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David Lindley, guitarist best known for work with Jackson Browne, dies at 78


David Lindley, a versatile guitarist who was a fixture in Los Angeles recording studios in the 1970s and 1980s, passed away Friday. He turned 78.

A source close to Lindley confirmed his death to The Times. No cause of death was given, but a fundraiser had been set up earlier this year to cover the medical costs of an undisclosed illness.

For the record:

3:02 pm March 3, 2023An earlier version of David Lindley’s obituary misrepresented his age. He turned 78.

After founding the psychedelic folk rock group Kaleidoscope in 1966, Lindley supported many of the biggest stars of the era and established himself as a sought-after session musician through his work with Jackson Browne. Having featured prominently in Browne’s “For Everyman” (1973) and “Late for the Sky” (1974), Lindley rose to prominence on 1977’s multiplatinum “Running on Empty,” showcasing an indelible lap-steel- soloed on the album’s title track. and sharing lead vocals on the hit cover version 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, while also appearing 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 very different. I was really obsessed with his playing from the first time I heard it. The man was a giant.”

On albums recorded with his band El Rayo-X in the early 1980s, Lindley displayed the full range of his musical interests, especially in non-Western sounds. Lindley’s omnivorous tastes extended to the instruments he played. He collected all sorts of stringed instruments from around the world – he stated he had “no idea” how many instruments he could actually play – often specializing in finding distinctive sounds in the kind of cheap instruments other professional players would avoid.

David Lindley performing in 1983.

(Luciano Viti / Getty Images)

Born in San Marino, California, on March 21, 1944, Lindley grew up in a musical household surrounded by his father’s eclectic collection of 78rpm records. When he was a child, Lindley began playing the banjo and fiddle, and soon gained enough skill to become a five-time winner of the annual Topanga Canyon Banjo Contest. While attending La Salle High School in Pasadena, he formed the folk group the Mad Mountain Ramblers, which began playing in Los Angeles folk clubs. There he met Chris Darrow who formed the short-lived Dry City Scat Band before Lindley got involved in electric music. The pair reunited in Kaleidoscope, a psychedelic band that released their first album “Side Trips” in 1967. That year, Lindley landed his first notable session work playing several instruments on Leonard Cohen’s debut album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen.”

Kaleidoscope often drew on Middle Eastern musical concepts and lasted for four albums before breaking up in 1970. Lindley went to England, where he spent a few years playing with blues rocker Terry Reid, and appeared on Reid’s 1972 album, “River”. After completing his stint with Reid, Lindley joined Browne’s band. He quickly became a trusted collaborator, appearing on every album Browne released between 1973’s “For Everyman” and 1980s “Hold Out.”

While a regular 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 enlisted him to play on ‘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 re-hire Lindley in the 1980s. Ry Cooder enlisted him for “Jazz” and “Bop Till You Drop” in the late 1970s, leading to a collaboration that lasted for decades; the pair occasionally tour as a duo, with one of these ventures captured on the 2019 release “Cooder/Lindley Family Live at the Vienna Opera House”.

Two musicians perform on stage

Jackson Browne on acoustic guitar and David Lindley on violin in 1977.

(Ebet Roberts/Redferns via Getty Images)

Lindley put session work on the back burner in the early 1980s when he formed El Rayo-X, a group he characterized as “more or less a party band.” On the self-titled 1981 album and its 1982 follow-up, Win This Record! he rewrote Huey Piano Smith’s hit “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Blues” as “Tu-Ber-Cu-Lucas and the Sinus Blues” and wrote an ode to condoms with “Ram a lamb a man.”

After “Very Greasy”, a 1988 Ronstadt-produced album, Lindley lost interest in mainstream rock, along with his major-label contract. While he continued to 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 recording expeditions in Madagascar and Norway. Around this time, Lindley formed a partnership with Hani Naser and recorded a series of albums with the Jordanian ud player. He also developed a lasting relationship with reggae percussionist Wally Ingram.

In the following decades, Lindley happily stayed on the fringes of mainstream music, but occasionally returned to the limelight. He reunited with Browne for a 2006 tour of Spain; the concerts formed 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 lived in Claremont, California for a long time. He is survived by his wife, Joan Darrow – the sister of his Kaleidoscope bandmate Chris Darrow – and their daughter, Rosanne Lindley.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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