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For Guitarist Allan Holdsworth, Perfection Is the Goal : Jazz: He's not well known outside musicians' circles, but that's all right with him. He just wants to make his music--and make sure it's the best it can be.

March 06, 1990|JIM WASHBURN

TUSTIN — Eddie Van Halen, no slouch on the strings himself, has said that Allan Holdsworth is the best guitarist there is, a view pretty much seconded by the likes of Frank Zappa, Neal Schon and Gary Moore. A cover story in Guitar World magazine last year proclaimed Holdsworth "as influential as Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen," and Holdsworth is the cover subject of the current issue of Guitar Player.

As Holdsworth figures it, though, the neighbors in the unassuming Tustin tract where he lives with his family "don't know what I do--or anything, I think. Most of them probably don't even know I play an instrument."

In some respects, he prefers it that way. The torrents of praise that have come his way make Holdsworth cringe. Short of wearing a shirt that reads "I Am Nothing, Really," Holdsworth could scarcely be more diffident about his talent and the accolades it has earned. It's as if his closeness to his own music doesn't permit him to rest on the laurels offered by others.

Holdsworth, who will perform tonight in Santa Ana, is a lanky, spider-fingered, soft-spoken man. Seated on the floor of his equipment-cluttered garage studio last week, he said: "Obviously, it's very nice when someone likes the music. And you can't argue, 'No, you're crazy, you're completely wrong,' with them. You'd be denying them their opinion. So I just have to say, 'Thank you very much.' But I always think that what I do is crummy anyway.

"I love music--really a lot. That's why I do it. But mine just never makes it, to me. There's always something wrong with it, something I want to change. But I like that, because at least it keeps me looking, trying to find ways I can improve, which obviously are a lot."

In his pursuit of what may be an impossible perfection, Holdsworth has created some genre-blurring music with Tony Williams' Lifetime, Bill Bruford, Soft Machine, Gong, UK and on his own albums and tours. And his "crummy" music, with its labyrinthine logic and dazzling interval leaps, has expanded--some say redefined--the vocabulary of the electric guitar.

Although his musician fans may jockey for the best finger-viewing seats at his shows, Holdsworth's neighbors certainly aren't alone in not knowing about him.

"A lot of people in my audiences are either musicians or somehow connected to the business, simply because they're the only ones who ever find out about this music," Holdsworth said. "It's practically impossible to reach other people because of the problems this kind of music has getting airplay and promotion.

"That's sad to me, because the ultimate thing for me would be to reach someone who didn't know anything about music at all, so they wouldn't be watching your fingers and all but (rather) listening to it on a different, emotional level, where they just heard it and it meant something to them."

Does he think his kind of progressive music would appeal to the casual listener?

"I don't think everybody would like it, for sure. But if people got to hear it, if even 20% liked it, I would be really happy with that.

"But it's hard to get past the people who are in the business side of it, like the radio stations which seem totally disinterested in anything that isn't pushed on them by the record companies.

"There are good people in radio and the record companies, but there are others who are completely in the wrong job and holding music up in the process. It would be like me walking into a hospital, pretending to be a doctor and carving somebody up. They really aren't qualified.

"In a way, I think the whole business is pretty corrupt. It's like anything else where people make a lot of money--it's really hard for the little guy. I do realize this kind of music might not be liked by the vast majority of people anyway, but it's just sad that we and so many of the other kinds of musicians out there can't reach those extra people--people desperate to hear something different--who might like it."

In a recent interview, Van Halen, while decrying Holdsworth's lack of popular recognition, also asserted that his music "needs direction."

"I think he's absolutely wrong," Holdsworth said. "Maybe I need direction if they wanted to make me do something I didn't want to do so I could make money, but that's not what I'm in it for. Obviously I want to make a living at it and make ends meet enough to be able to continue improving at this, but I think I have a good idea about exactly what I want to do.

"A couple of years ago, I went to a meeting with a major label interested in me. And I couldn't wait to get out of there, man. The guy practically said that I was completely directionless, that he didn't like anything I'd ever done since I'd started making my own albums and that they wanted me to use X musicians instead of Y musicians, and this producer, this engineer and this studio.

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