Highway's Song

DAVID LINDLEY: A Journeyman in the Truest Sense

David Lindley.

Music is mobile. It needs movement and it needs to be released. Not in the record release sense but freed from the chains of commercial interests and categorization.

That’s where artists like David Lindley come in to the picture.

Deep in the heart of Southern California’s Inland Empire, a few short steps away from the near forgotten roadway known as Route 66, lives the stringed master and multi-instrumentist whose name is most often associated with familiar collaborators like Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris, to name a few.

He lives far from the glamor and trends of L.A.’s music business, out on the edge of California’s desert in the shadow of the vast San Gabriel mountain range.

Like a studied hermit who ventures out from cave on occasion, he has long been an explorer, a pioneer, a gentle rebel, and a student of exotic instruments. He has also been a disseminator of music.

In his youth, in the early 1960s, he met kindred spirits who formed the core of what became Kaleidoscope, an experimental psychedelic group and perhaps rock’s first world-music band. It was due to their adventurous spirit, a sense of musical wanderlust and Solomon Feldthouse, who was raised in Turkey and familiar with many of the exotic instruments from the area.

In a recent interview with the Troubadour Lindley praised Feldthouse as the pivotal member of the band’s original sound.

“We were different than a lot of the bands. I started playing when I was 17. I knew this guy named Solomon (Feldthouse) from gigs when I was playing at bluegrass festivals. He could sing, play the 12-string and Flamingo guitar. I’d get together with him and he’d make things interesting. From that we got a bunch of guys together for the band.”
In subsequent reunions of the band that didn’t include Feldthouse, Lindley discounted the results.

“I remember contributing to one album. There were many incarnations, but if Solomon wasn’t part of it, it wasn’t really Kaleidoscope. You know how it gets, so many personnel changes until you can’t recognize the band anymore.”

It was a heady blend that attracted Epic Records to sign them to a multi-album record deal. Today, Kaleidoscope is regarded one of the key innovative bands of the late-’60s that stand alongside Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix as pioneers of a new form of music.

Lindley absorbed it all. He added everything to his box of magic music and instruments that would soon draw so many international musicians, singer-songwriters and popular hit-makers in to his unique sonic universe. This famously included Jackson Browne, probably his best-known collaborator.

In the middle years, 1969 to 1972, Lindley moved to England to play with Terry Reid, an up-and-coming blues-rocker. While this adventure found him playing 1970’s Isle of Wight Rock Festival, it was a chance drive with Reid through the streets of London that triggered Lindley’s musical journey for years to come.

“We were going around the North Circular in London when I heard Desmond Decker and the ACEs singing “Israelites” on the radio. I’d never heard it before. It was a reggae station. It was West Indian music, reggae and ska all intertwined. I loved it. I went out and bought the entire Trojan Series. Terry’s bass player was from Belfast and knew reggae. I learned from him.”

In 1972, Jackson Browne was in Los Angles getting ready to fire up the singer-songwriter scene as a result of his critically acclaimed eponymous debut album. Browne was a fan of Kaleidoscope and remembered David well enough to seek him out for his sophomore effort. It was For Everyman that defined the partnership between Browne and Lindley. On those first early sessions with Browne and Lindley there was a rare musical chemistry on classic songs like “These Days,” “Redneck Friend,” and the distinctive electric fiddle on “Ready or Not.” It was a sound that would enhance Jackson Browne’s songs and add to the trademark of his sound. It would give David Lindley the kind of visibility he deserved.

The collaboration would last from 1973 until 1980. Along the way Lindley would make history on Browne’s classic hit song and album, “Running on Empty,” with a slide guitar and a memorable falsetto vocal on the closing track, “Stay.” It happened on the tour at the end of the show. After two hours of listening to Jackson Browne’s voice, the lush and lovely Rosemary Butler tags the chorus and then this other voice starts singing. Then, Lindley added, “Yes. It was me coming out from behind the shadows. The guy sitting down with the long hair, whose eyes you couldn’t see, emerging from the shadows like Dr. Caligari. Here he comes!!!” [laughing].

When it came his time for solo efforts, he fondly refers to his first album as the “blue” album, aka El Reyo X. Released in 1981, the debut album included special guests Jackson Browne, Jorge Caleron, Garth Hudson, and Bill Payne. Lindley dances a line between Tex-Mex and roots reggae as he covers pop classics like “Bye Bye Love.” AllMusic.com describes it as an “absolute joy.” And it is. The album set the cast for Lindley’s future albums and live performances. It was fun music played seriously—both experimental and danceable.

Over the decades Lindley has released only a handful of solo albums. However, he reports that he is currently working on a new project.

“We have seven tunes in the can now. I have seven more ready to go. There are a lot of originals and some old traditional tunes done a different way. They sound good. Really good. I may do them real simple. Just guitar and fiddle. Maybe a Weissenborn Hawaiian guitar. I’ve been playing a lot of middle eastern music; I play the oud every day. It’s very difficult. But I’m learning. It’s coming along. The oud has no frets, so you must be very precise. The scales must be exactly right. It’s used in classical Turkish and Arabic music.”

At this point in the conversation Lindley made a statement that not all veteran artists would say or admit to.

“I’ve learned more in the past three years than I have in my entire life.”
The comment leaves the impression that Lindley is still looking for new challenges to help nurture and grow his already considerable talent. With instruments like the oud, he is finding them.

As we reached deeper into the subject of roots music it became clear the universality and continuity of music from all cultures is what drives David Lindley as an artist and a human being.

He began with the origins of slide guitar.

“As far as I know the slide guitar came from Hawaii. It may have started in India a long time ago. There’s evidence of musicians playing with a type of slide bar that worked for classical Indian music.” But the music and instruments began to spread through ships and sailing. “Sailors brought all kinds of instruments on board. They would disembark in Hawaii and bring them ashore. Then the Hawaiians would do bring something new to the instruments. It’s how the ukulele came about, the dobro, too.”

He continued as our conversation led us to Japan.

“There are these Japanese musicians I’ve listened to and talked to when I’ve gone over there. One is Tsuchiya Masami. He started a movement called Rice Music. He said every culture that has rice as a food staple has really good music. There are four musicians in Japan that started this movement: Makoto Kubota, Tsuchiya Masami, this guy from Okinawa who is in Parliament now,and Shokichi Kina, who has a band that plays Okinawan music and western music together. He’s a very serious guy. I talked with him for a long time. He lived on an island with nothing but monkeys for two years. These guys disseminated through Asia. So, a while ago I’m listening to Sumatran music and it sounds like the Neville Brothers. Why? How? I look at who produced it and there it is: Makoto Kubota! It’s all connected.”

If this connection is so, then David Lindley may be one of international music’s pioneers in building the tracks that has transported all kinds of music all over the world. The template was created when he began making music with Solomon Feldthouse in the ’60s. Since that time the music has streamed through his career as he’s traveled through so many musical vistas continually making music that is as serious as it is fun, as experimental as it is danceable.
Lindley has returned to the road and the studio over the last decade, with friends like Ry Cooder and Jackson Browne, but he also works at home on new challenges, like the oud.
Whatever form it takes, David Lindley will continue to try to capture the spirit of the music he loves as the Tahitians and Hawaiians once collected the best of the worlds, which they encountered in great canoes for all to enjoy, learn, and grow from. In a world today that is so divided, it’s musicians like David Lindley who are bringing us together borderless, boundless, and free to explore who we really are.

David Lindley will be performing at the Adams Avenue Unplugged festival on Saturday, April 27, at the Normal Heights United Methodist Church on Mansfield St., 8pm. Admission is $20.

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