David Lindley: Appreciating A “Dragon Slayer”
March 5, 2023
David Lindley, the virtuoso player of guitars and all things stringed, never lost track of a fundamental thing about making music: it’s supposed to be fun! (That, of course, is why they call it playing.)
Lindley died this week at the age of 78.
Looking back at his influences, Lindley once told an interviewer, “I was always interested in everything.” And he never lost that curiosity. Thanks to Lindley, many musicians, and far more listeners were introduced to the bouzouki, cittern, bağlama, gumbus, charango, cümbüş, oud, zither and, of the hardinfele fiddle. Asked if it was difficult to learn and to play so many different instruments, Lindley replied “Some are slightly different–frets, no frets, slide–but you look at them as a many-headed dragon, and you slay them all the same way.”
If Lindley’s only contribution to American music was his lap steel playing on Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty, he would have earned his place in the pantheon of great guitarists. But he gave us so much more.
He was known primarily as a sideman. A guitar for hire. But the partnerships he forged with artists like Warren Zevon, Linda Ronstadt, and, especially, Jackson Brown were far deeper than a typical session player. Never stealing the show, Lindley made an distinctive and indelible impact on every record he played on.
Personally, his concert with Browne recorded live at the Main Point outside of Philadelphia in 1975 (just 48 short years ago!) was one of the first bootleg albums I ever brought. I loved it then and I love it now. Hearing some of Browne’s powerful songs for the first time, listening to the amazing sounds that Lindley was producing, and enjoying the unique and wonderful camaraderie between the two of them was a formative musical experience for me. And for countless others.
The albums he recorded with his own band, El Rayo-X, are simply joyful. El Rayo- X, Win This Record, and Very Greasy all were filled with weird and wonderful songs. Like his friend and frequent collaborator Ry Cooder, Lindley had a knack for finding great songs – some familiar, most not – and making them his own. It is impossible to believe, for example that Lindley did not write Very Greasy’ s closing song, the masterful, and ridiculous Tikki Torches at Twilight. But he did not; Bobby Fuller did.
His wide-ranging interests made him a musical polyglot. Much of his later work, including collaborations with iconoclastic American guitarist Henry Kaiser (recorded in Madagascar), fellow traveler Ry Cooder, percussionist Wally Ingram, and the late Jordanian ord and hand drum master Hani Nasar can be hard to find. But it’s well worth the effort. (Lindley was one of the first artists to sell CD’s primarily from his personal webpage, and nearly all his recordings were available there, but the online store on his website is currently down.) If you are looking for Lindley’s music, you will do best on YouTube, which has a great collection of concerts and oddities.
The most touching tributes to Lindley have come, appropriately, from other musicians, including Jason Isbell (“The loss of David Lindley is a huge one. Without his influence my music would sound completely different. I was genuinely obsessed with his playing from the first time I heard it. The man was a giant.”), Joe Bonamassa (“Rest in Peace to one of the greatest ever to ever play music. David Lindley changed the game for all of us.”), and Graham Nash (“One of the most talented musicians there has ever been”).
So David Lindley has taken off his Romero’s for the last time. He is someplace else, dancing under the moonlight /squeezing and kissing all through the night. And, I hope, getting normal at the Luau. His music – thankfully, gloriously, wonderfully – lives on.
photo from David Lindley’s website: https://www.davidlindley.com