Thursday, March 8, 2012

The #64 Guitarist of the Rock Era: Allen Holdsworth

The #64 Guitarist is not only an innovator in his technique but also in helping to design the tools of his trade:
#64:  Allen Holdsworth
44 years as an active guitarist
Holdsworth was born in Bradford, England.  Holdsworth is highly-regarded by fans and contemporaries as one of the great innovators of the 20th century.  He continues to push the envelope, exploring the electric guitar's range of tonal and textural possibilities.  Holdsworth produces his own recordings and has had complete creative license since the mid-80's.  He has uniquely appealed to both jazz and rock audiences.  Besides his great ability in pressing the limits of his instrument, Alan has also devoted time to developing guitar technology.  He has helped design new baritone variations of the guitar, his own custom six-string designs, the invention of electronic components for the studio and developing guitar-based synthesizer controllers.

Holdsworth learned aspects of musical theory by his father, himself an accomplished amateur musician.  The sounds of Django Reinhardt, Jimmy Rainey, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass , Eric Clapton, and John Coltrane were among this English musician's early inspirations when he began to work professionally as a musician in his early twenties. Allen began working on the dance-club circuit in England, meeting fellow musicians and honing his sound.  Ray Warleigh, one of England's best jazz tenor saxophonists, recognized Holdsworth's tremendous potential and brought him along to play in jazz sets in the early 1970's, including sessions with Ray at Ronnie Scotts' club in London.
Allen gained exposure when he joined drummer John Hiseman's much-celebrated "progressive" rock band Tempest.  The group didn't last long but by now most musicians knew of Allen.  By 1975, he had developed a reputation as one of England's best guitarists in the group Soft Machine.  The album Bundles is especially worth checking out.  While in Soft Machine, the late jazz drummer Tony Williams discovered Allen and recruited him to play on one of the great fusion releases of the mid-70's, Believe It

For the next three years, Holdsworth played on many of the great jazz-fusion and instrumental rock recordings by Jean Luc Ponty (Enigmatic Ocean), Gong (Gazeuse!) and drummer Bill Bruford (Feels Good To Me and One of A Kind).  Late in the decade, Bruford, founding member of Yes who was then with King Crimson, recruited Holdsworth to participate in a new project featuring the rhythm section of King Crimson and the young violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson.  The resulting album called U.K. was considered the last great milestone of 70's progressive rock.  Holdsworth created unconventional chords, searing guitar solos and passionate melodic riffs.  Guitar World in 1996 praised Holdsworth's contribution to U.K. as the factor in naming it one of the Top 10 rock guitar albums of all-time.

As great an experience as that was, in 1978, Holdsworth reluctantly parted company with Bruford's band, seeking to rediscover the energy and dynamics that had been a part of his extended ensemble improvisations work with Tony Williams.  Allen formed his own trio with drummer Gary Husband and bassist Paul Carmichael in the IOU band.  Friend Eddie Van Halen was key to getting IOU a recording contract with Van Halen's label, Warner Brothers.  Executive producer Ted Templeman helped the group release Road Games in 1984, which was nominated for a Grammy Award.  The album featured vocals from Jack Bruce, formerly with Cream.  

However, a dispute over creative control led to the group leaving Warner Brothers and signing with Enigma Records in 1985.  Respected Los Angeles session bassist Jimmy Johnson joined the group after Carmichael and Jeff Berlin had contributed briefly.  The group then released the highly successful Metal Fatigue.  Holdsworth continued his core band with Johnson and Wackerman and the 1986 album Atavachron featured appearances by keyboardists Alan Pasqua and Billy Childs and great contributions from drummers Tony Williams and Husband.  Husband went on to success with Level 42 and he asked Holdsworth to play on the group's 1993 album Guaranteed.

The IOU album Sand in 1988 marked the beginning of Holdsworth's exploration of the Synthaxe, a guitar-like synth-controller.  Holdsworth won the Guitar Player Magazine poll as Best Guitar Synthesist for several years afterward.  In 1990, Holdsworth did an album called Secrets with Vinnie Collaiuta, who later joined Sting's band and had previously worked with Frank Zappa.  The album featured Allen's rich harmonic playing in a style that continued to push the boundaries of rock, fusion and jazz.

In the early 1990's, Holdsworth appeared in a jazz supergroup and at festivals with other great jazz artists including Stanley Clark, Billy Cobham and Michael and Randy Brecker.  The albums Wardenclyffe Tower in 1992 and Hard Hat Area in 1994 expanded the boundaries of Holdsworth's solo work and more closely resembled the group's live sound.  

Holdsworth recorded some of his favorite, lesser-known jazz standards along with originals from pianist Gordon Beck on Allen's next album None Too Soon in 1996.  The album is different from most Holdsworth work and includes a riveting performance of Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean" and a great twist on the Beatles song "Norwegian Wood".

The Sixteen Men of Tain, released in 2000, marked Allen's first work with bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Gary Novak.  

Holdsworth has several electric guitar designs produced by Carvin.  Holdsworth was recently inducted into the Guitar Player Magazine Hall of Fame.

Never satisfied and always exploring new musical avenues, Allen Holdsworth has proven to be one of the great innovators of the guitar.  He ranks as The #64 Guitarist of the Rock Era*.

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