David Lindley, a multi-talented guitarist who frequented Los Angeles recording studios during the 1970s and ’80s, died Friday. It was 78.
A source close to Lindley confirmed his death to the Times. No cause of death was given, but a fundraiser to cover medical expenses from an unknown illness had been organized earlier this year.
For the record, for history, for purely formal reasons:
3:02 p.m. March 3, 2023An earlier version of David Lindley’s obituary misstated his age. It was 78.
After forming the psychedelic folk-rock band Kaleidoscope in 1966, Lindley backed many of the era’s biggest stars, establishing himself as a sought-after session musician through his work with Jackson Browne. After playing a prominent role on Browne’s “For Everyman” (1973) and “Late for the Sky” (1974), Lindley came to the fore on 1977’s multi-platinum “Running on Empty”, playing an indelible lap steel solo on the title track album track. and sharing lead vocals on the hit cover of Maurice Williams’ “Stay”. Lindley also played on Linda Ronstadt’s “Heart Like a Wheel” and Warren Zevon’s 1976 album of the same name, and also appeared on records by Crosby & Nash, Rod Stewart and Ry Cooder.
Americana singer-songwriter and guitarist Jason Isbell tweeted: “The loss of David Lindley is huge. Without his influence my music would sound completely different. I was really obsessed with his playing from the first time I heard it. The man was a giant.”
In the albums recorded with his band El Rayo-X in the early 1980s, Lindley displayed the full range of his musical interests, particularly in non-Western sounds. Lindley’s omnivorous tastes extended to the instruments he played. He amassed all kinds of stringed instruments from around the world—he stated that he had “no idea” how many instruments he could actually play—often specializing in finding distinctive sounds in the kinds of cheap instruments that other professional players would shun.
Born in San Marino, California, on March 21, 1944, Lindley grew up in a musical household, surrounded by his father’s eclectic collection of 78-rpm records. As a child, Lindley began playing the banjo and fiddle, soon gaining enough skill that he became a five-time winner of the annual Canyon Topanga Banjo Contest. While attending La Salle High School in Pasadena, he formed the folk band Mad Mountain Ramblers, which began playing in Los Angeles folk clubs. There, he met Chris Darrow forming the short-lived Dry City Scat Band before Lindley moved into electronic music. The pair reunited in Kaleidoscope, a psychedelic band that released its first album, “Side Trips,” in 1967. That year, Lindley landed his first notable job when he played a variety of instruments on Leonard Cohen’s debut album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen.”
Often drawing on Middle Eastern musical concepts, Kaleidoscope lasted four albums before breaking up in 1970. Lindley headed to England, where he played with blues-rocker Terry Reid for a few years, appearing on Reid’s 1972 album, “River.” After completing his stint with Reid, Lindley joined Browne’s band. He soon became a trusted collaborator, appearing on every album Browne released between 1973’s “For Everyman” and 1980’s “Hold Out.”
While in Browne’s band, Lindley played sessions with many of the biggest stars of the mid-1970s. Ronstadt hired him for a trio of albums – “Heart Like a Wheel”, “Prisoner in Disguise” and “Simple Dreams” – and Rod Stewart brought him in to star in “Atlantic Crossing” and “A Night on the Town.” While producing Warren Zevon’s first album for Asylum, Browne had Lindley play fiddle and slide guitar. Zevon would hire Lindley again in the 1980s. Ry Cooder recruited him for “Jazz” and “Bop Till You Drop” in the late 1970s, sparking a partnership that continued for decades. The pair occasionally tour as a duo, with one such venture captured on the 2019 release ‘Cooder/Lindley Family Live at the Vienna Opera House’.
Lindley put the session work into action in the early 1980s when he formed El Rayo-X, a group he described as “more or less a party band”. On 1981’s self-titled album and its 1982 follow-up, ‘Win This Record!’, Lindley played a lively, vaguely new-wave-inspired brand of roots-rock that found room for reggae beats along with a bawdy sense of humor. he rewrote Huey Piano Smith’s hit ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Blues’ as ‘Tu-Ber-Cu-Lucas and the Sinus Blues’ and penned an ode to condoms with ‘Ram a Lamb a Man’.
After “Very Greasy,” a Ronstadt-produced album from 1988, Lindley lost interest in mainstream rock along with his major label contract. While he would still appear on such prominent albums as Bob Dylan’s “Under the Red Sky,” Iggy Pop’s “Brick by Brick” and John Prine’s “The Missing Years,” he pursued more esoteric interests on his own.
Beginning with 1991’s A World Out of Time, he and avant-garde guitarist Henry Kaiser released a series of albums based on field recordings made in Madagascar and Norway. Around this time, Lindley formed a partnership with Hani Naser, recording a series of albums with the Jordanian oud player. He also developed a lasting relationship with reggae percussionist Wally Ingram.
In the following decades, Lindley resided happily on the fringes of mainstream music, but occasionally returned to the limelight. He reunited with Browne for a tour of Spain in 2006. The concerts provided the source material for the live album “Love Is Strange”. That same year, Ben Harper had him play guitar on ‘Both Sides of the Gun’. Lindley released his last solo album, “Big Twang,” in 2007, a year in which he also scored the Werner Herzog documentary “Encounters at the End of the World” with Kaiser.
Lindley was a resident of Claremont, California for many years. He is survived by his wife, Joan Darrow – sister of his Kaleidoscope bandmate Chris Darrow – and their daughter, Rosanne Lindley.