One of my friends said at the beginning of this year: “this is the year of the deaths of the semi-famous people”. It is sadly confirmed by the death of Allan Holdsworth. He’s the typical musicians who is well-known by critics and experts but hardly known by the more general public. Sadly. Perhaps if you’re a guitarist, amateur or not, you might know him by his signature guitar, the Carvin Holdsworth.
I first heard about Holdsworth from the words Frank Zappa said about him:
“Well, there’s one other guy whose work I know who should be included in that list who I respect and that’s Allan Holdsworth”
As a fervid Zappa fan, I hurried to listen to some of this guitarist music. I discovered that he actually was already in some bands that I had been listening before already; namely, Soft Machine, Gong and the Bill Bruford’s band.
I name mostly the rock bands he was in as I am a rock listener, primarly. I admit that his style way too jazzy for my understanding, thus I limted myself to his more accessible, to my ears, moments.
Contrarily to most guitarists of his time, and a tad similarly to the most jazz moments of Zappa’s, his playing style wasn’t to impress, wasn’t to shock nor to show off. He was like a saxophone player, an instrument he not incidentally knew to play too, using a guitar: flowing, smooth, virtuoso but never over-the-top with his skills. A joy to listen to.
His influence cannot be overstated. Even Scaruffi has him in high regard. Considering how stingy he usually is, that’s an achievement worth remembering now that he’s no more among us. As usual with the great guitarists, Holdsworth managed to play equally good anything from the boundaries of heavy metal till jazz, passing through classic rock, fusion and progressive, all at the same time gaining praise in from the great members of each genre.
His style wouldn’t have fit any big band, more vocal-oriented. He had to be in mostly instrumental-inclined bands, which relegated him to a much narrow audience. He knew it and notoriously said about his music:
“I don’t think everybody would like it, for sure. But if people got to hear it, if even 20% liked it, I would be really happy with that”
Wish there were more humble artists like him today. May your jam sessions be always fun Allan.