Eddie Van Halen on Allan Holdsworth: “…the best in the books. Holdsworth is so damned good that I can’t cop anything. I can’t understand what he’s doing.”
Steve Vai on Allan Holdsworth: “Allan Holdsworth’s unique contribution to the electric guitar is unquantifiable.”
Steve Lukather on Allan Holdsworth: “Allan Holdsworth, legendary guitarist of our generation — he changed the game!
Allan Holdsworth on Allan Holdsworth: “Thank you very much. But I always think that what I do is crummy anyway.”
Legendary guitarist Allan Holdsworth spent his life in pursuit of perfection — his definition of perfection. “I love music — really a lot. That’s why I do it. But mine just never makes it, to me,” confessed Allan. “There’s always something wrong with it, something I want to change. But I like that, because at least it keeps me looking, trying to find ways I can improve, which obviously are a lot.”
Allan was never satisfied with his music until — actually, there was no “until,” and that is the beauty of his approach to music. He was always looking for something new, the next step to move his music forward, leaving the rest of us tripping over ourselves to catch up. As a result, Allan humbly and unwittingly paved the way for countless contemporary jazz, rock, prog rock, and even metal guitarists.
What makes Allan’s accomplishments even more amazing, or truly aggravating, to the rest of us guitar mortals, is the fact that he didn’t particularly care for the guitar. Check out what he had to say when asked about his signature legatos:
In time, Allan found a way to play the “tool” he truly wanted to play. In the late ’80s, his family sold an apartment they owned in London, and Allan used the $10,000 to buy his first SynthAxe. By playing through a “breath-control tube,” Allan could channel the musical passion of his boyhood hero, John Coltrane.
The reason Allan was so critical of his own music was that there was only one person he was compelled to please, and his name was Allan. This insatiable desire to create music that was perfect in his own eyes gave him an incredible gift — unlimited creative freedom. Allan was never influenced by outside voices. The opinions of his peers didn’t phase him.
When Eddie Van Halen expressed his frustration that Allan wasn’t getting the attention he deserved because his music lacked “direction,” Allan refused to see it that way. “Maybe I need direction if they wanted to make me do something I didn’t want to do so I could make money, but that’s not what I’m in it for,” he said. “Obviously I want to make a living at it and make ends meet enough to be able to continue improving at this, but I think I have a good idea about exactly what I want to do.”
That’s not to say that Eddie didn’t get along with his guitar idol. Allan and Eddie got together several times for some of the best jam sessions never caught on film, but fortunately recorded as audio.
Any record company that tried to rein in Allan’s restless creativity fared no better. “I went to a meeting with a major label interested in me. And I couldn’t wait to get out of there, man,” remembered Allan. “The guy practically said that I was completely directionless, that he didn’t like anything I’d ever done since I’d started making my own albums and that they wanted me to use X musicians instead of Y musicians, and this producer, this engineer and this studio.” Needless to say, that album never happened.
Music was always the bottom line for Allan. Not technique. Not fame or fortune. But simply producing music that moves the listener. Music purely for music’s sake. “A lot of people in my audiences are either musicians or somehow connected to the business, simply because they’re the only ones who ever find out about this music,” Allan would say. “That’s sad to me, because the ultimate thing for me would be to reach someone who didn’t know anything about music at all, so they wouldn’t be watching your fingers and all but (rather) listening to it on a different, emotional level, where they just heard it and it meant something to them.”
And so Allan spent his life playing music for the sole purpose of pushing its limits. As a result, he almost single-handedly moved music forward. One step beyond airplay and popularity. One step beyond “because that’s how we’ve always done it.” One step beyond his own demanding expectations.
“I really love music, and I feel it’s a strange kind of language which almost in some ways is on a higher level than speech,” Allan said. “It feels to me that it has some cosmic force. Sometimes it feels like it’s connected with outside, like something else. I’m afraid I really can’t explain it without sounding like a true imbecile.” No Allan, you explained it perfectly.
While there is no way to totally repay Allan for all he has done for music, there is a small way we can all help. A GoFundMe fundraiser has been established to help Allan’s closest family (his daughters, Lynn, Emily, and Louise, and his son, Sam) pay for his funeral expenses. Your kind and generous contribution is more than welcome. If you’re interested, you can make your own donation here.