Alphonso Johnson is an American bass player. He discovered Allan in London while a member of Chuck Mangione's band. He recommended Allan to Tony Williams. He would also play bass on the "Velvet Darkness" album.
His next big step was when drummer John Marshall got him his first major gig, with Soft Machine: "It was all down to playing; if I hadn't just kept playing I wouldn't have got half the gigs I did. Derek Wadsworth, the trombone player, told John Hiseman about me and that got me the gig with Tempest. Another time I had to sit in for Chuck Mangione at Ronnie Scott's - Chuck was ill; it was after I'd come back from my first stint in America - and Alphonso Johnson was on bass. Alphonse new [sic] that Tony Williams was looking for a guitarist for his band Lifetime, and because of that stand-in session he put my name forward and Tony asked if I'd like to go back to the States and join his band." Allan moved to California in the early eighties and has remained a resident since.
How did you originally become a member of “The New Tony Williams' Lifetime?”
I was playing at Ronny Scott's club one day with a friend of mine named Pat Spive, who is no longer with us. Chuck Mangione and his band were also playing there at the time. Chuck Mangione got sick while he was in London, and my friend Pat was sitting in for him while he recovered. Pat mentioned me to the guys in the band, and they asked me if I wanted to sit in with them. It seems like this is a strange way for things to happen, but this is exactly what happened. When the band went home to the States, Tony Williams ran into the bass player Alphonso Johnson. Tony said that he was going to put a new band together, and he was looking for a guitar player. Alphonso just said: “There's this English guy I just played with, and you ought to give him a try.” And that's what happened.
MP: You did some things with CTI you mentioned, the Velvet Darkness album…
AH: Yeah that was a big rip off, a big disaster in my whole – and it haunts me to this day – the guy basically said I could record with whoever I wanted to and I got Alan Pasqua, Alphonso Johnson, Michael Walden and I thought wow, this going to be great, but we were rehearsing in this studio and they just recorded the rehearsing, we never actually got to record the tracks – they just recorded the rehearsals and that was it. When we said like, Isn't it time we did those tracks? Again, you know? No that was it. So it was a real disaster album then and it's an even bigger disaster now because the new album Secrets, the last album, was on Enigma, which was bought by Capitol, and now that album is no longer available, but- ! Of course you can find the old CTI album on Sony CBS which is, makes me want to give it, just quit on the spot. How do you deal with that?
Upon returning to the states, Johnson heard that Tony Williams was putting a new band together and remembered the British guitarist he had played with one night at Ronnie Scott's. He recommended Holdsworth to Williams, which led to the fateful phone call. “Tony asked me to come to Sweden to join him for a recording,” he recalls. “There was Jack Bruce on bass, Webster Lewis on organ and Tequila, who was Tony's girlfriend at the time, was singing on it. We recorded a bunch of Tony's tunes there, but I don't think the album ever came out.”
Once more fate intervened. A chance sit-in gig at Ronnie Scott's for a sick Chuck Mangione resulted in Alphonso Johnson, his bass-player, reporting back to Tony Williams in the States that he had discovered an amazing new English guitarist.
A better clue to Holdsworth's ultimate intentions came when George Benson and Joe Farrell became goggle-eyed by him at a Manhattan club and dragged CTI president Creed Taylor down to hear. The resulting 1975 LP Velvet Darkness, felicitously matched Allan with the tasteful but ennervated Alphonso Johnson and Narada Michael Walden; though all too short, it is one of Holdsworth's best early dates, ablaze with Hendrixian fission, virtuoso precision and genuine emotion.