo albums bar 1976's Velvet Darkness (essentially rehearsal tapes Holdsworth did not recognise as a genuine solo debut), entitled The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever, and a double compilation album. Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection, both released on the Manifesto label.

Allan Holdsworth was regarded as a highly complex musician, someone who combined jazz and progressive ideas in a manner that set him apart from anyone else. What he did was often felt to be unusual and challenging, and his own sources of inspiration ranged from John Coltrane to Django Reinhardt, Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery. His own peripatetic search for fresh ways to express himself through music made him not just one of the most technically gifted guitarists of his generation, but someone who had an extraordinary in depth knowledge of music.

All of this made Holdsworth much admired, and ensured he stood apart from everyone. His 12 solo albums, as well as his work with other artists, puts him firmly among the elite of progressive musicians. He was not only ahead of his time, but his music sounds timeless and outside of any easy categorisation.

“Allan Holdsworth really touched me,” Rush's Alex Lifeson once said. “The playing he did with U.K. and Bill Bruford was so incredibly fluid.”

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