HUMBLE GUITAR MASTER ALLAN HOLDSWORTH ALWAYS STRUGGLES TO PAY THE RENT
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 4, 1986
By Steve Newton
Today he’s regarded by critics and musicians alike as one of the most distinctive guitarists in the world. He’s been the principal soloist for the likes of U.K., Gong, Bill Bruford, Soft Machine, Tony Williams’ Lifeime and Jean-Luc Ponty. And he’s one of the few players to successfully fuse the big guitar timbre of ’70s heavy rock with the influences and imagination of jazz.
But Allan Holdsworth, virtuoso that he is, still fits quite smoothly into the mold of the struggling musician.
“I don’t know what it is,” says the lanky Englishman. “Just because my name gets put in magazines, people seem to think that I must be earning a lot of money or something. But I’ve always had to struggle to pay the rent every month.”
Holdsworth, who’ll be earning his rent money at the Town Pump this Sunday to Tuesday (July 6 to 8), took up the chancy musical life at a rather late age. He was 18 when he first set his hands on a guitar.
“My father bought an old guitar from my uncle and just left it lyin’ around. I never thought I’d be a musician, but I had always loved music, just listening and stuff. So I started messing around with the guitar and it just kinda grew on me.”
Over the years Allan Holdsworth developed a technique that allows him to create guitar parts in a smooth linear succession, with beautifully sustained notes. The effect is such that his guitar sounds something like a saxophone. Big-name rock stars like Eddie Van Halen and Neil Schon of Journey caught on to Holdsworth’s style, and before long there was a real buzz about him in music publications everywhere. But he doesn’t feel the accolades from the hard rock community have helped his career that much, since he doesn’t normally play that kind of music.
“I think it might have helped as far as making guitar players aware of me, but I’m not really interested in that at all because I don’t really like playing to guitar players. It’s like being a Volkswagen mechanic and being surrounded by a lot of Volkswagen mechanics, talking shop. I’d rather just play to regular people.”
But, at this point anyway, regular people are not the type who go to Allan Holdsworth shows. It’s guitarists that make up most of his audience. And a lot of them will stand there gawking as Holdsworth burns up the frets with uncanny precision.
For his three Town Pump dates, Holdsworth will be focusing on material from his new album Atavachron. Named after a word he heard in a Star Trek episode, the new LP features a newly developed instrument called the Synth Axe. “It’s like the next generation of machines that guitarists can play to control synthesizers,” says Holdsworth. As well as his trusty Synth Axe, Holdsworth will be joined on stage by drummer Chad Wackerman, bassist Jimmy Johnson, and keyboardist Billy Childs (formerly with saxman Freddie Hubbard).
Although the Atavachron album is distributed on Enigma/Capitol Records in the U.S., a Canadian release has not yet been made of the new LP, so even the most devoted Holdsworth fans will be hearing his new tunes fro the first time. Lack of record company support and poor distribution has not helped promote Holdsworth’s name in the least. In fact, the first album he made with his own band, I.O.U., was mainly a mail-order item when it first came out in ’82. His previous albums Road Games (’84) and Metal Fatigue (’85) are also hard–or impossible–to find in some countries.
“It’s sad,” he says, “because I come from England and yet none of my albums were released there. That’s pretty sick, really.”
One country where all of Holdsworth’s albums are available, strangely enough, is Japan, where they’re distributed through Warner Bros. And though Holdsworth has toured there twice to good audience response, he’s had trouble with promoters. One made a bootleg video, he says.
But Allan Holdsworth will continue to make records and play amazing guitar. He’s not about to let the hazards of his profession get him down.
“What can you expect,” he chuckles, “being a musician?”