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Friday, June 16, 2017

6: Velvet Darkness and Million Dollar Legs (1976)

1990 Reissue/Remaster of Velvet Darkness (1976)
Jump to Musical Analysis:

    Allan Holdsworth: "Velvet Darkness"

         Allan spent 1976 touring with Tony Williams and recording a couple more albums with Williams' New Lifetime. However, if 1975 was a triumphant 'zig', then the following year was ultimately a disappointing 'zag'. Based on recommendations from guitarist George Benson and reedist Joe Farrell, Creed Taylor of CTI Records gave Allan a record deal (Taylor had just produced Benson and Farrell's albums, and in 1961 had produced John Coltrane's Africa/Brass Impulse album). Recorded over a few days in late May and mid-June at Rudy Van Gelder's NJ studio (the same studio that Coltrane recorded some of his greatest records), the album was eventually released against Allan's wishes, as it was never finished to his satisfaction. Considering that Van Gelder himself was behind the console, Allan must have been crestfallen over this treatment, especially as Coltrane was one of Allan's early heroes.
         "The guy basically said I could record with whoever I wanted to, and I got Alan Pasqua, Alphonso Johnson, and (Narada) Michael Walden, and I thought 'wow, this is 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...! Sometimes, really cool things can happen like that, but generally that would be far more likely if the guys knew everything and were then thrown into the studio playing pieces they were familiar with, rather than going in and struggling. It was a struggle, it sounds like a struggle, and I really felt bad for all the other guys involved, because nobody really got a chance on it. (25, 33)

    Musical Analysis: "Velvet Darkness"
    • Allan Holdsworth: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, violin
    • Alan Pasqua: piano, electric piano
    • Alphonso Johnson: bass, fretless bass
    • Narada Michael Walden: drums

    Allan Holdsworth: Velvet Darkness (1976, expanded and remixed 1990)
    Recorded 1976, May, 24-26 and June 18
    (All songs written by Allan Holdsworth)

         "Velvet Darkness" continued Allan's relationship with Lifetime keyboardist Alan Pasqua and added a rhythm section comprised of Alphonso Johnson (who had originally brought Allan to Tony Williams' attention) and Narada Michael Walden (who had just recorded with Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer on Beck's Wired). It's an interesting document featuring a brief stylistic "jazz-funk" detour (with some real highlights), but Allan himself dismissed it as a veritable 'bootleg', and fought many times to prevent its repeated reissues. It's unfortunate that Allan was so troubled by this experience that he never went back to finish it "properly".

         Nonetheless, the 1990 remastered reissue on Epic has a wider stereo spread (but a thinner sound). Additionally, it includes 5 bonus tracks (alternate takes), but the version of "Floppy Hat" found there is actually an alternate version from the one found on the 1976 original release.
    Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
    1 Good Clean Filth 5:26      The most immediate thing which jumps out on this casual groove is probably Johnson's fuzzy, heavily-filtered bass solo. However, Allan also unveils a more developed whammy bar technique here than what he showed in Believe It.

    0:00: Count-off and drum lick kicks off a heavy lumbering riff which alternates a few times with a rapid unison ensemble section.
    1:02: Sauntering-but-funky blues groove featuring Johnson's fuzz-wah bass solo (with fuzz turned off at end).
    2:29: Reprise of heavy opening riff, followed by funky sauntering groove with Pasqua's keyboard comping (solo) highlighted.
    3:44: Heavy riff followed by Allan's winding, lyrical guitar solo, featuring generous vibrato and tremolo bar bends.
    4:36: Heavy riff, rapid unison figure, heavy riff ending.
    2 Floppy Hat (alt) 2:49      In this pastoral acoustic piece, Allan uses Tony’s girlfriend Tequila’s acoustic guitar, overdubbed on 2 tracks. 

    0:00: 1st refrain (comped chords in one channel and a lead line in the other), ending in some rapid ornamentation.
    0:36: Reprise of head (ornamented).
    1:03: Solo over a couple refrains.
    2:04: Reprise of head with slightly more aggressive comping (some actual strums!), coda.
    3 Wish 4:24      The melody here will return years later in the song “The Things You See” (renditions with Gordon Beck and IOU). This track features some great drumming from Walden, but is one of the takes seemingly kind of "peters out" and is almost definitely an aborted performance. 

    0:00: Boisterous drums support a heavy lumbering riff, leading to a modulating head melody, repeat from top.
    1:17: Heavy riff with accented ending.
    1:32: Percolating uptempo groove with keyboard solo (guitar lays out).  Electric guitar enters on final turnaround cadence.
    3:19: Swaying opening tempo resumes with power chords led by a guitar top line.  Based on subsequent live renditions, the song is supposed to climax on the last guitar note, but accidentally keeps going, leading to out-take bass ornaments (with modulation). 
    4 Kinder 3:09      "Kinder" was the original ballad version of "Fred" (on Lifetime's Believe It), here played on 2 tracks of acoustic guitar. The comping harmonies are nicely developed here, which is less evident on the uptempo "Fred" version.

    0:00: 1st refrain - one chordal track (with some ornamental harmonics) accompanies a separate lead solo track.
    0:38: 2nd refrain (each successive repeat continues the solo and further develops the chordal accompaniment).
    1:07: 3rd refrain.
    1:49: 4th refrain.
    2:17: 5th refrain.
    2:59: The rhythm track ends with some light harmonics.
    5 Velvet Darkness 4:46      The melody is a quote of the vocal line from 'Igginbottom's "Golden Lakes" (which will later also be reworked as a duo with pianist Gordon Beck. Squarepusher would also lift the chromatic descending line for "Vic Acid" (probably a coincidence).

    0:00: Fanfare-ish accents lead to a ballad groove, as vocal melody soars in electric guitar, repeat with development.
    1:04: A galloping chromatic bass line supports a (2nd track) fretless bass solo, punctuated by fanfare-ish cadences.
    2:00: Keyboard solo.
    3:09: Guitar solo (Allan begins going more "out" here).
    4:02: The opening structure is reprised in a variation.
    6 Karzie Key 3:13      Allan's violin solo is nice, but his guitar solo here is great.

    0:00: Uptempo boogie built off frenetic rhythmic phrases.
    0:19: Breezy, accented funk vamp supports Allan's violin solo.  The groove eventually opens up.
    1:53: Allan's electric guitar solo enters (again, pretty out).
    2:48: Reprise of opening frenetic figures.
    7 Last May 1:41      Solo acoustic guitar piece based on arpeggiated chords and some subtle bass figuration. Another somewhat brief interlude in the vein of Debussy's piano preludes.

    0:00: Arppeggiated harmonics.
    0:05: 1st refrain.
    0:24: 2nd refrain.
    0:41: 3rd refrain.
    1:05: 4th refrain.
    1:21: Coda with harmonics.
    8 Gattox 4:57      A jerky opening rhythm section settles down to a more casual blowing progression, which will later be utilized several times over the years in different songs ("Stop Fiddlin' (live)", "Gas Lamp Blues").

    0:00: Drum groove leads to manic, lurching funk groove, then opening up with top line in guitar, ending in cadence power chords, repeat funk groove, etc...with added keyboard harmonies.
    1:20: Allan's biting guitar solo over modulating, somewhat casual bluesy vamp, ending in cadential power chords.
    3:21: Pasqua's electric piano solo, stuttering bass leads to cadential power chords, repeated, ending in loose ending accents.
    9 Good Clean Filth
    (alt. take)
    5:41      In this take, the bass solo is more conservative, but the keyboard and guitar solos are more adventurous.

    0:00: Drum roll kicks off a heavy lumbering riff which alternates a few times with a rapid unison ensemble section.
    0:57:  Sauntering but funky blues groove featuring Johnson's bass solo (with envelope filter effects, fuzz-tone turned on only at the end).
    1:58: Reprise of heavy opening riff, followed by funky blues groove with Pasqua's keyboard solo (with added pitch-wheel articulation and effects).
    3:07: Heavy riff followed by Allan's guitar solo (starting slowly and then becoming denser), featuring generous vibrato and tremolo bar bends.
    4:56: Heavy riff, rapid unison figure, heavy riff ending.
    10 Kinder
    (alt. take)
    3:10 0:00: 1st refrain - one chordal track (with some ornamental harmonics) accompanies a separate lead solo track.
    0:38: 2nd refrain (each successive repeat continues the solo and further develops the chordal accompaniment).
    1:07: 3rd refrain.
    1:50: 4th refrain.
    2:17: 5th refrain.
    2:59: The rhythm track ends with some light harmonics.
    11 Velvet Darkness
    (alt. take)
    4:47      This version omits the fretless bass solo.

    0:00: Fanfare-ish accents lead to a ballad groove, as vocal melody soars in electric guitar, repeat with development.
    1:04: A galloping chromatic bass line supports subtle accent ornamentation, punctuated by fanfare-ish cadences.
    2:00: Keyboard solo.
    3:09: Scattered chord accents on guitar.
    4:01: The opening structure is reprised in a loose variation. Electric guitar comes in late.
    12 Karzie Key
    (alt. take)
    2:18      This version has no violin or guitar solos from Allan.

    0:00: Uptempo boogie built off frenetic rhythmic phrases.
    0:19: Loose, breezy jam with envelope filter effect on bass (bass/keys ornamentation but no solos).
    1:40: Bass signals eventual return to opening frenetic figures.
    13 Gattox
    (alt. take)
    6:48      In this take, the clavinet keyboard carries the opening funk figure more prominently. Allan and Alan take some extra choruses for their respective solos. Allan also seems to make an accidental premature re-entry of the final cadence.

    0:00: Drum groove leads to manic, lurching funk groove, then opening up with top line in guitar, ending in cadence power chords, repeat funk groove, etc...with added keyboard harmonies.
    1:20: Allan's biting guitar solo over modulating, somewhat bluesy vamp, ending in cadential power chords.
    4:04: Pasqua's electric piano solo, stuttering bass leads to cadence power chords, repeated, ending in loose ending accents.
    2 Floppy Hat
    (orig. take from 1976 vinyl release)
    2:49 0:00: 1st refrain (comped chords in one channel and a lead line in the other), ending in some rapid ornamentation.
    0:36: Reprise of head (ornamented).
    1:04: Solo over a couple refrains.
    2:05: Reprise of head with slightly more aggressive, strummed comping, coda.

    The New Tony Williams Lifetime: "Million Dollar Legs"

         Later in June, during a trip to Colorado, Allan contributed guitar tracks to Million Dollar Legs, his second release with Tony Williams' Lifetime band. However, the album did not include any songs from Allan, but instead reflected a much more "commercial" direction. Bassist Tony Newton included a detailed chapter on his time with Tony Williams Lifetime in his 2012 autobiography "Gold Thunder". He reflects on "Million Dollar Legs" in the (edited) excerpt below:
         "After one of our short three-week tours, after about a year into the project, Tony stated that it was time to make a second album. He said that we would be doing it at Caribou Ranch studios in the mountains of Colorado. This studio was owned by the legendary bassist, Jim Guercio, of the super-group Chicago. It was located in the Denver mountains on a very large ranch-type layout…we were at Caribou about three weeks. The recording of the album 'Million Dollar Legs' was done differently than 'Believe It', the first recording. The recording went relatively smoothly, although it did have its challenges. Just as in the case of the first LP, we each brought in compositions to be considered for recording. This time as it just happened, I brought in more music than the other members. I had been writing the tunes over the vacation-break time that we had after the last tour.

         "I also still had strong ties to the California Motown family and during this time, I was doing some songwriting and producing with Al Cleveland. Al and I had gotten together to write 'You Did it To Me Baby'. We knew it was commercial because it had a vocal part, for which I sang lead. Tony actually wanted us to cross over to a broader listening audience, so he was 100% for recording 'You Did It To Me Baby', as was the producer-engineer, Bruce Botnick. I also wanted to write something with extended movements and time, as well as orchestral - not classical, but orchestral, meaning using strings, woodwinds, brass and other sound colors and shades. This became 'Inspirations of Love', inspired by a new relationship which was doomed from the start because of bad chemistry...

          "...We hired the great composer-arranger, Jack Nitzsche, to do the arrangements. Jack had done several famous recordings with the legendary Phil Spector and others... The day finally came to hear the finished mix and it was awesome. This was the day I could finally hear 'Inspirations of Love', which included an extended piece that I wrote for Tony to play a long solo. I also wanted to feature the bass clarinet in a section of the composition doubling with the electric bass. This was a carryover from my days playing bass clarinet and woodwinds in various orchestras when growing up. Jack and I had gotten together previously, and I had described the instrumentation and parts that I wanted to play by specific instruments. Jack conducted the orchestra and as soon as they struck up and started playing, the studio filled up with this glorious sound. The music critics in their reviews didn't seem to appreciate the orchestral sound. I guess they still yearned for the rawness of the 'Believe It' recording. Even though the orchestra wasn't with us on the road, we would still get cheers for our performances of this music. Alan Pasqua was very gifted at creating textures and colorful keyboard soundscapes.

          "A lot of people expected the second album to be a repeat of the first, bearing the same kind of material. We wanted to continue evolving and exploring new territory. Perhaps if there were a third recording, we may have brought back some of those elements. In any event, the 'Million Dollar Legs' album wasn't as intense or as high energy as our first album together. Who knows, it may have been due to the relaxing ranch energy."

    - "Gold Thunder", Tony Newton, 2012
    Allan Holdsworth, Tony Newton, Alan Pasqua, Tony Williams
    "Million Dollar Legs" LP art.
         After the completion of Million Dollar Legs, the band continued sporadic touring. In July, things suddenly went downhill when the Lifetime tour machine ran out of money in San Francisco. Allan was forced to make some sacrifices:
         "Tony went back to New York to find out why there was no more money and both me and Alan Pasqua had no hotel - we were absolutely out on the street with a suitcase and a guitar. So we went down to the club where we'd been playing and the waitresses there gave us free drinks. We found the guy who had put us up for the night, and we get back to this guy's house in the evening and he said, ‘yeah, you can stay in this bed and you stay in that bed’. And we get back after the club had closed and there were two other guys in those beds! So this went on for three nights, and after the third night I said, ‘Man, I can't hack this anymore', so I took my guitar (the black SG Custom) to the pawn shop and sold it. I bought a ticket with (money from) my guitar from New York to London. I didn't have anything! Just a suitcase."  (40)
    Musical Analysis: "Million Dollar Legs"

    Allan Holdsworth: Electric guitar
    Alan Pasqua: Electric piano and Clavinet
    Tony Newton: Electric bass
    Tony Williams: Drums

    The Tony Williams Lifetime: Million Dollar Legs
    Recorded June, 1976 in Colorado (with additional orchestral overdubs later in Hollywood)

         On this album Tony Williams and Tony Newton seem to have asserted more of a dominant stylistic role, and the virtuosic, free-wheeling playing of "Believe It" was replaced by song-oriented funk material aimed at radio airplay. In the '80s, Allan Holdsworth credits could be found on various pop/dance records, essentially featuring a liquid guitar solo "flown in" to the basic tracks. Back here in 1976, Allan's contributions to this particular Lifetime album are closer to those kinds of '80s projects than the jammed-out explorations from the previous year. If the band had gotten a famous vocalist for these tunes, it's possible this could have been a hit funk-rock record, but as a Lifetime fusion album, it couldn't help but be a disappointment.

         However, despite the brevity of Allan's leads, they are interesting in that they showcase the development of his tremolo bar technique. On this album, Allan also employed a newly-acquired Fender Stratocaster, which he would later have drastically modified after returning to England (new neck, pickups, etc).
    1 Sweet Revenge 6:07 (Tony Williams)

         In the future Allan would make a few guest appearances on several synthy pop-rock albums, but this is the earliest example of such a pairing.

    0:00: Somewhat zany, new-wave-ish rock groove with some wobbly keyboard ornaments. Drums play colorful fills throughout.
    1:36: Mid-tempo groove with accented bass and "breathy" synth motifs, punctuated by guitar power chords and bluesy ornaments.
    2:56: Allan teases some lead figures.
    3:25: Synth solo with clipped guitar power chords (eventually opening back up).
    4:15: Guitar solo, lyrical with some tremolo bar articulation.
    4:55: Power chords, bluesy ornaments resume.
    2 You Did It To Me 3:54 (Tony Newton, Barry Cleveland)

         This track features Tony Newton's vocal performance and overdubbed brass elements.

    0:00: Drum roll kicks off mid-tempo soul jazz groove.
    0:32: Tony Newton sings 1st verse.
    0:52: Bass-driven cadence, then back to main groove.
    1:12: 2nd verse, bass cadence, main groove.
    1:52: Accented bridge vamp.
    2:23: Keyboard solo over main groove.
    2:41: Main groove resumes, 3rd verse, cadence, etc.
    3 Million Dollar Legs 6:40 (Tony Williams)

         Allan's soloing is split up into three brief sections, separated by funk brass sequences.

    0:00: Uptempo funk groove driven by Clavinet, joined by strings.
    0:37: Guitar and keys enter with lead motif and brass accents.
    0:52: Guitar solo part 1 over a reduced tempo.
    1:09: Opening uptempo funk resumes with added brass swells/accents, followed by lead guitar motif.
    1:53: Guitar solo part 2 over reduced tempo with added brass accents.
    2:09: Uptempo funk/brass swells (extended), lead guitar motif.
    2:54: Guitar solo part 3 with reduced tempo.
    3:11: Uptempo funk/brass swells and accents), lead guitar motif.
    3:55: Keyboard solo over reduced tempo groove.
    4:59: Uptempo funk/brass swells and accents (extended and faded out).
    4 Joy Filled Summer 5:53 (Tony Newton)

         The improvisation vamp here gives the players a little more room to take off, but Allan's solo is sadly a bit short. Tony's drums sound great though.

    0:00: Mid-tempo soft rock driven by melodic bass, keyboard accents and guitar power chords, cadence.
    0:35: Vocal head motif enters and lead guitar follows.
    1:03: Turnaround with 2 electric guitars.
    1:20: Main groove, head motif, turn around.
    2:05: Modal vamp featuring fuzz organ solo, ending in an ensemble rhythmic figure.
    3:14: Main groove, head motif, turn around.
    3:50: Modal vamp featuring Allan's guitar solo.
    4:22: Allan joins vamp accent as Tony Williams' drums are featured.
    5 Lady Jade 4:02 (Alan Pasqua)

         Pasqua's tune is characterized by panned electric piano textures and orchestral colors...has a somewhat 'filmic' feel.

    0:00: Ballad on electric piano joined by strings/winds.
    0:56: Piano enters with motif as strings develop and Allan adds some subtle volume swells.
    1:46: Electric guitar joins piano motif.
    2:11: Drums enter with dense rolling textures.
    2:47: Allan adds some additional guitar motifs as ensemble climaxes.
    3:00: Reprise of opening electric piano and strings texture.
    6 What You Do To Me 7:11 (Tony Williams)

         Nice funky groove, but Allan's contribution is sadly sparse, aside from the liquid opening solo.

    0:00: Drum groove leads to lurching funk groove soon joined (0:30) by a fiery guitar solo.
    1:20: Head figure on guitars, eventually joined by swelling strings, cadence.
    2:32: Electric piano solo, cadence.
    2:48: Accented bridge with muffled/clipped guitar figures, main groove resumes.
    3:28: Drum solo over groove.
    4:58: Electric piano solo over main groove, supported by swelling strings.
    5:17: Interlude featuring drum rolls and accented keys, swelling strings.
    6:03: Funk groove resumes, fades out.
    7 Inspirations Of Love 9:48 (Tony Newton)

         This suite-like composition mixes a few different textures and grooves, but most notably features Allan's longest solo on the album as well as an unaccompanied Williams drum solo. Allan's guitar solo fittingly incorporates all of his stylistic repertoire up to this point, including legato runs, exotic scalar shapes, tremolo bar articulation and even a few "blues" bends.

    0:00: Churning fuzz bass riffing with electric guitar top line, leading to soul jazz cadences (with strings, perc).
    1:08: Lead guitar ornaments over churning bass vamp.
    1:20: Keyboards (synth and piano) dominate a textural interlude with sporadic rising bass figure.
    3:18: Cymbals enter as piano ends in cascading runs, leading to cadence accents.
    3:49: Mid-tempo stuttering funk vamp (sweetened by string swells and bass clarinet) supports Allan's guitar solo.
    5:45: Drum solo as bass vamp fades out.
    7:31: Keys and bass gradually return as drum solo winds down.
    8:21: Reprise of churning bass line into opening soul jazz cadences (with electric guitar, strings, etc...)
    9:13: Final cadence and rave up.

         Probably the most important thing Allan learned from his time with Tony Williams was the way in which Tony (initially at least) invited band members to contribute to songs in an organic way. Also, Tony's polyrhythmic playing style probably introduced Allan to the idea of a drummer who could interact in a more textural way, rather than as a metric ruler. He would eventually find more of this kind of "expressive" playing in young drummer Gary Husband. Although things in America ended up in some disappointing developments, Allan's return to England would ultimately lead to some new key relationships in both players and gear...

    Next: Gong: The French Connection
    Previous Chapter: The Tony Williams Lifetime

    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.


    1. Some additional comments and info on these records:
      And some additional info about Allan's appearance on an Esther Phillips song recorded in the same period:

    2. In 1976 Tony Williams continued the tour in support of Million Dollars Legs with guitarist Marlon Graves subbing for AH.