Holdsworth never notched any hits on the pop charts a la “Jump” or “Panama,” given his proclivity toward instrumental jazz fusion—a genre marked by exotic scales and improvisation instead of accessible hooks, catchy vocals and repetition. Nevertheless, the English guru lived up to Van Halen’s gushing praise by turning the guitar universe inside-out with his astounding technique, lightning speed, and breathtaking originality.
In the 1970s Holdsworth honed his chops in terrific experimental trio Lifetime (with Tony Williams and Jack Bruce) and strengthened his stage legs on tour with Soft Machine. Then he bonded with Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson) and John Wetton (Asia, Uriah Heep) in the progressive rock all-star unit U.K and cut a joint LP (The Things You See) with piano great Gordon Beck.
The ‘80s saw Holdsworth collaborate with drummer Gary Husband and bassist Paul Carmichael in False Alarm (later rechristened I.O.U.) and issue the Ted Templeman (Van Halen)-produced (and Grammy-nominated) solo EP Road Games (1983).
Holdsworth’s been scorching strings ever since, recording one mind-blowing album after another in studios nicknamed “The Barge” and “The Brewery” and by flexing his fingers in concert clubs around the world. Scores of shredders (Carlos Santana, Tom Morello, Joe Satriani) now echo Van Halen’s superlative sentiments and credit Allan for his innovations and overall fret board wizardry.
Now Holdsworth’s taking a well-deserved break—and a backward glance over his shoulder—by teaming with Manifesto Records for his first-ever box set retrospective.
Available April 7, the cheekily-titled The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever: The Allan Holdsworth Collection gathers a dozen Holdsworth long-players into one titanic treasure trove. The eleven remastered studio albums span Allan’s most active years—from 1982’s electric I.O.U. through 2000’s stellar Sixteen Men of Tain—while lone archival concert disc Then! captures Holdsworth live in Tokyo circa 1990. Each album is bundled with the additional tracks added for special editions and Japanese pressings, along with eye-popping album artwork and meticulous liner notes.
Don’t despair if your budget won’t allow for so much Allan awesome at once: Manifesto is simultaneously releasing a two-disc “best of box” set that cherry picks favorites from the full-lengths. Named after the Sixteen Men of Tain song, Eidolon updates the 2005 “hits” compendium Against the Clock by culling ambassador selections from the remastered albums for the definitive aural Allan Holdsworth “spirit image.”
The 28-track digipak showcases at least two tunes apiece from exceptional entries like fusion masterpiece Metal Fatigue (1985), spaced-out Atavachron (1986), sensational Sand (1987) and Secrets (1989), the wicked Wardenclyffe Tower (1992), heavy-duty Hard Hat Area (1993), covers project None Too Soon (1996) and many more. There are plenty of high-velocity pieces performed by Holdsworth on his conventional guitars (Carvin, Ibanez, etc.) (“”Ruhkukah,” “Tokyo Dream,” “Nuages,” “Peril Premonition”) but just as many highlighting his skills on his headless Steinberger trans-tremolo and the otherworldly SynthAxe—an alien-shaped guitar MIDI controller that imbues notes with woodwind, brass, and violin-esque timbres (“Against the Clock,” “Pud Wud,” “Non-Brewed Condiment,” “Curves,” “Distance vs. Desire”).
A coterie of killer musical cohorts helped Holdsworth on his path to plectrum glory. Accordingly, the sets boast killer cameos by notable pianists and keyboardists Alan Pasqua (Tony Williams Lifetime), Billy Childs (Nat Adderly), and Steve Hunt (Stanley Clarke). Veteran bassists include Jeff Berlin (Pat Moraz, Bill Bruford), Gary Willis (Tribal Tech), Skuli Sverrisson (Laurie Anderson), Jimmy Johnson (James Taylor), and Paul Carmichael (IOU). Drum legends Gary Husband (Level 42, Robin Trower), Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Sting), Kirk Covington (Tribal Tech), Gary Novak (Chick Corea) and Chad Wackerman (Steve Vai, Andy Summers) provide potent percussion for Allan’s outlandish excursions. Guest singers include Naomi Star, Paul Williams (Tempest), and Jack Bruce (Cream).
The Man Who Changed Guitar… makes a perfect present for collectors and guitar-shredding braggadocios. Eidolon is the superlative Holdsworth survey—and a more practical Allan point-of-entry for newcomers.
Eidolon 2-CD set on Amazon
The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever 12-CD box set on Amazon