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Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

Are you more enchanted with the music environment in America?

Absolutely. It's a much more happening place. The struggle is everywhere -- no matter where in the world you live. You end up banging your head against the wall. It's been easier in the States for me than England. No one -- absolutely no one--was interested in anything that I did. We couldn't get any gigs, which is why we called the band I.O.U.: The few gigs that we did do there always ended up costing us more money than we'd get. We almost finished up phoning people by saying, "How much do you want for us to play." It's definitely better for me in America, although it may be different for somebody else. It seems that English musicians don't get any respect in their own country until they've been somewhere else. People used to tell me about John McLaughlin -- how he wasn't accepted at all in England. Then after he played in the States and returned, they were all like down on their hands and knees. England's such a fickle place, and the music's so much monopolized by the BBC, which plays such crap all d ay long. And the record companies are only interested in fashion. And if it's fashionable, then that's it. They'll spend a little money on three bands and hope that they'll make it by being fashionable, rather than spending maybe the same amount or less on one band that may turn out to be long-term. It's really nuts.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 1985)

Why did you leave the UK. to go to America?

Basically, it was because I thought I had tried as hard as I could to play what I wanted to play in England, and couldn't really get anywhere. It had actually got to a point where I decided that I wasn't going to be a musician any more. I was just going to get a job, like my father had, in a factory or a music store or something and just play for my own amusement. I'd never stop playing, because I would always have the interest to play, but I don't want to play pop music and I don't want to be a session player; selfishly, I just want to play what I want.

I really didn't expect anything to happen though which is why, before I left England, I was quite prepared to drop out of music completely. Luckily, the bass player in the band at that time, Paul Carmichael, went over to the States and met a girl there who said she could get us some gigs, because people knew who we were. We went over there and were absolutely astounded at the response. Basically, I've never looked back.

It was like a last chance for me, because I definitely knew what would happen to me if I stayed here, which was absolutely zero, so why not try. I did, and this is our third album since we left, so I'm really quite pleased. I love England, I always will, but for me it's just not the place to be for music. It's great for certain people and certain kinds of pop music, but for me it was just impossible.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

In 1977 I joined Gong which was a potentially interesting writing situation, but they could never stop arguing long enough to orgnaise (sic) anything. We toured a little and then I left. Later that year I played on an album with Jean-Luc Ponty - 'Enigmatic Ocean. In 1978 I played on Bill Bruford's solo albums 'Feels Good To Me' and 'One Of A Kind'. I joined U.K. in '78 which consisted of Bill, John Wetton, Eddie Jobson and myself, one album there. In 1979 I went to Paris with the new trio, and here we are two years later about to make another album. Ultimately I'd like the band to do a couple of albums and establish in the USA: I'm sure we'll have more success over there.

Allan Holdsworth (Music UK 1983)

Earlier this year he played a series of gigs in New York and Los Angeles, and he confided at the time, 'I may move and take my family out there to live.' Things at last were beginning to look good for Allan Holdsworth, and he finally decided to make the move to LA. When we met recently in his new home in California, situated about 15 miles from the Fullerton Fender factory, he was in a cheery mood and he told me why. 'I got the chance of some gigs here in the States, and I hadn't worked in England as a musician for about three years.'

Had Allan become disillusioned with his Great British Public?

'No, no, a lot of people know who I am in England, but the people who counted in the record companies didn't want to know about anything I might want to do, or people like me. The musical fashions change so quickly in England, it's such a fickle thing that people who play music, they don't have room for, that's the way I think of it anyway. They only have room for fashion. To get a record deal in England now, I would almost have thought is a bad thing, because they'll probably give you all they've got for a year, and then just kind of like drop you, whereas over here in the States the musical spectrum is far wider You've got crap and you've got good things and it covers everything whereas England is mostly crap. I got used to [it] in fact and I didn't find it frustrating any more The only thing I found really frustrating wasn't the record companies but the work situation. We knew there were people who would come and see the band play but we couldn't get anybody to find a way of getting us to play anywhere in the first place if you see what I mean (chuckles). It was just like a vicious circle, the chicken and egg situation. I' d like to go back and play in England, not to prove anything to the public, they re not at fault The main reason I d like to go back is to give people who work in record companies and agencies and so on a kick up the arse, as if to say 'Don't turn your back on everything'. There's lots of good things in England the record companies don't even know exist, the public know about them though'

Audiostreet Featured Artists (Audiostreet 2000)

"The reason I moved to the States was economical." says Allan, "Because when I first met Gary Husband after I decided I wanted to form my own band and working with Gary was one hell of a struggle, a struggle that he's still going through now with his own music. We would play a pub and there would be ten people in there, then we'd go to California and there'd five hundred people and it's packed. So it was a very simple and obvious thing for me to do, I thought well do I want to go back there and play to ten people or do I want to go over here and play to loads. So I moved."

Despite Allan's success abroad in Japan, America and Europe things are beginning to happen again in the UK, but this hasn't changed his view of the music scene on this side of the Atlantic. "Well there's a huge contrast. I love England and obviously I was born here and my roots are here. A lot of music is very geographical and I always feel that my music still comes from Bradford even though I live in California. So there's that but at the same time there are things that I really don't like about England. The blinker thing and also like things that have happened millions and millions of times it seems like people always have to leave to come back, including anybody you can imagine. So many great things have been invented and thought of in England, like radar, and the guy can't get arrested! And he has to go somewhere else. I mean that's a very typical thing to happen to someone in England and it's a sad thing, I don't really know whose fault it is."

Guitarist's Guitarist (Jazz Times 1989)

Holdsworth moved to the sates in 1982, after commuting back and forth briefly. It was a move largely driven by desperation, after he found it almost impossible to work in a great Britain obsessed with punk rock.

"I got to the point," he recalled, "where I couldn't make a living in music, and I was on the verge of just getting a job so we could survive. That's normal; it happens to millions of people, and I didn't mind at all. But when I kept seeing my name in American music magazines I thought, 'well, maybe we could do a few gigs over there.' Paul Williams, who was the vocalist in our original band, lived here in Southern California and said he thought we could line up some work.

Our first was in San Francisco, and the place was jammed. It was like a dream. We went from not being able to get a gig in England to selling out the clubs in the U.S. Then we played the Roxy in Los Angeles, and when we got there in the afternoon there was a line waiting to get in. I couldn't believe it. You have to understand that when we came here, I didn't even have a guitar. I'd sold the last instrument I had to pay for the mix in an album we paid for ourselves. I had a couple of special amps, but that was it, so you can imagine how I felt when we saw people actually waiting to hear us play."

Mike Pachelli Show (video transcript 1991)

MP: And when you came to the Roxy did the Americans know you?

AH: Yeah we were amazed, I mean the first place we played was in San Francisco there was a guy named Mark Varney (Mike Varney) [ Editor’s note: Allan is probably referring to MIKE Varney here, who did have a column in Guitar Player. MARK Varney is Mike’s brother, who would later release “Truth In Shredding”] who writes the column for Guitar Player magazine, so he talked the guys at the Keystone who owned the three Keystone clubs – there was Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Corner and Keystone Palo Alto, into giving us a gig and we couldn’t believe it, you know we went from a pub in London with 13 people in there, to playing in this place, well it was like a 500 seat club – it was packed! So it was like a shock. Then we went to the Roxy it was the same thing, the guy who owned the clubs up in San Francisco called the guy who owned the Roxy and said take a chance man, and the same thing happened … we just got lucky I guess.

MP: And before getting into that you went through a period with Charvel Strats, your chisel period, explain how that was...

AH: Well it was just basically, before I met Grover Jackson – who is an unbelievable guy, he really helped us out a lot in the beginning with IOU when I first came into the States I didn’t have a guitar or anything, he gave me 3 or 4 really great guitars, and uh, basically the chisel thing was just taking an old Strat and chiseling a hole so you could put a humbucker on it. It was before you could get humbuckers on Strats, you know. And then, like I said, I met Grover and he made these guitars for us. Those were some of the best guitars – I had a red one he made that was actually one of the best guitars I ever owned.

MP: What was the neck configuration? Was it maple or

AH: It was maple with ebony fingerboard and a basswood body

MP: And Seymour Duncan 59…

AH: Seymour Duncan, it was essentially a 59.

No Record Contract, No Big Hoopla, But The Fans Have Kept The Faith For Allan Holdsworth (Guitar World 1982)

Holdsworth, unlike, say, Tony Mottola, isn't even a contender for the Most Recorded Guitarist award. But his fans held out for every note. After Ponty, there was silence.

Silence, that is, until last spring, when he returned to the States with his band I.O.U. He repaid the fans who'd kept the faith and waited, fans who'd kept his name from disappearing entirely. Allan's achievements had become obvious - so obvious that guitar king Eddie Van Halen asked to jam with Allan during his gigs at New York's Roxy. What? Eddie asking for a guest spot? Yes, and it was like a student asking to sit in with his teacher. News of the apocryphal encounter spread far and wide.

What happened during his three year absence from the scene? Things were a bit rough in England for Allan, and he's very candid about them.

"I was just about to give up playing altogether," he says, "so I'm glad that eventually we did get over. For the last three years I haven't worked as a musician, as such. I was repairing amplifiers and I'd fix guitars. So when the opportunity came to tour and play here, it was fantastic! I was seeing magazines with people like Ed [Van Halen] in them. saying they liked my playing a good deal. But back in England those mentions didn't help at all."

No Secrets (Facelift 1994)

"Basically I couldn't get any work. It was like a last shot because I'd seen my name come up in various American magazines, and I'd thought, 'Oh, that's interesting - they seem to know about us - it's like a last chance’. I kinda went over there and never came back!

He’s clearly made the right decision as far as his own career is concerned, because he's remained in exile for almost decade and a half now: “There’s a very different attitude towards musicians that I've noticed from living in both places. And that is - in England - if you want to get anything together with anyone unless there's some money involved almost immediately, you can never get anyone to do anything. They don't seem to have the same commitment to music - they have a commitment to making a living, which everyone has to do, but there are very few musicians that I worked with in London that seemed willing to work together to get something first. Whereas that happens all the time in America, and think that's an important difference.

The Allan Holdsworth Interview! (Jazz Houston 2006)

MM: Why do you think fusion jazz struggles for an audience in the US but seems to be thriving in Europe and Japan?

AH: I think it turns around. It’ll be good there and bad here and then it’ll switch. When I first came to the US in 1980 we worked a lot in the US but couldn’t get work in the UK. Now it’s switched really. A lot is radio, too. Media doesn’t support it and so there’s no place for people to go and listen to it. There are a few radio stations that play cool stuff, but not many. We fall thru the cracks and holes because what we do isn’t jazz and it’s not rock. But a lot of clubs have closed and that’s had an effect, too. That part shriveled up.

The Innocent Abroad (Musician 1984)

A guitar giant who fled techno-trendy persecution in his native U.K. comes to America and finds a new lease on life - and new problems.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched guitar refugees from your teeming, techno-trendy shore; send these, the homeless haircutless, tempest-toss't to me."

Thus did America beckon to one Allan Holdsworth, legendary electro-jazz guitar stylist who, by 1980, was unable to find gainful employment in his U.K. homeland, either as a guitarist or leader/composer of his own appropriately named trio, I.O.U. Holdsworth was even preparing to hang up his guitar strap forever: "I was broke, couldn't make any living at all in music. I would've had to retire; in fact, I was just about to take a job in a music store. I had accumulated a lot of equipment over the years, and I basically paid the rent by selling a few things each month. Eventually, when we came to mix the I.O.U. album, I sold the last guitar I had. Then I came over to America on vacation and met someone who said she could get us gigs, so we all came over."

Ellis Island for these gifted immigrants consisted of the Orange County living room of veteran British vocalist and I.O.U. member Paul Williams (no, not the short, geeky guy from Hollywood Squares), who had moved to California some time before (and whose home still serves as a drop zone for migrant British fusioneers). "We were more or less all staying at his house, which probably drove him crazy. Then we did really well at the gigs. I was amazed how many people came out to see us - I didn't know that many people knew we existed."

Indeed, fans of Holdsworth's dazzling playing with Tempest, Gong, Jean-Luc Ponty, Tony Williams, Bill Bruford, and, more famously if less artistically, Soft Machine and U.K., came out of the woodwork in droves and packed the small houses. Then came gigs in L.A. and suddenly Holdsworth was, if not red-hot, at least looking at a modest but nonetheless welcome positive cash flow. Even America's reigning Emperor of Guitar, Eddie Van Halen himself, came to pay homage, telling the world Holdsworth was in fact the rightful owner of the scepter of speed. Eddie's label, Warners, took him at his word and inked the artful refugee.

But the vagaries of language and comprehension afflict even modern-day immigrants to America, and the next eighteen months would propel Allan Holdsworth into some of the most imaginative and horrific musical misunderstandings that inhabit this wonderful, wacky record business. How could such a talented and unassuming guy get into so much trouble? Well, the whole problem was that people saw in Allan exactly what they wanted to see and not what Allan really was. And that problem had been happening to Allan for most of his career.

I.O.U. then made their tabled emigration and Americans greeted the band as long-lost old friends, which at that point they were starting to feel like. Still, for all the buzz, they were unable to interest anyone in the LP so they decided to put it out themselves, pressed it and worked it as best they could. It was then that Holdsworth was "discovered" by Eddie Van Halen. Edward had actually met Allan in the U.K. era, so he came down to the Roxy to catch I.O.U. After a post-gig chat, Van Halen was invited to come to sound-check the next afternoon and they had "a bit of a blow." For an encore that night, they worked up one of Eddie's tunes, which went over big; very big. Van Halen immediately began working on his producer, Ted Templeman, and his label, Warners, to sign Holdsworth. What exactly was understood between Holdsworth and Van Halen was never pinned down, however. Allan logically assumed that Warners wanted the I.O.U. band. Paul Williams maintains that during all the negotiations for the deal, no one at Warners corrected that impression:

The Sixteen Men Of Tain ( 2000, Spanish language)

And also you have a long solo career. Have you had any facilities to record your projects?

It is very difficult to keep record contracts with the type of music that I like. Record companies want to sell millions and, well, with this music it is not probable they will do it.

However, you have always tried to play what you want without letting yourself be influenced by the demands of the record companies ...

Yes, I've played in many groups where people told me what to do and I decided I wanted to do this. Economically, it was a disastrous decision. When I formed my first group with Gary Husband I almost left the music [business] because I did not make enough money and then I met Matt Valy [Mike Varney? Ed.] , who had a column in Guitar Magazine, he found me and showed me all these magazines in which my name appeared and which I had no idea of. So I got a few gigs in California. It was amazing to play in front of ten people in a pub in England, to clubs in California with six or seven hundred people and always full. So I thought it was time to move. That's why I went to the US, for work ... and it's better to avoid rain. It's not that I'm very fond of the beach or any of this, but I like to see the blue sky and the sun from time to time.