Influential Guitarist Allan Holdsworth died earlier this week at the age of 70 from a heart attack in his Vista, California home. His former manager Leonarde Pavkovic said the cause of death was from a heart attack. He will be greatly missed.
Known for ahead of his time jazz guitar prowess, Allan had the attention of many other guitarists. Eddie Van Halen who is credited for breaking Allan as a solo artist, lauded him as one of the greatest guitarists of all time because of his unique experimental style. Although being one of the most technical and exploratory with his approach he never seemed to catch a major following of fans. Some believe it is a result of his inability to break from his own artistic vision, which led to him leaving bands like Tony Williams Lifetime, U.K. and Soft Machine after surprisingly short stints. Skipping out before the bands he had committed to grew to greatness, fueled his cult following of devoted fans. He fought the mold, stayed true to himself and continued to release cutting edge music that incorporated his signature SynthAxe that was used in all of his albums even recently.
Born and raised in Bradford, England he was raised by his grand parents, one of which was an amateur jazz pianist. Being exposed to artists such as a Cole Train who he quoted as one of his greatest influences, fostered an appreciation of jazz and its roots. Because his grandparents couldn’t afford any other instruments he was left with only one option, play the acoustic guitar, which he did, practicing hours and hours honing his master craft.
Never strumming the guitar, only plucking strings added to the complexity of his signature style. He did this because he didn’t enjoy the percussive sound generated form strumming he preferred the soft and smooth sounds of wind instruments and worked to emulate it and he did.
In the 60s local artists started to notice and by the end of the decade he had moved to London and started working with ‘Igginbottom. In 1972 it was Tempest followed the year after by an invitation to play with Soft Machine a rock ensemble. He later jumped to Tony Williams band, which is recognized as one of the first jazz-rock fusion bands. He would last only two albums with the group. 1976 would mark the year he released his first solo project L.O.U. which was considered a commercial failure. By the 80s he had established a reputation of excellence and was retile noticed by bands and other musicians leading him to the all-star lineup of the band U.K. and Gong.
After not finding a lasting gig that he wanted he ended up in California where Guitarist Eddie Van Halen heard him and signed him with Warner. To the dismay of Eddie Allan’s reluctantness to change artistically resulted in Warner his dropping him after releasing only one record. Despite being dropped Allan had built enough to pursue his solo career that would last for the next thirty years.
His technical jazz expertise and the introduction of the SynthAxe to his solo albums would define his career. The SynthAxe was a breath controller that when activated created a horn like inflection.
His legacy as a guitarist is as distinctive as his sound and will live on forever as his own.