Allan Holdsworth, hailed by his peers as one of the most technically gifted guitarists of his time, has died at the age of 70. His passing was announced Sunday (April 16) by family members on social media.
The innovative muso shaped his reputation through the ‘70s as a master of prog-rock and jazz fusion with such acts as Soft Machine, Gong and U.K., but never quite struck the commercial success he richly deserved. His signature two-handed finger tapping style influenced the best in the business, from Carlos Santana, Frank Zappa, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, Tom Morello, Peter Frampton to Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen, who called him “the best, in my book.” In a later interview, the Van Halen axeman declared: “Holdsworth is so damned good that I can’t cop anything. I can’t understand what he’s doing,” and in 2015 he told Billboard that Holdsworth was the last “new” guitarist he liked (Van Halen was eight years his junior).
As news of his death spread, Frampton remembered Holdsworth as a “brilliant unique guitar master player,” and Satriani tweeted, “You remain an enormous inspiration to me. Your beautiful music will live on forever.”
Born on Aug. 6, 1946, in Bradford, England, Holdsworth didn’t pick up the guitar until he was 17, but he proved to be a quick learner. After moving to London, Holdsworth kicked off his recording career in the late ‘60s with the band ‘Igginbottom and through the ‘70s honed his craft with the likes of Tempest, Soft Machine, the Tony Williams Lifetime project, French-English outfit Gong, and U.K..
Holdsworth embarked on a solo career which launched proper with the solo album I.O.U., from 1982, and the following year earned a Grammy nomination for his EP Road Games (for best rock instrumental performance). Throughout the decade, he endorsed the SynthAxe guitar synthesizer and dabbled with headless guitars, resulting in his own signature headless model, initially created by Carvin and then under the Kiesel moniker.
As humble as he was talented, Holdsworth recorded a dozen albums from 1982-1993, all of which are explored on a retrospective boxed set titled The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever, which dropped earlier this month through Manifesto Records (he reportedly wasn’t taken with the album’s title, instead deferring that honor to other guitar heroes).
Holdsworth reportedly died Saturday (April 15), though the cause has not been announced. His daughter Louise paid tribute to the guitar great. “It is with heavy hearts that we notify everyone of the passing of our beloved father,” she posted on Facebook. “We would appreciate privacy and time while we grieve the loss of our dad, grandad, friend and musical genius. We will update close friends and family when service arrangements have been made and will notify the public of an open memorial service, which all would be welcome. We are undeniably still in shock with his unexpected death and cannot begin to put into words the overwhelming sadness we are experiencing. He is missed tremendously.”
Holdsworth’s family launched a GoFundMe campaign to help drive donations for funeral expenses. The fundraiser has amassed more than $80,000 in just 24 hours.