Born in San Marino, Calif. Lived in England, 1969-71. Won Topanga Canyon Bluegrass Banjo and Fiddle Contest at age 18; played at Disneyland with the Mad Mountain Ramblers and the Scat Band during early 1960s; formed Kaleidoscope, 1966; studio and tour guitarist for Jackson Browne, 1971-80; studio and tour guitarist for numerous performers, including Leonard Cohen, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, James Taylor, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Maria Muldaur, America, Ry Cooder, Rod Stewart, Eddie Money, Karla Bonoff, Lonnie Mack, Jesse Colin Young, Joe Walsh, Duane Eddy, and Andreas Vollenweider, 1971--; has done guitar work for television, including "The Rockford Files Theme." Addresses: Record company-- Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch Records, 962 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069.

With his curly black hair flowing well below his shoulders, a wardrobe dedicated to color-clashing polyesters and an arsenal of mutant-pawnshop instruments, David Lindley has become probably the most anti-fashionable guitar hero ever. But looks can be deceiving; once he plugs in, Lindley can hold his own against any of the six-string slingers who rule the MTV airwaves. "He may not look it, but David Lindley is the picture of good taste," stated Dan Forte in Guitar Player. "He doesn't play what's expected; he plays what's needed." His playing has graced countless albums, going way beyond the standard cliches of rock guitar and entering a category of its own.

Lindley's first instrument was a baritone ukelele that he picked up at age fourteen. Although he was exposed to various Mediterranean and Middle Eastern records through his father's collection, the youngster's first interest was in flamenco guitar. Like his cohort, Ry Cooder, Lindley spent many hours absorbing the folk music at the Ash Grove, a popular Los Angeles club during the 1960s. He became extremely proficient, drawing from the styles of Sandy Bull, Dick Rosmini, the Pioneers, and especially Stu Jameson. By the time he was just eighteen, he had won his first Topanga Canyon Bluegrass Banjo and Fiddle Contest. After taking the trophy home five years in a row, contest officials graciously asked Lindley to become a judge and give others a chance to win.

His first group was the Mad Mountain Ramblers, an acoustic ensemble that played at the Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, California. He played bluegrass with the Scat Band before forming Kaleidoscope in 1966. "It was an experiment to see what he could come up with, to see what would fit into what, and to eventually come up with original things," Lindley told Guitar Player. The group released four albums as Lindley began incorporating various instruments into his repetoire. He moved to England three years later, collaborating with singer/guitarist Terry Reid. It was during this period that Lindley was introduced to the sounds of reggae and ska, styles that dominate his current solo work.

Upon his return to the States in 1971, Lindley teamed up with songwriter Jackson Browne, beginning a nine-year association. "When David plays, it really means a lot to me--just pure meaning," Browne told Guitar Player. "It always has, from the first time he ever played music on one of my songs. He's my hero." Appearing on five LPs together, Lindley added stinging lap steel licks to Browne's finest efforts, including "That Girl Could Sing," "Redneck Friend," and "Running On Empty." Primarily a country music instrument previously, Lindley began to master the sound in a rock setting after hearing the great Freddy Roulette perform one night in a San Francisco nightclub. "That's what I want to do," Lindley told Guitar Player. "I want to sound like that guy!"

When he was on break from his duties with Browne, others began to call on Lindley for their own sessions. Artists like Leonard Cohen, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, and John Hiatt are just a few who have relied on Lindley's sound to transform their songs into something special. His ability to move from one genre to another (Andreas Vollenweider to "The Rockford Files" theme) is truly amazing. "I do stuff like an ant--combination of taste and feel and sight and hearing. Like this all-encompassing feeler," Lindley stated in Guitar Player. "You don't play everything you know; you play whatever's appropriate to the song."

Part of what makes Lindley's sound so unique is his use of off-brand guitars and exotic instruments like the bouzouki, kora, slack-key guitar and the more conventional mandolin and violin. He is not locked in by the standard conception of each instrument either, using such radical techniques as bowing a banjo to obtain unheard of sounds. "I approach them as one instrument," Guitar Player reported Lindley as saying, "which I call the 'resident noise' in the head, and a feeling from way down deep." In reaction to the exorbitant prices for vintage instruments, Lindley has also made a career out of utilizing cheaper guitars, including Danelectros, Nationals, Teiscos, Goyas, and Supros (he has over 70 of these off-brand instruments). Lindley has also worked closely with inventor/designer Doc Kauffman in trying to achieve different sounds and studying the sustaining properties of musical equipment set-ups.

A year after his departure from Browne, Lindley released his first solo album, 1981's El Rayo-X " ... a rare and tasty treat that is offbeat, fun, and instructive," according to Gene Santoro in The Guitar. With roaring slide guitar on "Mercury Blues" and "Your Old Lady," and an overall reggae flavor, Lindley made the transition from sideman to leader look simple. On his next two LPs, Win This Record and Mr. Dave, he continued to transpose most of the tunes into a reggae tempo which may have appeared, falsely, as if he were jumping on the Third World bandwagon as the style became popular in the mainstream. "Lindley hasn't changed very much," wrote Richard Grula in Guitar World, "it's just a classic case of the world finally catching up."

Lindley continued to do session work, literally redefining the role. He enjoyed a remarkable musical exchange with Ry Cooder on Bop Til You Drop and on various soundtrack LPs. The similarity between the two guitarists is astonishing and often very eerie. Of their joint tour of Japan, Cooder told Steve Fishell in Guitar Player, "he plays, and the thing gets sadder and sadder and more and more depressing in the most poetic way, and the audience recedes to some nether place." On The Long Riders and Alamo Bay it is nearly impossible to tell Cooder and Lindley apart.

In the mid-1980s, record companies, including the label Lindley was on, Asylum, began to trim down their rosters and Lindley found himself without a recording contract during one of his most popular phases. "It was a very strange period," he told Guitar World. "I didn't have a record, but I was going out on the road with El Rayo-X (also the group's name) and the audiences were getting bigger and bigger." Lindley had played on Trio with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt when the latter heard about his problem. Ronstadt secured Lindley a deal with Elektra in exchange for the opportunity to produce his LP, Very Greasy. Her vision of Lindley's sound was perfectly suited to the guitarist as he breathed new life into Bobby Freeman's "Do Ya' Wanna Dance," the Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone," and Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London." The album, as Richard Grula observed in Guitar World, "demonstrates how the world's various musical styles are irrevocably intertwined." And David Lindley knows exactly how to interpret them.

by Calen D. Stone

David Lindley's Career

David Lindley's Awards

Won Topanga Canyon Bluegrass Banjo and Fiddle Contest five years in a row.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 10 years ago

I think David Lindly is a true musician who can hear whats going on get in there and ride the wave till it washes up on the shore because of listening to him play ive learned to play subconsiously when backing other musicians which is cool because im in the audience too waiting to see what will happen