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Allan Holdsworth (born 6 August 1946) is a Britishmarker guitarist and composer. He has released ten studio albums and played many different styles of music over a period of four decades, but is best known for his work in jazz fusion.

Recording career

Early bands ('Igginbottom, Sunship, Tempest)

Holdsworth first recorded with the band 'Igginbottom on their lone release, Igginbottom's Wrench (later reissued under the group name of "Allan Holdsworth & Friends"), in 1969. In 1971, Holdsworth joined Sunship, an improvising band also featuring Alan Gowen, Laurie Baker and future King Crimson percussionist Jamie Muir. The band played live but never recorded any records.

In the early 1970s Holdsworth joined the British progressive rock band Tempest, and performed on their self-titled debut studio album in 1973. His playing can also be heard on a live BBC Radio concert from the same year, which was released in 2005 as part of a Tempest compilation album entitled Anthology: Under the Blossom.

Journeyman years (1974-1977)

Following his short tenure with Tempest, Holdsworth worked with various popular jazz fusion groups and artists. In 1974 he played on the Soft Machine studio album Bundles and with The New Tony Williams Lifetime on the Believe It! album, an experience he was to prize. In 1976 he played with Gong (contributing to their Gazeuse album) and with Jean-Luc Ponty.

In 1976, CTI Records released a recording of a rehearsal session, passing it off as an official recording, under the title of Velvet Darkness. This angered Holdsworth, who says he still loathes the album intensely.

Bruford and UK (1977-1979)

In 1977, Holdsworth was recruited by Bill Bruford to play most of the guitar on Bruford's first (and jazz-fusion-oriented) solo album Feels Good To Me.

Shortly afterwards, Bruford was recruited into a new, second-wave British progressive rock band - UK, which was fronted by Bruford's former King Crimson bandmate John Wetton. When Wetton recruited the virtuosic and classically-influenced Eddie Jobson (ex-Roxy Music/Frank Zappa) into UK on keyboards and violin, Bruford in turn recruited Holdsworth as a jazzier "counterweight". Both the Bruford and UK debut albums were released in early 1978, with the latter rapidly eclipsing the former in terms of profile and marketing.

Holdsworth's second spell as a potential progressive rock star was as short as the first. Chafing at the more composed and predictable elements to UK's music, he objected to being expected to play the same solos every night. Despite his musical fluidity and virtuosity, this approach did not suit John Wetton, who fired him from the band. Bruford quit in sympathy or was also fired (depending on accounts). Holdsworth would later stress that although he'd not enjoyed his time in the band he'd liked and respected everyone involved and that the problems were "purely musical".

While UK continued with a different lineup, Bruford formed his own long-term fusion project - also called Bruford and retained Holdsworth as its guitarist. The first album by the Bruford band (One Of A Kind, recorded and released in early 1979) featured extensive contributions by Holdsworth, but the guitarist was by now tired of being a sideman and wished to follow his own course. Following the band's first British tour, Holdsworth quit, although not without reluctance.

Holdsworth and Beck (early 1980s)

Holdsworth's next significant collaborator was pianist Gordon Beck, with whom he released two jazz-orientated albums - 1979's Sunbird and 1980's The Things You See. While Beck and Holdsworth's time as an ongoing duo was short, they would work together intermittently later in the 1980s and 1990s.

Solo career begins (early 1980s)

At around the same time Holdsworth began working with drummer Gary Husband (later to join Level 42) and bassist Paul Carmichael. This became "the IOU band" - Holdsworth's first as a leader - which was the band which recorded Holdsworth's first official solo album, I.O.U., in 1982, starting a 1980s solo career that would span five albums and one EP in the 1980s.

Following I.O.U.'s release, Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen brought Holdsworth to the attention of Warner Bros. Records executive Mo Ostin. (Van Halen had previously enthused about Holdsworth in Guitar Player magazine, saying "that guy is bad! He’s fantastic; I love him", and that Holdsworth was "the best, in my book.") This led to Warners releasing the Grammy-nominated 1983 vinyl-only EP Road Games, produced by longtime Van Halen producer Ted Templeman, and featuring a new IOU lineup (with Husband and Carmichael replaced by Chad Wackerman and Holdsworth's former Bruford bandmate Jeff Berlin) plus vocal cameos from ex-Cream singer Jack Bruce (himself a long-term Holdsworth collaborator). This EP was officially reissued on CD in 2001, having been bootlegged for many years previously.

Having relocated permanently to California (and parted company with Warners over creative control), Holdsworth signed to the Enigma label and began working with bassist Jimmy Johnson (leader of Flim and the BBs). Johnson and Wackerman would remain regular members of both Holdsworth's studio and touring bands, and still work with Holdsworth to this day. The first release by the trio was 1985's Metal Fatigue, followed by 1986's Atavachron, which was the first to feature him working with a new instrument - the Synthaxe MIDI guitar controller; indeed Holdsworth soon became the public face of the Synthaxe. In 1987, Holdsworth released the Sand album. During the same year Holdsworth renewed his musical collaboration with Gordon Beck, recording the duo's third album With a Heart in My Song after an eight-year gap.

In 1992, Holdsworth set up his own recording studio — The Brewery — in San Diego, Californiamarker. This would become the recording location of all of his studio albums for the next decade from 1993's Hard Hat Area up until 1999's The Sixteen Men of Tain. In 2005, however, Holdsworth stated in an interview that he no longer owned the studio following his divorce in 1999.

At this point, Holdsworth gained a new regular band collaborator in keyboard player Steve Hunt.

Work in the 1990s (including Level 42)

In 1990, Holdsworth played at a series of concerts at Hammersmith Odeonmarker, London as guest guitarist for pop band Level 42 after their own guitarist (Alan Murphy, himself heavily inspired by Holdsworth's playing) had died of AIDS-related pneumonia earlier in the year. Holdsworth's former IOU partner Gary Husband was by now Level 42's drummer. These factors led to Holdsworth playing much of the lead guitar on Level 42's 1991 album Guaranteed. Holdsworth was apparently willing to join the band permanently - and was definitely the first choice of the remaining band members - but due to a misunderstanding with Level 42 leader Mark King (who assumed that Holdsworth wasn't interested) this did not happen and Holdsworth returned to his solo/bandleading career.

1992's Wardenclyffe Tower continued to feature the Synthaxe, but also displayed Holdsworth's new interest in self-designed baritone electric guitars (built by luthier Bill DeLap). 1994's Hard Hat Area featured the latest Holdsworth band lineup - Gary Husband, Steve Hunt and Icelandic bassist Skull Sverrisson).

In 1996 Holdsworth collaborated with brothers Anders and Jens Johansson on the release of the experimental, fusion-laden Heavy Machinery. In the same year, Holdsworth recorded None Too Soon, a fusion-based interpretation of various popular jazz standards, on which he once again collaborated with Gordon Beck.

In 1999, Holdsworth released another album The Sixteen Men of Tain

Holdsworth in the 2000s

For the 2000s, Holdsworth abruptly slowed down his solo output due to events within his personal life. Two live albumsAll Night Wrong and Then!—were released in 2002 and 2004, respectively, along with a double album, The Best of Allan Holdsworth: Against the Clock, in 2005 (the latter being a greatest hits compilation). His tenth studio album, Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie (2001), remains his most recent effort as of 2009.

Throughout the latter half of the decade he has been touring both North America and Europe extensively, and has played as a guest on albums by other artists: most notably with former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian on Mythology (2004) and Quantum (2007); the latter with Sherinian's progressive metal band Planet X. A new studio album entitled Snakes and Ladders was slated for a 2008 release on guitarist Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, but so far this has not come about. Further new material featuring Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Johnson was also said to be in the works.

From 2006 onwards, Holdsworth has been part of a live tribute act in honour of late drummer Tony Williams; consisting of pianist Alan Pasqua, Chad Wackerman, and bassist Jimmy Haslip. The quartet have released material in the form of a live DVD (Live at Yoshi's) and a double album (Blues for Tony) in 2007 and 2009, respectively. During 2009, Holdsworth has been touring with drummers Terry Bozzio and Pat Mastelloto, bassist Tony Levin, as well as performing worldwide with his own familiar trio of Wackerman and Johnson.

Compositions and style

Holdsworth's solo compositions are primarily instrumental, but vocals were prominent on all his 1980s albums except Sand (1987), and on the 1992 album Wardenclyffe Tower. Two of his most recurring singers were Paul Williams (featured on three albums) and Rowanne Mark (two albums). Additionally, he himself sang on Igginbottom's Wrench and The Things You See.

He has a unique playing style that involves a strong scalar sense, combining elements of jazz and progressive rock. His phrasing almost always features striking yet subtle shifts between notes that are both consonant and dissonant, with wide and unpredictable intervallic leaps. Whilst soloing, he predominantly uses various legato techniques such as slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs (including a specialised variation of the latter, which works more akin to a 'reversed' hammer-on), all of which result in an extremely fluid lead tone.

One of his most identifiable traits is his use of densely layered, fingerpicked chords, which are often awash with delay, chorus and other complex effects, and articulated using volume swells to create sounds reminiscent of the horn and saxophone. He has said that he once preferred those instruments to the guitar, having been influenced greatly by such saxophonists as John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. At the same time, some of his favourite guitarists were Django Reinhardt, Joe Pass, Charlie Christian and Hank Marvin.

On his 1986 release, Atavachron, Holdsworth first recorded with the SynthAxe; a fretted, guitar-like MIDI controller with a tube that dynamically alters note volume and tone via breathing (similar to a talk box). Although he has used the SynthAxe on all his solo releases since Atavachron, and still enjoys using it in the studio, he says he no longer wishes to make it such an integral part of his playing (especially live), mainly because of it being so rare and difficult to maintain and repair.


Studio albums

Live albums

Collaboration albums

Other album appearances

VHS video releases

  • 1992: REH Instructional: Allan Holdsworth (guitar instructional, reissued on DVD format in 2007)
  • 1997: Drums & Improvisation – Gary Husband (Holdsworth is interviewed and contributes to three songs)

DVD video releases

  • 2002: Live at the Galaxy Theater
  • 2005: Carvin: 60 Years in the Making (features an extended interview with Holdsworth, amongst others)
  • 2006: Rock Goes to College – Bruford
  • 2007: Allan Holdsworth and Alan Pasqua featuring Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Haslip: Live at Yoshi's (live tribute performance to Tony Williams)


  • Transcriptions and sheet music.
  • Transcriptions, sheet music and accompanying CD.
  • Reference tables, diagrams.

Personal life

He has lived in California permanently since the early 1980s, and often mentions cycling as one of his favourite pastimes. He is also a keen aficionado of beer (having brewed his own during the late 1990s), with a particular fondness for Northern English ales.


An inductee of Guitar Player Magazine's Hall of Fame, Holdsworth is a five-time winner in their readers' poll. Musician Magazine placed Holdsworth near the top of their “100 greatest guitarists of all time.”


  1. Prasad, Anil (1993-01-15). " Creating imaginary backdrops". Innerviews. Retrieved on 2008-11-3.
  2. Obrecht, Jas (April 1980). " Young Wizard of Power Rock". Guitar Player. Retrieved on 2007-11-30.
  3. Prasad, Anil (2008). " Harnessing momentum". Innerviews. Retrieved on 2009-08-06.
  4. Mulhern, Tom (December 1982). " A Style Apart". Guitar Player. Retrieved on 2009-08-07.
  5. Morrison, Mike (2006-02-09). " Allan Holdsworth Interview". Retrieved on 2008-11-03.
  6. Hallebeek, Richard (2003). " Allan Holdsworth interview". Retrieved on 2009-08-06.
  7. Adelson, Steve (2000-09-01). " Interview with Allan Holdsworth". Twentieth Century Guitar. Retrieved on 2009-08-07.
  8. Hallebeek, Richard (1996-05-11). " Allan Holdsworth interview". Retrieved on 2009-08-06.
  9. Ablx Staff (2004-08-19). " Allan Holdsworth Interview (#15)". Abstract Logix. Retrieved on 2009-08-06.

External links

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