Humble guitar master Allan Holdsworth always struggles to pay the rent

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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?”

To hear the audio of my interviews with Allan Holdsworth from 1983 and 1986 subscribe to my PATREON page, where you can also eavesdrop on my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1995
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001
…with hundreds more to come

3 thoughts on “Humble guitar master Allan Holdsworth always struggles to pay the rent

  1. I get it! You can’t be an artist, create things as you want them to be for a large record company who’s interest is only to line their own pockets and take the lion’s share to boot.

    And Allan wasn’t willing to kneel at the alter of rock n roll! “Making it” in music has nothing to do with how good you are, which is counter to just about any other profession.

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