So what’s the secret behind Allan Holdsworth?

WesDocJimi

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,565
I've had the chance to meet some of my jazz/rock heroes, and I always tried to ask a polite version of this question – how did fusion go from the most creative electric music in the world to Please Hold, Your Call Is Being Directed? – and you know what they all said, every one of them?

Head Hunters. That damn Herbie Hancock album Head Hunters.

Now, they're all quick to add, it's NOT that Head Hunters itself is bad. It's actually better than you might remember. "Chameleon" and "Watermelon Man" get all the airplay, but "Sly" and especially "Vein Melter" are some hip s**t. Killer band, too. And, of course, lots of real funk is brilliant stuff, from its early geniuses (late Hendrix, early Funkadelic, James Brown, Sly, Shuggie Otis) to more straightahead danceable stuff like late-’70s Parliament and Earth Wind & Fire. The problem was, as ever, the money. Head Hunters went to #13 on the Billboard album chart (not the jazz chart, the overall album chart), spent 47 weeks in the top 100, and quite quickly sold a million copies, which no jazz record had ever done in 1974.

So, suddenly, jazz-rock fusion, this hyper-ambitious music which labels were largely content to produce on the cheap and still make a tidy profit on (the musicians were so incredibly good that you could book them a week in any decent studio, and you'd get an album), was besieged with cokehead A&R men asking everybody, "Why can't you make Head Hunters? You need to make a groovy, relaxing album like Head Hunters. Nobody wants this sophisticated ****. They want mellow, funky vibes. Give us that, we'll triple your advance."

And you can hear it, even among the best of the best: there's suddenly a curious, odd-time version of funk on Mahavishnu Orchestra's mark II albums, the ones with Narada Michael Walden, Jean-Luc Ponty, et al. Stanley Clarke makes School Days. Ponty himself tries to get funky, with often-disastrous results. Perhaps my favorite example is Return to Forever, because Chick was a hero and didn't take s**t: you can hear some funk creeping into Where Have I Known You Before? and No Mystery, the early Di Meola albums, but they're not RTF's best, so Chick clearly said "to hell with this" and made Romantic Warrior, perhaps the most complex, multi-layered, compositionally-intense, and conspicuously un-mellow album in all of first-wave fusion.

Weather Report was kind of the outlier here, because they were way into contemporary black pop already, and this was right around the time they introduced the world to Jaco Pastorius, who had very deep funk and R&B roots already. They could keep doing what they did, keep evolving naturally, and still stumble into a massive hit like "Birdland" every so often. But for almost everybody else, the record label push to get groovy and make some damn money was devastating ... and then, of course, as audiences aged and the ’80s came around, the labels didn't even want "jazz-funk" or "funk fusion" anymore, they wanted that accursed pseudo-genre, smooth jazz. What a grim, grim decade for the legends of fusion. Either they spun off into completely different directions, like McLaughlin with his Indian and acoustic stuff, or they ended up making hot-tub ballads for Skinemax softcore. God, it hurts to watch a true genius like George Duke singing "Sweet Baby" to a crowd of horny 65-year-old receptionists, but that was how you kept a record deal in 1984. They even had Miles Davis covering Cyndi Lauper. If that's not demonic, I don't know what is.

But, thank god, the original fusion masterpieces kept reappearing among younger generations, and guys like Shawn Lane, Jonas Hellborg, Scott Henderson, Allan Holdsworth himself (though always an outlier, of course), Victor Wooten, David Fiuczynski, Guthrie Govan, et al, started making their own fusion-inspired music. (You ever heard Michael Shrieve's double album Two Doors, where the first disc, "Deep Umbra," is a trio with him, Lane, and Hellborg? Oh my GOD.) That, in turn, led to a fusion revival among the people who'd invented it, and we got some great later-career work from its pioneers, especially Chick Corea once the Elektric Band broke out of the Smoothness Dungeon. I personally think his 2000s fusion trilogy of To the Stars, The Ultimate Adventure, and The Vigil stands right up there with RtF, and the Corea/McLaughlin Five Peace Band, while perhaps not the utter masterpiece it could've been, is still well worth your time.
Cindy Lauper is great!
 

Mikhael

Member
Messages
3,709
Both Allan and John McLaughlin agreed their music was "Fusion", although they both decried the watered-down version of it that apparently wandered aimlessly through the 80s.

In that GP article, where they had comments by other guitarists sprinkled throughout, it was pretty telling that the most common comment seemed to center around "...But I don't know WHAT he's doing!"

I'd only met the man once, at a gig here in Austin, but he was quite easygoing and congenial. When his death was announced, I felt it like few others (Chris Squire was in that small group). He was someone who touched me personally through his music, and that was no small feat. He should have been more well-known.
 

Matt Sarad

Member
Messages
1,042
I heard Holdsworth the first time in December of 1976. The Tony Williams Lifetime album with Fred.
Changed my musical world completely.
 

tribalfusion

Member
Messages
7,667
It’s just a matter of how one defines fusion. I personally define it somewhat narrowly as a blend of jazz and rock of a particular style, and Allan doesn’t fit my definition. If fusion is defined more broadly, then a lot more music fits the definition, including Allan’s music. Regardless of the definition, perhaps we can agree that Allan’s music was pretty unique.


Allan's music was extraordinarily unique and we definitely agree on that.

However I think that a guy whose father/grandfather was a jazz pianist and his mentor and whose early associations are a who's who of British modern jazz and fusion (like Gordon Beck, John Stevens, Ray Warleigh and Ian Carr) and whose cited favorite players were almost all jazz and fusion musicians (Coltrane, McLaughlin, Brecker etc) whom he continued to cite right up until his death fits fine under the umbrella. He also notably employed top level jazz fusion musicians exclusively to play his music (which was full of improvisation).

Sure, he also had other influences and his own personal approach. But that's hardly incompatible with being a jazz fusion musician. It's also true of John McLaughlin, Dave Liebman, Scott Henderson, Mike Brecker, Ralph Towner and Chick Corea and others to varying degrees. That's what jazz fusion is supposed to be.


Let's see what Allan himself had to say:

"When people mention the word ‘jazz' I think of it as music that's harmonic, melodic, rhythmic and a vehicle for improvisation. And that's it: it's not a particular form of music"

"Our music has some elements of jazz and rock, but we try not be overly tricky."




And look at this conversation between Allan and Jimmy Johnson:


Johnson is seeing the bigger picture; it's been a long four days. "You know, this is jazz, man, it's jazz."

"Yeah," smiles Holdsworth
as he picks himself up and heads for the loo, "but they'll still never play it anyway"

 

NitroLiq

Member
Messages
1,569
For as much as he's lauded over harmonic complexity, chords, outside solos, stretching, etc., even the less technical aspects of his playing can be influential. I remember an old Interview from Alex Lifeson, probably from GFTPM magazine back in the '80s, where he mentioned Allan's strong influence, particularly with the way he used the twang bar. IIRC, it was in reference to Moving Pictures, like the solo to Limelight. He was a big fan of Allen's playing with Bruford and UK.
 

aquanaut

Member
Messages
740
Allan most certainly was a fusion musician with a huge interest and background in jazz more broadly. The fact that he was an incredibly creative and singular fusion musician doesn't take away from that in the slightest.

Moreover, every musician in Allan's bands was a fusion musician from Vinnie to Chad to Gary Husband to Jimmy Haslip to Kei Akagi to Steve Hunt to Jeff Berlin to Gary Willis to Virgil Donati to Joel Taylor to Dave Carpenter and on and on.

It would be an incredible sort of revisionism to pretend that Allan was not a fusion and modern jazz musician albeit an incredibly creative and idiosyncratic one who spawned a legion of imitators.
It’s just a matter of how one defines fusion. I personally define it somewhat narrowly as a blend of jazz and rock of a particular style, and Allan doesn’t fit my definition. If fusion is defined more broadly, then a lot more music fits the definition, including Allan’s music. Regardless of the definition, perhaps we can agree that Allan’s music was pretty unique.
Back in the mid 70s and 80s I was in Los Angeles quite often, as well as the Gulf Coast. I had a lot of opportunities to hear live music, especially in LA. A lot of the studio guys like Carlton, Ritenour, had bands that played the clubs around LA. I also met Holdsworth around that time.
A funny thing about the term "Fusion".
Most of the people playing that style of music (if there is such a thing), didn't like to be referred to as a Fusion musician. The Jazz audience would ignore those players, as well as the Rock audiences. To them, "fusion" was some kind of half-breed relative that no one wanted to listen to. The "Fusion" players realized how prejudicial the term could be and how it would limit their record sales and audience attendance. So, they preferred other terms like Progressive Rock or Jazz Rock or other such monikers.
Allan told me he thought that Fusion, as most people thought of it, didn't have anything to do with what he was playing.
 

tribalfusion

Member
Messages
7,667
Back in the mid 70s and 80s I was in Los Angeles quite often, as well as the Gulf Coast. I had a lot of opportunities to hear live music, especially in LA. A lot of the studio guys like Carlton, Ritenour, had bands that played the clubs around LA. I also met Holdsworth around that time.
A funny thing about the term "Fusion".
Most of the people playing that style of music (if there is such a thing), didn't like to be referred to as a Fusion musician. The Jazz audience would ignore those players, as well as the Rock audiences. To them, "fusion" was some kind of half-breed relative that no one wanted to listen to. The "Fusion" players realized how prejudicial the term could be and how it would limit their record sales and audience attendance. So, they preferred other terms like Progressive Rock or Jazz Rock or other such monikers.
Allan told me he thought that Fusion, as most people thought of it, didn't have anything to do with what he was playing.


Jazz rock and jazz fusion are virtually interchangeable and have been used that way for decades. Holdsworth grew up with, learned from, played with and admired jazz and jazz fusion (or jazz rock) musicians to a huge degree.

Whether it was useful to be known as this or that specific thing at any particular point in time is a slightly different question but ultimately there's no question that Allan's place and where he fits best, is with people like John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Scott Henderson, Joe Zawinul, Ralph Towner, Vinnie Colaiuta, Gary Husband, Steve Topping etc more than it is anywhere else.

Again, more from Allan himself:

"People think of jazz as a specific form of music, while to me it's just the opposite. Jazz is something that's constantly changing. Its sole purpose is to let people improvise, to let them solo differently each time they play. And that's always been what I like best."


And when asked specifically about fusion, Allan and McLaughlin were interviewed in Guitar Player together in October 2005 and they said this:


MCLAUGHLIN: I'm quite happy with that label, so if you want to call me a fusion musician, that's fine with me.

HOLDSWORTH: It's actually fine with me, too.
 

TrueFifth

Member
Messages
947
Back in the mid 70s and 80s I was in Los Angeles quite often, as well as the Gulf Coast. I had a lot of opportunities to hear live music, especially in LA. A lot of the studio guys like Carlton, Ritenour, had bands that played the clubs around LA. I also met Holdsworth around that time.
A funny thing about the term "Fusion".
Most of the people playing that style of music (if there is such a thing), didn't like to be referred to as a Fusion musician. The Jazz audience would ignore those players, as well as the Rock audiences. To them, "fusion" was some kind of half-breed relative that no one wanted to listen to. The "Fusion" players realized how prejudicial the term could be and how it would limit their record sales and audience attendance. So, they preferred other terms like Progressive Rock or Jazz Rock or other such monikers.
Allan told me he thought that Fusion, as most people thought of it, didn't have anything to do with what he was playing.

Jazz rock and jazz fusion are virtually interchangeable and have been used that way for decades. Holdsworth grew up with, learned from, played with and admired jazz and jazz fusion (or jazz rock) musicians to a huge degree.

Whether it was useful to be known as this or that specific thing at any particular point in time is a slightly different question but ultimately there's no question that Allan's place and where he fits best, is with people like John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Scott Henderson, Joe Zawinul, Ralph Towner, Vinnie Colaiuta, Gary Husband, Steve Topping etc more than it is anywhere else.

Again, more from Allan himself:

"People think of jazz as a specific form of music, while to me it's just the opposite. Jazz is something that's constantly changing. Its sole purpose is to let people improvise, to let them solo differently each time they play. And that's always been what I like best."


And when asked specifically about fusion, Allan and McLaughlin were interviewed in Guitar Player together in October 2005 and they said this:


MCLAUGHLIN: I'm quite happy with that label, so if you want to call me a fusion musician, that's fine with me.

HOLDSWORTH: It's actually fine with me, too.

Allan probably had different opinions about labels of his music at different times.

I don't think we need to argue about what label is best or what Allan would agree with, it also depends what constellation he was in, and what time in his career looked at.

But, I will again point to Rick Beato - when he uses 'Holdsworthian' as a description - that's the one I think should be used about Allan Holdsworth.

"Holdsworthian Music" ! :phones
 

tribalfusion

Member
Messages
7,667
Allan probably had different opinions about labels of his music at different times.

I don't think we need to argue about what label is best or what Allan would agree with, it also depends what constellation he was in, and what time in his career looked at.

But, I will again point to Rick Beato - when he uses 'Holdsworthian' as a description - that's the one I think should be used about Allan Holdsworth.

"Holdsworthian Music" ! :phones

The point I'm making is that Allan, as gloriously individual as he was, does have a center of gravity and it was in the world of jazz fusion and modern jazz more broadly. He was widely known as a jazz fusion musician and even directly stated that he was fine with being called that in the interview I cited with John McLaughlin. All of the musicians in his band were jazz fusion musicians for decades.

That doesn't mean he was just another random jazz fusion musician but that's the general area in which he shared the most overlap with others.

It's bizarre to me the degree to which certain posters seem committed to a kind of historical revisionism where this is concerned and seem at pains to separate Allan from fusion while also taking cheap shots at the genre itself.
 
Messages
2,344
Damn, all this time I thought Headhunters was a great album. Live and learn...

It is a good album! It's not that the music is bad, it's that record executives and A&R men saw a certain kind of crossover jazz selling millions of copies and spending a year on the Billboard album chart, and suddenly, they wanted the same s**t out of everybody. Nothing wrong with Head Hunters; plenty wrong with trying to force lukewarm "funk" vamps on geniuses with something else to say.
 

GT3

Member
Messages
2,405
I don't mind Allan being called a fusion guy (because his music incorporated elements of jazz and rock). I just personally don't put him in my fusion box, because, for me, his music is so unique and the emotional textures have a different feel from what I think of as fusion emotional textures.
 

Ed DeGenaro

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
26,045
It is a good album! It's not that the music is bad, it's that record executives and A&R men saw a certain kind of crossover jazz selling millions of copies and spending a year on the Billboard album chart, and suddenly, they wanted the same s**t out of everybody. Nothing wrong with Head Hunters; plenty wrong with trying to force lukewarm "funk" vamps on geniuses with something else to say.
How does that work, the only Jazz album that outsold Headhunters is Kind Of Blue...this album set the bar for the genre.
There was nothing wrong with Fusion in the early 70s. It's when it became elevator music in the late 70s/early 80s
 

aquanaut

Member
Messages
740
Jazz rock and jazz fusion are virtually interchangeable and have been used that way for decades. Holdsworth grew up with, learned from, played with and admired jazz and jazz fusion (or jazz rock) musicians to a huge degree.

Whether it was useful to be known as this or that specific thing at any particular point in time is a slightly different question but ultimately there's no question that Allan's place and where he fits best, is with people like John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Scott Henderson, Joe Zawinul, Ralph Towner, Vinnie Colaiuta, Gary Husband, Steve Topping etc more than it is anywhere else.

Again, more from Allan himself:

"People think of jazz as a specific form of music, while to me it's just the opposite. Jazz is something that's constantly changing. Its sole purpose is to let people improvise, to let them solo differently each time they play. And that's always been what I like best."


And when asked specifically about fusion, Allan and McLaughlin were interviewed in Guitar Player together in October 2005 and they said this:


MCLAUGHLIN: I'm quite happy with that label, so if you want to call me a fusion musician, that's fine with me.

HOLDSWORTH: It's actually fine with me, too.
Here are the two lines from that interview immediately before the lines you quoted:

MCLAUGHLIN: It wasn't until the '80s that I realized just how unbelievable the '60s were. There was a global explosion in music that had no precedent, and the world was changed as a consequence. By the mid '70s, music had become big business, and record companies were making a lot of money, which lead to marketing labels such as "classic jazz" and "jazz-fusion."

HOLDSWORTH: "Fusion" was actually a good word to describe music that combines a lot of genres, but it came to represent something that's not so good-which is a drag, because there's nothing wrong with the word. Now when somebody asks me what I think of fusion music, instead of saying what I want to say about the word, I think of it as "everything you've ever heard before again."


Allan told me he thought that Fusion, as most people thought of it, didn't have anything to do with what he was playing.

My point was, Fusion became a sales gimmick, a record label term and a moniker for anything that couldn't simply be called "Rock" or Jazz".
I spoke to a lot of the studio guys playing LA during the time I mentioned in my post. They didn't like the term because it was starting to represent a type of music sometimes called "Smooth Jazz" among other things. It pigeonholed them into a category that could either help them financially or ruin their reputation.
Another thing I'll mention is, I don't hear Rock guitar playing styles in either Holdsworth or McLaughlin's playing. Just using a loud amp with distortion and other effects doesn't equal "Rock", even if the tone is similar. Neither one of them play Rock Licks. There are some guys who DO use Rock influences like Mike Stern, John Scofield, Bill Connors, etc.
As well, a Rock Guitarist who incorporates some jazzy sounding modes and chord changes isn't a "Jazz Rock" player. He is a Rock Player with some Jazz influences.

It's bizarre to me the degree to which certain posters seem committed to a kind of historical revisionism where this is concerned and seem at pains to separate Allan from fusion while also taking cheap shots at the genre itself.
I'm certainly not doing that, Allan and John are major influences of mine and remain inspirational to me even today.
But that term "Fusion" became a tag that a lot of players didn't want back then. I was there, I remember.
Sure, times have changed and today maybe the term gains more respect among people. But back then, it was almost the same as calling someone a Muzak Artist.
 
Messages
2,344
How does that work, the only Jazz album that outsold Headhunters is Kind Of Blue...this album set the bar for the genre.
There was nothing wrong with Fusion in the early 70s. It's when it became elevator music in the late 70s/early 80s

Kind of Blue has outsold Head Hunters NOW. That wasn't the case in the mid-’70s, when HH was far and away the top-selling jazz album of all time.

But you're making the same point as I am: jazz/rock, "fusion," whatever, produced lots of astonishing music, and it's still a very viable genre with lots of people doing interesting stuff. I'm simply saying that quite a few musicians from the 1970s have told me that Head Hunters inadvertently helped to kill the genre, because it made so much money that every label started pressuring its jazz-rock acts to make "something funky, like Head Hunters."

Incidentally, I've heard from somebody who worked with Herbie Hancock that it had very much the same effect on Herbie himself. Now don't get me wrong, Herbie is one of the greatest living geniuses of music, but apparently having hits (both HH and, later on, "Rockit") was terrible for him psychologically, and he's been obsessed with recreating the same kind of success ever since, which is how you get one of the 2 or 3 greatest pianists of all time selling his Christina Aguilera duets in Starbucks. Depressing, man.
 
Last edited:

p.j.

Member
Messages
5,720
It's a bit narrow that everything has to commercially viable or swing, no? What up with your immense negativity? If you don't dig some one cool, but the constant belittling? Is that why you keep deleting your posts?
I'm good with your cranky outlook but come on let the dead rest.

As for "couldn't pick up a regular guitar much less an acoustic..."

The Gordon Beck records I have where Holdsworth plays with a clean tone are the ones my wife likes.
 

p.j.

Member
Messages
5,720
One of the side-effects of getting into Allan is it can make more typical jazz fusion sound pedestrian and trite.

At least that’s how I feel when I compare say, Bill Connors or Gambale’s 80s work to Allan’s.
I actually like Bill Connors' 80's work. He was like a bluesy AH and his rhythm section was phenomenal. I also like Bill's work with RTF and his solo acoustic work on E.C.M.
 




Trending Topics

Top Bottom