If the music industry ever gave out the equivalent of the NBA’s Sixth Man Award, surely David Lindley would be a contender. In addition to his long affiliation with Jackson Browne, Lindley’s multi-instrumental work has added depth, color and nuance to a veritable who’s who of contemporary artists, including Ry Cooder, Warren Zevon, Rod Stewart, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Emmylou Harris, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, John Prine, Bob Dylan, and David Bromberg. And that’s just for starters! His long affiliation with the group of session musicians known as The Section has led him to appear on scores of albums. For approximately 10 years, he led the much-loved, sorely-missed, multi-cultural cult favorite band, El Rayo -X, with its captivating mix of rock, blues and reggae. As one of the earliest champions of “world music,” he toured and recorded with Jordanian musician Hani Naser, as well as venturing to Madagascar with guitarist Henry Kaiser, to record with musicians there
Although he is still regularly called upon for session work, Lindley’s preference these days is to tour solo, dazzling audiences with his deft fretwork on a variety of instruments, including bouzouki, oud, and an impressive set of Hawaiian style hollow neck acoustic lap guitars. So it was during his recent appearance at the Cedar Cultural Center, where he entertained the 2/3’s full house for nearly two hours, with his mix of songs and story telling.
Bespectacled, with his long graying hair and signature massive mutton chops, Lindley resembled a character out of a Dickens novel – except for the loud paisley-print shirt, that is (standard apparel for the man occasionally referred to as The Prince of Polyester). “Ain’t No Way” from the first El Rayo-X album, was the set opener, done up more as a stately march than the loose, freewheeling arrangement from the 1981 album. Reflecting on his early career, Lindley noted that he used to play at Disneyland in a hillbilly band “with our bumpkin suits, bumpkin hats, and bumpkin instruments.” One of the members of the group was a much older man named Johnny Sancere, who played banjo and guitar, and whose longevity in the business while playing the style of music he preferred seems to have had a profound influence on Lindley’s own chosen career path. He used the Disneyland/Sancere episode as a segue into “Coot From Tennessee,” then the Warren Zevon composition “Beneath The Vast Indifference of Heaven,” both played on Hawaiian-style acoustic lap guitars. The hollow necks of these formidable instruments provided a huge, resonating bottom to the songs, making it sound for all the world as though there was a bass player up on stage, too.
Referring to the recent Rolling Stone article about The Section, Lindley related a story about saxophonist David Sanborn (“the Troll of Soul,” as Lindley referred to him),, making his way from ledge to ledge along the second story outside wall of the Holiday Inn where the band was staying while touring with Jackson Browne. Finally persuaded to come into the room from his precarious perch, Sanborn pointed at someone in the band and proclaimed “You and your little dog, too!” causing Lindley to howl with laughter at the recollection, while the audience politely chuckled in puzzled amusement. I guess you had to have been there.
Announcing, “I’d like to do a drug song for you,” Lindley told of how he and his daughter, Rosanne, came to write “Little Green Bottle,” an ode to . . . Extra Strength Excedrin. It occurred after Lindley had been bitten between the shoulder blades by some nasty tree spider that dropped down on him as he brushed against a branch. Only the magic in the little green bottle soothed his pain, so, while walking with Rosanne soon after – in the street, away from spider-infested trees – they began tossing off verses, eventually winding up with “about 30.” Although the version performed this night consisted of far fewer verses, the song itself went on for over 10 minutes, including hilarious spoken interludes about taking too much (leading to “bad musical ideas” and manic guitar playing), then coming down from the Excedrin high (slowing the song down to a dirge).
Back to the bouzouki, and another story about doing sessions with Dolly Parton, including an extravagant show at her Dollywood theme park, with a number of other guest musicians. Dolly introduced the musicians one by one, noting that so-and-so came in from New York, so-and-so from Los Angeles, and when she got to Lindley, she announced “And David Lindley flew in from Mars!” The murder ballad, “Pretty Polly” was the follow up to that anecdote.
Switching to the oud, Lindley pointed out that the one he plays does not have the rounded back traditional for this Middle Eastern instrument. “That’s because this oud was made to be plugged into a Marshall stack!” he noted, referring to his oud as “Destroys Drummers.” The bluegrass tune, “Little Sadie” was the first offering on this tricky instrument, followed by a medley of similar songs. The similarity between oud and mandolin in terms of size and number of strings (although the oud has 2 more) makes the oud a simpatico choice for bluegrass style music.
Back to bouzouki next for the Greg Copeland tune, “Pretty Girl Rules The World,” followed by another Greg Copeland composition, “Revenge Will Come,” played on the thunderous baritone Hawaiian. In between, Lindley told a story about the man who makes his lap guitars, a fellow by the name of Larry Pogreba, a neighbor of Ted Turner’s, who lives “off the grid” in Montana, and also builds black powder cannons that shoot bowling balls! It was just such a cannon that dispatched the ashes of Pogreba’s friend, the late Hunter S. Thompson, over his property in Colorado. Whatever else you might say about David Lindley, you certainly can’t accuse him of having boring friends.
Before performing his lone encore, the zydeco flavored “Bon Temps Roulez,” Lindley referred back to the Rolling Stone article on The Section. He took umbrage at the writer’s reference to the group as “The Knights of Soft Rock,” so he decided to give himself yet another nickname: Flaccido Domingo. That line got him the biggest laugh of the night.
It’s easy to see how David Lindley is such an in-demand studio musician. His range of instrumental skills is unique, but in addition to that his easygoing demeanor and “what, me worry?” attitude toward life must be refreshing in a business where over-inflated egos are the norm. Fortunately for us, he still spends a lot of time on the road, playing in bars and clubs, and at festivals all over the world. Alone on stage, flanked by his rack of instruments, is where his true genius shines forth – with a half-dozen humorous anecdotes thrown in for good measure.