Vernon Gibbs: Have you ever heard another guitarist who can move you the way Hendrix did?
Tony Williams: Yeah, Allan Holdsworth, he’s so pretty…He’s really a very lyrical player, and a lot of guitar players today aren’t. His ideas are very definite and clear. He doesn’t play like anybody.
- Downbeat, 1976
Jump to Musical Analysis:
1974: Stockholm "Wildlife" Sessions
In 1973, prior to his stint with Soft Machine, Allan Holdsworth ran into Alphonso Johnson, an American bassist touring with Chuck Mangione's band.
“I was working with a piano player named Pat Smythe and quite often we’d open for groups at Ronnie Scott’s. Chuck Mangione was headlining there with Pat La Barbera on sax, Joe La Barbera on drums and Alphonso Johnson on bass. Chuck got really sick during this engagement, so there were a couple of nights that he wasn’t able to be there and they asked Pat Smythe if he would help out. Pat mentioned to the guys that he knew this guitar player and asked would they let him sit in on one set. So I did.” (79)Shortly after (or just around) this period, Allan rejoined his old Nucleus bandmates in the newest incarnation of Soft Machine (as detailed in the previous chapter). However…
"...some months later, Tony Williams (Miles Davis' "Second Great Quintet", Tony Williams Lifetime - "Emergency!") ran into Alphonso Johnson and told him he was thinking of putting a band together and he was looking for a guitar player. So - very nice of him - Alphonso Johnson said to him, 'I heard this guy in England and you might want to check this guy out'. (So) Tony just called me one day and said 'Let's attack!'..." (48, 16)Tony Williams at this point in his career had every reason to "attack". His 1969 crack band from Emergency (with guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young) had been "stolen" by his old boss Miles Davis for In A Silent Way, and McLaughlin himself had co-opted Tony's record deal with Columbia to record his own band Mahavishnu's Inner Mounting Flame with Billy Cobham on drums (81). If Tony was going to revisit similarly "heavy" material, he would need a comparable sharpshooter on the fretboard. In October of 1974, Tony Williams and the remains of his ensemble from the Old Bum's Rush album found themselves in Europe. This seemed like a good opportunity to get together with Allan...
“Tony asked me to come to Sweden to join him for a recording. There was Jack Bruce on bass and Webster Lewis on organ. Tequila (Linda Logan), 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.” (79)
Musical Analysis: The Stockholm "Wildlife" Sessions
Allan Holdsworth: Electric guitar, violin
Webster Lewis: Electric keyboards (piano, Clavinet, organ)
Jack Bruce: Electric bass
Tequila (Laura Logan): Vocals
Tony Williams: Drums
|The Stockholm "Wildlife" Sessions|
Although this unreleased "album" is basically a bootleg, it can be found very easily online, and so it would be an oversight to ignore it. It's not a "great" record, but it does feature Allan's first recorded collaborations with Tony Williams and Jack Bruce, which makes it historically significant at least. Allan uses the same guitar and amp set up he utilized for the Soft Machine shows, and his tone here reflects that. The first track, "Scirocco", features nearly 8 minutes of Allan soloing beautifully, but the rest of the album seems undeveloped, and one can probably understand why it was abandoned. Nonetheless, "Scirocco" (or an edit of it) really deserves an official release somewhere in some form...(timings below based off leaked YouTube tracks)
|1||Scirocco||13:57|| Allan has some extended solos here, the first one being almost 6 minutes long, and the second 2 minutes long. His playing here falls neatly inside his then-parallel Soft Machine style of improvisation: fluid, but overall not too jarring harmonically.|
0:00: Mid-tempo intro groove on toms and hi-hat, with insistent bass pulse.
0:33: Tequila's 1st vocal verse enters with a brief electric piano ornament.
1:07: 1st verse continues as Allan's crunchy guitar vamp joins and the el. piano comps.
2:01: Tony opens up on full drums, and clavinet enters, as Allan takes his first extended guitar solo over a rising bass vamp variation of the opening riff.
7:45: A syncopated drum and bass groove variation sets up Tequila's 2nd verse, ending in a reprise of the intro riff with added guitar/clavinet.
8:29: 3rd verse (bass and drums), intro riff.
9:11: Allan's 2nd guitar solo (rising bass vamp as before, sometimes adding intro groove).
10:44: 4th verse (bass and drums), intro groove.
11:15: Electric keys change the groove to a lighter mood, followed by simultaneous keyboard solos.
12:03: Allan adds some held ornamental motifs, as Tequila vocalizes freely. The song ends in a bluesy cadence.
|2||Hot & Sticky||6:17|| This is pretty much the most "rock & roll" Allan has ever gotten. Not a great moment, frankly, but it displays his versatility at least.|
0:00: Drum solo on toms.
0:54: Piano riffing ushers in a rock and roll blues.
1:40: Guitar solo, fairly conventional, but does feature a brief tremolo bar exploration.
5:25: Guitar drops out, replaced by electric piano accents, final cadence, leading to a final toms/hi-hat solo groove.
|3||Little Zorro||4:32|| There are no drums on this track. A fairly thin piece, the most interesting here may be the subtle chordal slides on Allan's guitar.|
0:00: Slow, somewhat suspenseful bass riff with electric piano ornaments and scattered whispers.
0:45: Electric guitar enters with lead line, sometimes modulating towards a lighter harmony and some ornamental guitar comping.
1:48: 2nd lead line refrain, modulation, comping.
3:01: 3rd refrain, etc.
|4||Happy Tears||9:17|| This sensual love song features a violin solo and wah guitar riffing from Allan.|
0:00: Relaxed, soulful rhythm section with vocal ornaments (prologue).
0:49: Guitar cadence riff signals mid-tempo soul jazz main section (add'l clean guitar chords and organ) and 1st verse. Cadence reprise.
1:25: 2nd verse.
1:49: Bass accents/ornaments and a snare roll accompany a sung-spoken confessional interlude.
3:04: Mid-tempo groove resumes with multi-tracked vocal elements, Allan's muted wah-wah funk guitar and his violin solo on another track.
4:57: Organ becomes more prominent.
6:39: Tony's drum solo, as groove continues on clean guitar chords alone (bass and keys drop out).
8:13: Cadence riff, followed by reprise of opening relaxed atmosphere with vocal, with some added rhythmic bass figures.
|5||The Spirit||7:46|| This song has a pretty infectious funk groove, and will later resurface as "Wildlife" on Believe It. Allan's solo in this version follows the normal funk conventions for the most part, with just a moment or two of outside harmonic color.|
0:00: "Doo doo" vocal motif is followed by lyrical lead guitar line ("Wildlife" head fragment) over a tom roll riff, alternating with a funk groove.
0:58: Vocal verse over mid-tempo funk groove with chunky rhythm guitar and percolating clavinet.
3:15: "Wildlife" head melody enters on guitar and keys.
3:30: Funk groove joined by lead guitar ornaments, leading to guitar solo under intermittent vocal elements. The "Wildlife" head fragments sometimes tend to resurface.
6:08: Guitar returns to chunky rhythm chords, as drums are briefly featured. Vocal "doo doo" interjections continue as the song fades out.
Interestingly, Tony also recorded a second 1974 album in Sweden with an entirely local band, "Pop Workshop". This album (Song of the Pterodactyl) included contributions from Abba's session guitarist Janne Schaffer, and was released on an independent Swedish label.
1975: New York City, The New Tony Williams Lifetime
|Allan Holdsworth and Tony Williams, downstairs at Gilly's, Dayton, Ohio 1975|
(Photo: Ken Katowik)
Roy Babbington (Soft Machine bass player): "Anybody who’s a player like that, they want to move on at some time. He did it - just very suddenly. He said that he’d got the offer from Tony and he wanted to go, and we said, ‘Fine, no problem. It’s just that we’ve got a tour coming up, can you do the tour and then we’ll be looking for someone else?’ But in the end he left, actually, like 5 days before a tour. There was a note pushed under the door of the office, saying, ‘I’ve gone to join Tony Williams…’ " (75)
Allan: "I wish I could have stayed longer because the album was done right at the beginning and we worked together a lot after that. It would have been nice to have recorded another one, but unfortunately that was at the time when I got that opportunity to work with Tony Williams. It was a real terrible thing in a way, because you never get offered anything when you're not doing anything - you always have to make some rough decision. I was really happy playing with the Soft Machine. But the opportunity with Tony just seemed like something I should do. So then I helped try to get Soft Machine hooked up with another guitar player and recommended a couple of guys - actually Ollie (Halsall) was one of them, and also John Etheridge who actually ended playing with them." (40)Anyways, after landing in NYC, Allan stayed briefly at a hotel, before moving in to Tony Williams' uptown townhouse/rehearsal space.
"I got to know him quite well, because when I first moved to New York I was like kind of nervous, obviously, coming from, well, really from Bradford, quickly to London, to New York - they’ve got bars at the windows, they’re shooting at each other, it’s like, haha, it was a little strange. And also the fact that Tony wasn’t really in any hurry to get anything going. I was like, ‘Jeez, let’s do something’, but time would roll by and we would just play with one bass player, and then a few weeks later we’d play with another..." (63)Allan also recalls meeting a young, then-unknown Jaco Pastorius at this time.
"...He showed up one day and it was absolutely unbelievable! I was playing with this guy and said, ‘Jesus! Who the hell is this, man, this is pretty good!’ And him and Tony, man… But the thing was - it was unbelievable and Tony liked him - but I think he was looking for a different kind of a player. I think he wanted someone who was going to be - like Gordon Beck always used to say - like the "railroad tracks". You got the tracks, then the train, and then the ticket collectors or whatever, but you got to have the tracks. Jimmy (Johnson)’s like that, he lays the tracks down, and like, Gary (Husband)'s the train. If you have a drummer that plays differently than that, you can have a bass player that plays differently. One of them has to be the tracks though - and in this case it wasn’t going to be Tony! He wanted something else, a different thing, so we didn’t actually end up with Jaco..." (63)Nonetheless, the band slowly came together...
"...Eventually Tony Newton sent Tony a tape and he really liked the guy. And then Tony went off to do a gig one night with a group, I don’t know whose group it was, but Alan Pasqua was in the band, and afterwards I said, ‘Hey Tony, did you hear that piano player? Man, the guy was amazing’, so he said ‘OK’. So he called up Studio Instrument Rentals (SIR) which was a rental place in New York and rented some rehearsal time, and Tony Newton flew in, and Pasqua came, and we just played - and that was the birth of that band!" (63)
|Tony Newton, Alan Pasqua, Tony Williams, Allan Holdsworth|
(Getty Images, Gilles Petard)
In 2017, Alan Pasqua recalls: "I was playing in George Russell’s big band while I was in college at the New England Conservatory. He asked me and a few classmates to join him in NY to play on his suite called "Living Time" - originally recorded on CBS with the Bill Evans trio and other greats such as Tony Williams, Joe Henderson Jimmy Giuffre, Snooky Young, to name a few. Our concert was at Carnegie Hall. I was playing electric piano on the concert, and the stage crew had me set up my gear directly behind a very large yellow drum set...
"I had very large amps and George gave me some solos as well. Apparently Allan (who I did not know at the time) was in the audience and after the concert was over, they chatted about the night, and in the course of their conversation, my name came up. A couple of days later Tony called me on Cape Cod, where I was living for the winter, and asked me if I would like to come down to NYC and do some playing. When I got there, both he and Allan were at Tony’s brownstone. We messed around for a few days before Tony Newton arrived on the scene. Tony liked the chemistry between the four of us, and The New Tony Williams Lifetime was born. Then we began the writing and pre-production for Believe It, where we recorded at CBS 52nd street. The album was made in 2 days, first or second takes on everything, no overdubs or fixes of any kind." (80)
Allan's rehearsals with Tony would have a major impact on Allan's own method of band-leading in the future:
"He would just play something for me and we’d work it out on the spot just in the music itself, or I’d go and write my own chart for myself. I learned so much from Tony. He is the reason I never give musicians who play with me any direction on how to approach anything. Tony never did that with me. He would let me dig myself a hole. I’d stand there and say 'What am I supposed to do?' He made me find my own way... I’m trying to do that with my guys now. Each drummer and bass player I use plays every tune differently and I think they enjoy that and I do, too, when everything is working. Tony was that way. He wanted us to do our own thing. He was not a control freak and very loose. (63, 65)The album Believe It was recorded in July of that year, with dates on the East Coast and the Midwest soon following.
|Tony Williams Lifetime, Bottom Line 1975,|
Allan with newly-acquired Black SG Custom
(photo: Art Maillet/Sony Music Archives)
Guitarist Joe Satriani vividly recalls one early performance: "To witness him playing with Tony Williams’ band, a Gibson SG around his neck, Small Stone Phaser and Marshall stack in tow, at the intimate club My Father’s Place in Roslyn, NY, was something I’ll never forget. He ripped a hole in the guitarist’s space-time-continuum that night! And we’ve never been the same." (64)
During this period, Allan also began educating himself in the recording studio to a greater degree:
"I started to get an understanding of how to record a guitar when I was with Tony Williams in the 'Believe It' days. By that time, most engineers had come around to recording a loud amplifier. We were working with an incredible engineer named Bruce Botnick, and he was great at understanding exactly what I was looking for. That's where I learned what kind of mic I wanted to use, and where it goes on the speaker. And that recipe hasn't changed from that day on: a Neumann U87 placed between the center and the edge of the cone. (61)
Musical Analysis: "Believe It"
Allan Holdsworth: Electric guitar
Alan Pasqua: Electric piano and Clavinet
Tony Newton: Electric bass
Tony Williams: Drums
|The Tony Williams Lifetime: Believe
With this album, Allan essentially "landed in America". He has a featured solo on every track, and applies both crunchy and clean tones for his rhythm guitar parts. Melodically and harmonically, his solos largely stayed "inside" the chords - however the chords of the blowing sections often modulated, which created situations for some more exploratory excursions. However, the more lyrical solos here (found in "Snake Oil", "Wildlife", and "Celebration") support Tony Williams' testament (at top of page) to Allan's ability to play clear, "pretty" solos.
It's also important to note that, even aside from being a key record of Allan's artistic development, Believe It was arguably the first "punk-jazz" album ever made (Williams' Emergency being the other contender, I suppose). The songs assembled for the original 6-cut release amounted to an explosion of raw, unfiltered emotion. The unreleased 1974 Stockholm sessions were decidedly under-cooked, and 1976's "Million Dollar Legs" would end up a bit over-produced, but Believe It perfectly captured that sweet spot of fearless, unselfconscious artistic discovery.
|1||Snake Oil||6:30||(Tony Newton)
This is Tony N.'s tune, but Allan has a really nice "buzz-saw" tone on the opening riff here. His brief guitar solo is built from relaxed, melodic figures, but is infused with feeling. Compositionally, the layering of instrumental elements here is skillfully executed.
0:00: Heavy, stomping bass riff with envelope filter, ending in a lively cadence figure.
0:13: Riff A: Drums, guitar and keys enter, each playing different layers.
0:33: Riff B: Based on triplet figures, repeated/harmonized in keyboards.
1:36: Riff A with new syncopated figure in bass line, then Riff B.
2:44: Alan's keyboard solo over Riff A vamp, then Riff B.
3:52: Riff A without guitar but featuring drum counter-rhythms/ornaments.
4:36: Allan's guitar solo (fairly motivic and restrained, some panning, feedback).
"We were all in the same room, Tony had a glass wall around his drums. We played like we were rehearsing. Alan and I figured out later that in some of the heads, we weren’t even playing the same thing! Sometimes we’d play a head or a part, then later on I’d realize I hadn’t been playing the same notes as Pasqua. It was loose, that gave it something as well. It was organic." (81)
This song was originally a ballad named "Kinder" ("children" in German), but was sped up when Tony Williams tried it on. "Fred" was Allan's nickname for his 1st wife. This upbeat romp enjoyed a revival in the 2006-09 "Blues For Tony" Holdsworth-Pasqua Williams tribute project (as well as "Proto-Cosmos" and "Red Alert") .
0:00: Opening drum accents lead to a galloping refrain groove with clean, flanged chords, briefly modulating, and ending in crunchier cadence accents.
0:42: Refrain reprise, ending in a cadence variation featuring drum and keyboard ornaments.
1:29: Pasqua's keyboard solo over refrain chords (1st few chords more open) and reprise (Allan comps on clean flanged rhythm).
3:42: Allan's (slightly flanged) guitar solo, same refrain chords (keyboard only heard during cadences). Solo ends in a fast ensemble rhythmic figure.
5:37: Opening refrain reprise, ending in crunchy cadence and rave up.
Another classic blowing tune which Allan often included in live performances spanning over 30 years.
0:00: 3-accent descending fanfare motif, bracketed by solo drum licks, leading to a rhythmic ensemble figure.
0:24: Allan's guitar solo over an uptempo, loping groove, accented by reappearances of the fanfare motif.
1:37: Fanfare with drum licks, followed by Pasqua's keyboard solo (guitar lays out).
3:22: Opening fanfare sequence reprise, ending in a ritardando coda variation.
This is basically Lifetime doing a heavy metal song, but with modulation. It also feels very much like a steaming hot summer night in New York City.
0:00: Crunchy, stuttering ensemble riff (with a notable fuzz bass counter-line after the first cadence), modulating, ending in a rhythmic cadence figure.
0:49: Lead guitar solo (no flange) over stuttering riff, modulating back and forth.
2:13: Keyboard solo, opening with some rising chords (Allan joins with clean flanged guitar comping, then switches to some heavier riff accompaniment figures).
4:02: Reprise of opening riff, cadence figure, final rave-up.
This is a newly-reworked version of "The Spirit" from the unreleased 1974 Stockholm sessions. Allan's brief, "pretty" solo here begins with some proto-Holdsworthian tremolo bar articulation. This tactic would be further developed in the ensuing years.
0:00: Ballad led by lyrical head melody on lead guitar/keys, leading to cadential harmony.
0:41: Mid-tempo funk vamp (very brief).
0:46: Ballad groove resumes, with measured, lyrical lead guitar solo.
1:43: Head (ballad) reprise, cadence.
2:22: Funk vamp returns with simmering keyboard solo.
4:40: Head ballad reprise.
Allan's solo begins to approach the outer spaces regions he would later be famous for. This song is notable for the guitar-drums "solo vamp" in the back half.
0:00: Power chord intro, ending in accented cadence figure with lead guitar top line.
0:55: Up-tempo 2-chord funk vamp with keyboard solo (guitar lays out).
3:06: Beat opens up, leading to guitar solo (keys lay out). Up-tempo groove eventually resumes.
4:16: Guitar loops the repeating 2-chord vamp as Williams takes a drum solo (keys and bass lay out). Band returns at the end for the last few bars.
5:21: Reprise of accented cadence figure from opening section, then power chord intro fragment into feedback/drum groove.
|7||Celebration||4:01||(Williams, 2004 reissue bonus track)
This song sounds like it should really have been performed by a different ensemble...with "downtown" brass perhaps. Allan plays another "leisurely-paced" solo here.
0:00: Heavy accented intro figure, bluesy cadence.
0:30: Simmering funk groove with guitar ornaments and organ.
0:54: Intro reprise. Bluesy cadence.
1:23: Funk groove joined by keyboard solo.
1:58: Intruding rhythmic cadence signals a kind of "slinky" guitar solo from Allan over the funk groove.
2:59: Drum solo over funk groove.
3:21: Accented intro figure, cadence variation ending.
|8||Letsby||6:34||(Holdsworth, 2004 reissue bonus track)
This song is an alternate take of "Mr. Spock". Allan's solo is a little longer and even more harmonically adventurous here than on the original released take.
0:00: Power chord intro, ending in accented cadence figure with lead guitar top line.
0:47: Up-tempo 2-chord funk vamp with keyboard solo (guitar lays out).
2:43: Beat opens up to set up guitar solo (keys eventually lay out). Up-tempo groove eventually resumes.
4:30: Guitar holds onto 2-chord vamp as Tony Williams takes a drum solo (keys and bass lay out). Band returns at the end for the last few bars.
5:53: Reprise of accented cadence figure from opening section, then power chord intro fragment into feedback/drum groove.
Next: Velvet Darkness and Million Dollar Legs
Previous Chapter: Soft Machine
Go to the Table of Contents...
The numbers in parentheses after Allan's quotes above refer to sources listed in the Bibliography.
For more detailed information on this chapter, see the Annotated Chronology.