Nobody Could Shred It Like Allan Holdsworth

Got to say a few words about Allan Holdsworth, the legendary unsung Jazz-Rock guitar virtuoso who passed away on the weekend at the age of 70. For years Holdsworth was the popular but wrong answer to the trivia question “Who played lead guitar on Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man?” Holdsworth’s denials eventually overcame Donovan’s drug-addled recollections of the session, and it was only in the last 10 years or so that it was confirmed that the even more obscure session player Alan Parker played the guitar solo on that song.

We should have known better. It was a good solo, but it wasn’t Allan Holdsworth good. Holdsworth pushed the boundaries of the electric guitar much more than that, opening up a lot of new territory for others to enter. He was a guitarist’s guitarist. Frank Zappa once said Holdsworth deserved credit for “single-handedly re-inventing the electric guitar”. Other notables who put him at the top of the guitar heap included Carlos Santana, Tom Morello, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, John McLaughlin and George Benson.

Sponsored link (story continues below)

Morello, Van Halen and Satriani in particular made careers from adopting Holdsworth’s advanced Legato style on the guitar, where the left hand hammers-on or pulls-off notes instead of right-hand picking. Holdsworth himself once said that in his heart he always wanted to play a wind instrument, so he tried very hard to “make the guitar a non-percussive instrument”. But it wasn’t just fingering technique that made him stand out among the rest. His solos were based on scales that ran closer to Coltrane than to the blues scales, they just kept pushing and probing, further and further.

In the early Seventies Holdsworth hooked up with a few different fusion outfits, most notably Soft Machine. Check out his playing from a 1974 clip above, and try to keep your jaw from hitting the ground when he starts ripping his solo. He played a lot with Bill Bruford from Yes, and in the late Seventies formed the supergroup U.K. along with Bruford and former King Crimson bassist John Wetton. This is almost-forgotten Proggy heaven, check out Holdsworth’s brilliant inventive solo on “In The Dead Of The Night”.

This guy was so ego-free that he didn’t officially release an album under his own name until 1982, when he was 36 years old. All in all he ended up releasing 15 albums, the last one being Blues For Tony in 2010. Have a look at the clip below taken during that year’s tour. It’s almost as if his fingers got even faster the older he got. Allan Holdsworth was one of the all-time greats on electric guitar and should always be remembered that way.

Photo: The original uploader was Gm7b52001 at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *