The Song Remains: David Lindley (1944-2023)

He was so much more than a simple West Coast session guitarist.

There are an awful lot of very good guitarists, but only a few who could be said to be true masters of their instrument, and David Lindley, who died on Friday 3rd March aged 78 of an undisclosed illness, was one of that very select group of musicians. Fans of Jackson Browne, Dolly Parton, Ry Cooder, and Rod Stewart will be aware of him for the work he did with those artists, but he was so much more than an ace West Coast session guitarist with a musical career spanning the folk boom fuelled West Coast ‘60s bluegrass explosion, through psychedelia, ‘80s new wave roots rock and ultimately on to a very personal take on world music.

David Lindley was born on 21St March 1944, in San Marino, California, and he had access to his father’s extensive and eclectic collection of 78 rpm records, and he played a variety of stringed instruments throughout his childhood and adolescence. He was a five-time banjo champion in the California bluegrass scene that included Herb Pedersen, Chris Hillman, Jerry Garcia, Richard Greene, Clarence White and countless others,  before forming Kaleidoscope with Chris Darrow in 1966. It has been said that Kaleidoscope were the first world music band and they certainly expanded the musical palette for other musicians. When they disbanded in 1970, David Lindley went to England to play with Terry Reid before joining up with Jackson Browne in 1972. He was integral to Jackson Browne’s sound, and their collaboration peaked with 1977’s ‘Running On Empty’ with David Lindley featured on vocals on ‘Stay’. As well as working with Jackson Browne, David Lindley was reputedly playing 300 gigs a year supporting everyone from Crosby & Nash, Linda Ronstadt, and James Taylor, together with countless sessions. He also worked with Ry Cooder, primarily on Cooder’s soundtracks, though they did tour together and this was captured on ‘Cooder-Lindley Family Live At The Vienna Opera House’.

In 1981he put together El Rayo-X and released five records in the ‘80s. The albums not only demonstrated David Lindley’s musical eclecticism but also his humour and mixed good-time new wave rock & roll with various world rhythms and sounds. A key part of El Radio-X’s sound was the British drummer Ian Wallace and his unique hard-hitting style. Despite the quality of El Rayo-X’s recorded output they never had the commercial success they deserved and by the ‘90s David Lindley’s interest had moved to more overtly world music sounds. He recorded a number of albums with Henry Kaiser exploring the music of Madagascar and Norway, and a number of albums with Timbuk3 percussionist Wally Ingram that he released himself from his website. 2010’s ‘Love Is Strange: En Vivo Con Tino’ was recorded on a 2006 tour of Spain with Jackson Browne which saw the pair reinterpreting Browne’s songs for the 21st Century. His last solo record was 2007’s ‘Big Twang’ and with tracks like Plethora Bouzoukia’,  ‘Down In the Vatican Library’, Copperhead Road’, and ‘Where The Pine Tree Meets The Pine’ you get a good idea of what the listener could expect.

While there are many individually great performances scattered across David Lindley’s work with other artists and his own solo recordings, his greatest achievement was to use his love of traditional music from across the world to bring new sounds to the studio and live performances. This is probably why Ry Cooder chose to work with him so extensively on his own soundtrack recordings in the ‘80s. Just case anyone has the idea that David Lindley was something of a dusty musicologist or old folkie, you have to remember his love of using cheap electric guitars as well as more exotic string instruments. His humour is very much in evidence in his solo work, particularly his reworking Huey Piano Smith’s ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu’ as Tu-Ber-Cu-Lucas and the Sinus Blues’, and his good-time rock & roll credentials are fully in evidence on Etta James’ ‘Something’s Got A Hold Of Me’. If all that isn’t enough, how could you not warm to someone who loved garish polyester clothes?

About Martin Johnson 399 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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R.I.P David Lindley. We have lost another master.


RIP The King Of Crimplene. Another original thinker gone.