David Lindley, who recently passed on at the age of 78, was a musical chameleon – a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, explorer of multiple cultures and phases of American music history, and more. As a devotee of slide guitar, I was first reeled in to his work through hearing him play electric lap steel as a session musician/sideman and once I was hooked, the doors opened wide. Without further ado, here are a few of my favorite Lindley moments, presented in chronological order.
1 ) “Nobody” from A Beacon From Mars by Kaleidoscope (1967)
To call the underrated band Kaleidoscope (of which Lindley was a co-founder and co-leader) multicultural or eclectic is inadequate to describe the breadth of their sound, even by standards set by other psychedelic experimenters of the era. This exceptionally catchy song, a single subsequently reissued as part of their second album, melds East-meets-West instrumentation with the straight-soul guest vocals of Larry Williams and Johnny “Guitar” Watson.
2 ) “Seven-Eight Sweet” from Incredible Kaleidoscope by Kaleidoscope (1969)
Kaleidoscope’s propensity for short, catchy songs was juxtaposed against some pretty intense and extended jam-based songs, like this rhythmically tricky rave-up that features several extended, fiery fiddle solos by Lindley.
3 ) “Rainy Day” from America by America (1971)
This record (a #1 album, featuring the band America’s breakout hit “A Horse With No Name”) was likely most folks’ first exposure to David Lindley, albeit without a prominent spotlight on his presence. He is a guest session musician on two tracks, contributing some extremely tasty lap steel to this folksy acoustic number.
4 ) “These Days” from For Everyman by Jackson Browne (1973)
The David Lindley musical biography can’t be written without significant reference to his longtime employer and collaborator, Jackson Browne, and narrowing down to 10 tracks documenting that partnership would be difficult, never mind only a couple. Taken from their first record together, this rock ballad is full of melodic slide guitar, as well as an impeccably-constructed solo in the middle and another at the end as the song plays out – were his playing not so deliberately supportive, it would be easy to make the case that this is a David Lindley performance with a guest appearance by Browne.
5 ) “Running On Empty” from Running On Empty by Jackson Browne (1977)
Quite possibly the most iconic David Lindley performance is this live track, featuring two pitch-perfect and widely imitated electric lap steel solos. I sure as heck studied these intently, as I did the solo on the next track.
6 ) “Play It All Night Long” from Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School by Warren Zevon (1980)
Sometimes along fellow session whiz Waddy Wachtel, David Lindley is all over the Warren Zevon discography. The first such track on which I was acutely aware of his presence was this sardonic (even by Zevon standards) song, which is full of searing Lindley lap steel.
7 ) “Talk to the Lawyer” from Win This Record (1982)
I nearly represented his solo work with “Look So Good,” gorgeous (and ultimately rather influential) solo, acoustic instrumental that he plays on his Weissenborn lap steel guitar. Ultimately, though, I needed to shout out a) his endearing vocals and the classic rock ear candy that typified his output with his band El Rayo-X, like this clever, reggae-infused song, which also has the benefit of demonstrating his wonderful lead guitar soloing without the beloved slide.
8 ) “To Know Him Is To Love Him” from Trio by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris (1987)
This collaborative album was an important milestone in all three co-leaders’ careers. Their remake of the classic Phil Spector song from three decades prior features Emmylou out front, with the instrumental texture revolving around Lindley’s Kona Hawaiian guitar and mandolin.
9 ) “Ambilanao Zaho” from A World Out of Time by David Lindley and Henry Kaiser with Various Artists (1992)
My brother, Matthew, got me into the music of Madagascar in my late teens, and so I was excited a couple years later when I found this, the first volume of the series documenting Lindley and partner/fellow guitarist Kaiser’s collaborations with (and in some cases straight-up recordings of) Malagasy musicians. On this, the second track from the record, the singer/songwriter Rossy invites the two guitarist, and when Lindley enters with a short but hair-raising lap steel solo, it becomes clear that Lindley will be doing what he does, which is to say putting his stamp on the proceedings, while ultimately keeping the focus where it belongs.
10 ) “Ants and Chimps” from Music for Werner Herzog Encounters at the End of the World by David Lindley and Henry Kaiser (2013)
On this tune we hear Lindley and Kaiser on their own, playing a contemplative acoustic instrumental revolving around Lindley’s soulful Weissenborn lap steel guitar.