No Rearview Mirrors (20th Century Guitar 2007)
NO REARVIEW MIRRORS
20th Century Guitar Magazine July 2007
By Eric Paulos and Robert Silverstein
With a self-deprecating and dry sense of humor, along with his tireless devotion to forward forging inspiration, guitar icon Allan Holdsworth has been setting the bar for electric jazz-rock fusion for well over thirty years. Allan Holdsworth grew up in Bradford, England, and started playing guitar when he was 17. Allan's earliest recordings in the late '60s with bands such as Igginbottom's Wrench soon gave way to more avant-garde projects like Tempest and Soft Machine. Allan Would then join up with jazz drummer Tony Williams for two memorable albums, then record his first solo record, Velvet Darkness with Alan Pasqua, Alphonso Johnson and Narada Michael Walden. His journey would continue with jazz-violinist Jean Luc Ponty, then the Bill Bruford Band, prog-rock's U.K., and then the launching of Allan's own band, IOU. Answering the call as one of jazz-rock's most wanted guitarists, Alan would appear as a guest soloist on dozens of other artist's recordings. The past two years have given us some great recordings of both early and recent projects. The CD and DVD, Rock Goes to College (Winterfold) released in 2007, marks the 30th anniversary of the first Bruford band album, Feels Good to Me, reissued in 2005 by Winterfold. An excellent example of his early guitar wizardry, Floating World Live (Moonjune Records) commemorates Allan's Work on Soft Machine's 1975 Radio Bremen broadcast. Alternity Records has released Against The Clock, a 2-CD compilation of Allan's previously recorded guitar and Synth-axe tracks, Then!, a live recording from 1990 at Yoshi's in Japan, and Chris Hoard's Riptyde. Allan also supplies guitar tracks for Planet X's Quantum (2007-Inside Out Records) with keyboardist Derek Sherinian and sensation drummer Virgil Donati. TCG caught up with Allan, between tours, and this interview illustrates a musician with his vision forever planted in the future, never looking back.
TCG: Hey, it's great to hear your voice, AI.
AH: You too!
TCG: So what's going on, you just got back from Japan?
AH: Yeah, we did...I met and hooked up with this guy, Leonardo at Moonjune Records...
TCG: Oh yeah!
AH: Since hooked up with him, he's pretty much kept us busy. We did a tour... I'm actually working with two bands right now - my old band, with Jimmy Johnson and Chad Wackerman. Then I've been doing this thing with a co-op band with Alan Pasqua, myself, Jimmy Haslip and Chad Wackerman. So we did an East Coast tour with my band, Chad and Jimmy Johnson, and then we just went to Japan with the other band, Alan Pasqua, Jimmy Haslip and Chad and were going to Europe with that same band, actually, next week.
TCG: Wow, I've heard great things about your band, with Jimmy Johnson as far as gigs and acceptance.
AH: It's been really great to hook up with Jimmy and Chad again, because like when Chad moved to Australia, he was kind of gone, you know, And I've been playing with a couple of other people who are also really great players like Dave Carpenter on bass, and Gary Novak, the guys who played on Sixteen Men Of Tain. We did some touring with that band, and then some stuff with Joel Taylor and Ernest Tibbs. But then I managed to hook up again, when Chad moved back to the states, with Chad and Jimmy again, so it's been really great.
TCG: You have a new DVD out with the Alan Pascua-Allan Holdsworth project, AH: Yeah, if it hadn't been for the fact that the other guys, you know, I try to stay away from live recordings because every time hear myself just want to commit suicide (laughter). But the thing was, that the other guys were really into it so I went along with it (laughter), and it was done by this guy, Eric Dorris, who has this company called Altitude Digital.
TCG: Also, there are two more, while you're talking about live recordings hitting the street, from way, way, way back, I think Leonardo spoke with me about an old Soft Machine BBC show,
AH: Oh yeah, Live in Bremen something, Radio Bremen it was done in 1972 or something. (laughter)
TCG: Wow, oh my God! That is old, isn't it.
AH; That's so long ago, I don't even care! I haven't listened to that either,
TCG: (Laughter) Well, some people know you Al, and they know that you don't have rear view mirrors.
AH: No rear view Mirrors, like that one! (laughter)
TCG: You have a thing out with Derek Sherinian and Planet X. AH: Virgil Donati is an amazing drummer! Yeah, I did do something with Derek Sherinian and Virgil Donati. I'm not sure if it was a Planet X album or if it was Derek's solo album or if it was Virgil's album. I'm not sure where the tracks ended up but I did do a couple of tracks a year or so ago for Derek and then I just did a couple more for Virgil so I don't know which albums they're on or anything,
TCG: Okay, that's cool. Tell me, is it a 2-CD set called Then, that's all Synth Axe, or Just for the Curious? AH: No, it's called Against the Clock (Alternity Records).
TCG: That's the compilation.
AH: Yeah, it's a double CD. One of the discs has the majority of the guitar stuff on it and then the second disc is mostly Synth Axe but there are some guitar tracks on that side as well. We didn't have room for it on the other CD so we kind of put a couple of guitar tracks at the end of the Synth Axe side. I did an album of my own called Flat Tire. Flat Tire is just a single, it's not a double-album. It’s a single album and I did it right after my divorce. I didn't really have a full-on studio set up then so it was...I lost my studio in the process. I was just doing some stuff in this house that I rented in San Juan Capistrano. So a friend of mine had kind of commissioned me to do an album for him but unfortunately, I couldn't do it as a guitar album, so it ended up being a Synth Axe album,
TCG: Wow, so it was just kind of out of what you had available and what you could do best at the time.
AH: Yeah, and it was kind of like what I was feeling like at the time, too, which wasn't too good.... (laughter)
TCG: Well, divorces do that to us, Al, and we're all pretty human at heart. Do you still have the Oberheim modules?
AH: No, wow, this must be about twenty years ago now, when Synth Axe went out of business, I got really disappointed. I was really distressed about it because I was actually playing that more than I was playing the guitar and I did used to get a little bit afraid of it for that reason. I thought "Well, if this goes away and you focus on that and leave the guitar behind, then what's going to happen when this thing breaks and they don't make it anymore”. I did a stupid, impulsive thing, which is sold everything. I had two Synth Axes. I sold them both and I sold all my synthesizers and said "To hell with it! If they've gone away, what am I going to do? I didn't want to get stuck playing an antique," so I thought "Well, the guitar is calling my name again so get back to that!” So sold them and then about six months later, I was really having some serious withdrawal symptoms and really missed it, and then friend of mine worked at Guitar Center, and he told me about this guy who had a Synth Axe and was trying to sell it and so I called up the guy up and actually, I didn't have any money to buy it at the time. I traded him a couple of guitars for it so that's how l ended up with the Synth Axe that have now. So it doesn't go anywhere, it just stays in the studio. I just use it as a writing tool or for some soundscape stuff or whatever and I use it until it decides it doesn't want to wake up anymore and then that will be the end of that (laughter).
TCG: Allan, tell us the name of that module.
AH: Which module?
TCG: The Oberheim.
AH: Oh, I actually had three of them. I had two Matrix Twelves and had two Oberheim Expanders. It's the same synthesizer really, it’s just that the Twelve was a twelve-voice, The Expander was a six-voice, and I'm just going from memory now, and with the Twelve, there's twelve, obviously. It was like two Expanders in one box. Actually, Chad Wackerman still his ille of then. I cut the keyboard off because they didn't make a version of it that was, uh, without the keyboard, and I can't play keyboards, I would have needed a big, giant case for it, so I disconnected the keyboard and actually, literally, sawed the keyboard off and then put a piece of wood in the hole and then got a flight case made for that (laughter)! I think that Tom Oberheim got a kick out of that. "You sawed the keyboard off" (laughter)!
TCG: Well I think for a while, you were distributing the Juice Extractor under your own name, weren't you?
AH: Well, originally I think Rocktron licensed it for a while, the Juice Extractor, but then they discontinued it because one of the problems you had was that you actually changed the way that the load section was really responsible for the sound, so in my opinion, even though it was a great device, they never sounded as good as the ones I made myself. They discontinued it mostly because of people who don't know how to use things like that, and through misuse, it would blow up amplifiers, because if you don't think about what you're doing, you just plug an amplifier into it and turn it up to ten and then all of a sudden they wonder why their amp blows up, you know.
TCG: All I remember bout the Juice Extractor, other than your publishing notes about it, is that I can remember your kids coming out of the bathroom and complaining "Dad, you've taken the springs out of the bathroom heaters again!"
AH: All right, well that's a joke (laughter)! It was basically a Nichrome wire, which is a heating element, and that's what I used for the load, and for some reason because it has an inductance thing going for it, as opposed to a fixed resistor, they just don't sound the same, just really liked that so I just bought miles and miles of his healer coil from this company in Alabama and just started making those. I changed the name of it because I modified the circuit quite a lot and sold a few of them to a music store that my friend owns.
TCG: What was the new name?
AH: It was called a Harness.
TCG: The Harness, Okay, so if one shows up on Ebay or something like that...
AH: Yeah, the original one...there was two versions of it. The original one was only for master volumes. It didn't work with an amp without a master volume, you'd just kill it. It has tons of shorts in it, so anything with an open power section didn't like it at all, but anything with a master volume was usually pretty cool. I mean, I was really playing Boogies at the time, used to run my Rectifier into it and it sounded great.
TCG: And you used that coffin speaker configuration too.
AH: Oh, that was for, yeah, that was to save everybody in the neighborhood from being fried. (laughter) So basically, it was just an enclosed speaker cabinet, with you know. Just like a coffin with a speaker in the middle and a microphone in there, and you just close the lid and off you go - you don't annoy the neighbors. You know, it would be a great tool for a guy who lived in an apartment. You know, you could just stick it in a closet somewhere and you can record the guitar with a microphone without having to worry about, you know, demolishing the neighbors.
TCG: Are you still playing the Carvins?
AH: Yeah, oh yeah. I've been playing them a lot over the last year and I've rediscovered my headless guitars and I've been playing that quite a bit, too.
TCG: What's coming up soon in the future?
AH: Well, we leave on Tuesday to go to Europe for four weeks.
TCG: Okay, I wanted to ask you about an old sound that you got because this was really nice. Way back in the days of Metal Fatigue, and the earlier album Road Games, you had a trick where you would swell on the volume and it would almost sound like there were strings in the background, and I heard someplace that was an Eventide Harmonizer that would catch the top end of the strings, is that right?
AH: Well, actually, I had a bunch of different harmonizers, but the thing is what it was, was like a... I used to always take a... back in those days I used a... for the live rig instead of having like foot-pedals with buttons on them and like stomping on them, I actually had everything returning to a console. I used to use like a Yamaha. It was like a... I don't know how many...sixteen channel console, and I'd return all the effects to the console and then what I'd do is I'd use it as if it was like in the studio so I'd turn effects up and down with the faders, so what I'd do with that sound is it would be some of the delay would be very shortlandsome would belong.
TCG: Would you do that in conjunction with your sound guy?
AH: No. He would just mic what came out my amps. But then I would have the ability to send different portions of the sound to like a harmonizer and then return the harmonizer again to a chorusing unit and that's kind of how that sound worked.
TCG: So you've got the tour coming up, the European tour coming up.
AH: This tour is with Alan Pasqua, Jimmy Haslip and ChadWackerman.
TCG: And your fans can see what cities your playing in on your website?
AH: Yeah, www.therealallanholdsworth.com
TCG: It's easy for me to forget when I'm around you, the effect that you've had on musicians everywhere, and in guitar, there are just a slew of other guitar players that you've influenced or outright have tried to copy your style and it must be daunting for you, you know...I mean a certain amount of imitation is flattery but you know, the Allan impersonators still exist!
AH: (laughter) The thing that was interesting to me that when I first started listening to...first started playing and I was listening to my dad's records and I heard Charlie Christian, and I really...I tried to copy Charlie Christian, and actually, I got pretty good at it, you know, but then I realized, "Well Jesus, man, you're only getting good at sounding like somebody else, you know...And then I caught it real early, and just said "Ah, I know what I need to focus on. I need to focus on the quality of what I'm playing as opposed to the actual, physical, you know, thing of what I'm doing, so I stopped doing it like right then, like within the first couple of years, and I just concentrated on trying to figure out a way to do what I thought was, just to try to elevate my playing without it being...I was always influenced by other people, but I would stay away from...I never analyzed anything to the point where you know, I was actually doing the same thing. I would try to sort of come up with another way of doing something that sounded like it or similar to it, without it actually being a direct, you know...knockoff, because it's pointless. One of the things that's really nice about music is that you progress, and you know, you never get anywhere in the end just...you know, it's an everlasting quest, you know, it's not like you're ever going to get anywhere, you know, you just try to get better, but I just think that, I can't understand how anybody would get any satisfaction...the feeling sometimes when most of the time I don't like what I do but once in a while, something will happen and I say, "Yeah okay...That was all right!" And at that point, I can't imagine anybody having...that's a nice feeling, that little bit of satisfaction once in a while, and I can't imagine anybody who spent their whole life, cloning somebody, how they could get any satisfaction at all. It would drive me absolutely insane!
TCG: There was show called The Stepford Wives.
AH: Oh, I saw that (laughter)
TCG: It's really interesting, because I've seen published, probably on that Allan Holdsworth website a list of things that you wished that you had never recorded on, but I'd like to ask you, do any particular recordings tracks stick out in your mind as something that you really were pleased with and enjoyed?
AH: Well, there's bits here and bits there...you know, as the Baron von Munchausen would say, but yeah, there's been a few moments on different things.
TCG: I mean, like the Road Games solo
AH: Oh no, that album I hated! That record was a disaster. That record. I was disappointed when it was reissued. I mean. I wished it had just stayed buried. I really didn't like it at all. It was a disaster on wheels, you know, it was not good.
TCG: Did you like playing with some of the Tribal Tech people on the Metal Fatigue album, like Gary Willis?
AH: Oh sure! I enjoyed that record. Actually that was a funny thing because the Road Games thing wasn't going very well and I was signed to Warner Brothers and they were trying to get me to do a bunch of stuff I didn't want to do. They never told me before they signed me, but after the fact, because the way that the contract was written, they had to, in order to get rid of me, they had to give me the opportunity to make another demo so that they could refuse it, so they knew that they were going to refuse it, but the contract stated they had to pay for the demos the demo was Metal Fatigue, and they turned it down.
TCG: You've gotten some very kind compliments from John Etheridge, from when I interviewed him a couple of months ago.
AH: All right! That's cool, he's greatl
TCG: I thought you'd like to know that. Are there any last words?
AH: What time do the pubs open? It's happy hour somewhere in the world!
Special thanks to Allan Holdsworth @ www.thereallallanholdsworth.com - Moonjune Records @ www.moonjune.com, Chris Hoard & Alternity Records @ www.alternityrecords.com, Bill Bruford @ www.billbruford.com & Lori Hehr Public Relations.
Bill Bruford on Allan Holdsworth and Rock Goes to College
TCG: Your CD and DVD release of Rock Goes T. College seems like good timing to speak with you about the 30th anniversary of the Bruford band, were you planning to make RGTC a 30th anniversary CD/DVD?
BB: Not really, getting stuff from the BBC is very difficult and expensive. We were just trying to make the numbers work and everybody could enjoy it. But it cost a lot of money to get that stuff from the BBC. They do a very good job so they're worth it.
TCG: Can you reflect back on working with Allan Holdsworth and all the great players in your group between '77-79?
BB: Just going back to the time, I was figuring what I wanted to do after I left Genesis in '76- ‘77 was start my own recording career. To do that you need to call some people, I found Jeff Berlin in Long Island where he was living. And I knew I wanted Allan Holdsworth. With Allan, you needed a bass player who could keep up. Against those two, you really needed a steady keyboard player who wasn't going to be a soloist so much. So Dave Stewart was the obvious keyboard choice for this thing. That was the core group, but we also added a jazz flugelhorn player here called Kenny Wheeler and Annette Peacock, who was Gary Peacock's wife, the bass player with DeJohnette. She was residing here in the U.K. at the time. So it was kind of a cool quartet with guests really. It was great. We hit if off right from the start. Allan was terrific. Around that time, America was pretty unfamiliar with Allan in the late '70s. We knew him here. And in a way, that was the bridge for Allan between the U.K. and the United States,
TCG: You wrote some cool liner notices for Rock Goes To College where you say, "what we could do with that group now!" Can you speculate what might have been the next step with the Feels Good To Me lineup with Allan Holdsworth?
BB: They were big albums and they're much talked about these days. It was great. I think that the comment in the liner notes is kind of facile probably. These things do have a moment in time when they are relevant. They were relevant in '77, '78 and '79 with U.K. and that band Bruford and everything. That was its period. By 1980 I was back in Crimson doing like electric world music. That was fine and that's the way it should be.
TCG: Allan Holdsworth left after the Rock Goes To College show from March 7th, 1979. I saw Bruford play at My Father's Place in July 1979 and we were surprised that Allan wasn't playing guitar with you anymore!
BB: Yeah, I was surprised Allan wasn't with me! When you get to know Allan, you get to know, he's a free spirit. Sometimes he comes and sometimes he doesn't.
TCG: Is there any reason why you don't work with guitar players much these days?
BB: I moved literally from electric rock to acoustic jazz, play pertly much acoustic jazz full time now with pianos, saxophones and basses. Any reason? No, not particularly. I'm more interested in people then the instruments they play. The people I want to play with right now play pianos and saxophones and basses. But hey, I spent a lot of time with guitarists, its nice to have a change.
TCG: So there's no chance of a reunion with the Rock Goes R. College lineup'? BB: No, there's no chance of that Robert. There's no more material with that band available! (laughter) I'm not sitting on boxes of material that was never released.
TCG: So will there be any more vintage material on your Winterfold label?
BB: I'm not sure, you just have to wait and see, as I will, I've probably said everything I can about Rock Goes to College, I really liked it. I loved the band. I loved being the leader of the band. I consider it a privilege to have worked with those people at that time. And of course it was my first effort, to compose music that would attract these people. To give them something to play. It's not easy to find something for somebody as good as Allan Holdsworth to play. You had to think like a guitar player, which I wasn't really doing. You need to under write because Allan's going to fill for much and that's what you want to hear. And of course, lover wrote everything. So, in a way when he got pissed off at being boxed in by the music, I think he was probably right to feel that way. In a way, I did nail him to the ground a bit, but on the other hand he was used sparingly but to devastating effect.
Check out Rock Goes to College and the the Bruford solo CDs and DVDs @ www.billbruford.com