Here are some quotes where Allan talks about his relationship to the blues form.
- 1 Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)
- 2 Allan Holdsworth - Jazz Fusion Guitarist (Musicguy247 2017)
- 3 Allan Holdsworth Talks SynthAxes, Jaw-Dropping Solos and More (Guitar World 2017)
- 4 Joe Satriani Meets Allan Holdsworth (Musician special edition 1993)
- 5 Med Siktet Innställt På Total Kontroll (MusikerMagasinet 1996, Swedish language)
- 6 The Allan Holdsworth Interview! (Jazz Houston 2006)
- 7 The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever (Guitar Player 2008)
Do you purposely avoid playing common rock licks or blues licks?
In a word, yes. I occasionally use them if I'm in a particularly jovial mood. Sometimes I'll be caught doing it just for fun. Usually I try to avoid them; I try to avoid everything. I'm still looking, basically.
When you're just sitting around at home, do you fall in them just for entertainment?
No. I just keep looking for something else.
R.V.B. - What kind of things did you tackle at first?
A.H. - When you first start out, you can't necessarily play what you want to play because you don't have the skill. I had always liked jazz and classical music, but I couldn't play it. I didn't have the ability at that point so I just started playing pop music, and I also started playing blues.
Your playing is the polar opposite of your fusion contemporary Al Di Meola. He pretty much picks every note. You don't. Was there ever a time that you pursued a more standard way of playing guitar where you would utilize the plectrum more? —Jason Jenkins
When I first started playing, I plunked away just like everyone else. During the Sixties I played in a blues band for a few years, and I liked it. It wasn’t until I was playing for a while that I made the decision to change my style from a percussive to more of a legato approach. I just wanted a different sound.
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: " Yeah, obvious things come up, but the obvious ones are always the ones I want to get rid of. [laughter] You know, in the beginning, I'd REALLY, REALLY avoid playing any kind of blues licks. All my life I've tried to avoid 'em. Then I find myself in the last couple of years starting to PLAY 'em---you go, 'Well, this is insane!' So it's the same reasoning: If I hear something I keep doing, I don't want to DO it anymore. I mean, if I listen to an old album, and then I listen to the last album, I hear a big difference, but maybe, what you're saying is, other people don't."
I ask if he has never had a blues period and if he can bend strings in the usual way.
- Well, I spent some time playing 12 bar blues and all that. I like to think that I was actually pretty good at it, but I tired of it, it did not feel real, and did not come naturally. Bending strings, on the other hand, I often do, but I prefer violin vibrato for the simple reason that you can also lower the pitch.
MM: Ok, a question from me. I enjoyed hearing you play standards and really dug hearing you play over altered blues changes like the tune Isotope. You have such a great sense of phrasing and definitely from a bebop tradition. Do you like playing over those types of changes?
AH: Well it’s like Pat Smythe used to say to me “the only thing worse than playing over one chord is playing over two” (laughter) so it’s kind of like that. How many times do you want to play the blues? I mean there are some great blues tunes, but it’s just, I don’t know…I just don’t feel the need to do that, but I understand how people in the audience can have fun seeing that and listening to that.
Some of the playing on Tempest is almost bluesy, but that’s something you’ve otherwise avoided throughout your career.
The blues didn’t really interest me that much. Also, when I first started listening to people like B.B King, trying to pick up some blues licks, my dad would come in and say, “That’s not the blues, man, this is the blues.” And then he’d start playing more like a jazz blues. So at that point I made a really conscious effort not to play anything that sounded even remotely like a blues lick. I love to hear other people playing them, but I try to find something else to play that will fulfill maybe a similar thing, but not be that exactly.
Can you imagine yourself ever playing through a laptop, using software to get your tones, at least when touring?
I thought about it for convenience sake, especially nowadays, because the traveling and customs hassles at airports are a nightmare. It’s nothing like what it used to be. So, from that point of view, it’s crossed my mind, but then I’m not sure that I’d want to give up … but maybe I wouldn’t be giving up anything at all … but I never did move in the computer direction. I don’t even have a computer recording setup at all. Pretty much everything I’ve got is analog, except for two Alesis high-resolution hard disc recorders, which I really like the sound of. It’s like the same as it was 20 years ago, except instead of having a Studer 24-track, I’ve just got two 24-track digital recorders. And every time I’ve tried to do things with a computer, it’s like something doesn’t happen, so I’ve never been really enthused about that. And I know that there are lots of things that you can do in terms of editing, and I’m afraid that if I did that, the next record I’d do would take me … they’d be shoving me in a pine box while I was still working on it. I don’t have that, and I’m okay with it. And H&K have been really gracious in helping us out with gear when we travel, so I don’t have to carry that stuff with me, unless we’re doing a local tour, when I take my own gear. But usually I just take a couple cases of accessories and cables, and they provide us with the backline wherever we go. And I don’t know that I’d trust a computer that much with everything that I had. You get all these great sounds and stuff and then something happens to your computer. I have mixed feelings about it. But one of the funniest things is that Bill Hine (?) who was my head guy Enigma, he always used to see me as a guy who was always pushing the techno thing using the old Atari computers back in the ’80s and the SynthAxe. He was amazed that I didn’t go any further than that. It just kind of stopped. Because at that time, most of the guitar players would pick up the SA and try to play guitar on it. They’d pick it up and start trying to play blues licks on it, and I’d say, “Oh, that’s not what this is for. You can go out and buy a $500 Strat, why do you want to spend $10,000 on a machine and then try to make it sound like a Strat?” Because I used to do clinics and guys would come up and ask if it could that.