ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 8, 2002
By Steve Newton
A while back I made one of my regular visits to Zulu Records and noticed that they were giving stuff away. Not great stuff—there were no limited-edition Hellecasters CDs or Jeff Beck bootlegs—but in the box of vinyl castoffs and local cassettes was Win This Record, the 1982 release by David Lindley and El-Rayo X.
Like most pop music from that era, it wasn’t very good, but it did include one track, “Talk to the Lawyer”, that caught my ear with its mention of the CIA in Afghanistan. Two decades later, if you check out http://www.davidlindley.com/, you’ll find a links page that connects to numerous news sites that cover U.S. foreign policy and the protection of American interests abroad. As Lindley explains from his home in the L.A. suburb of Claremont, he’s been taking a multi-angle view of global issues for some time now.
“The news here, and probably in Canada as well, is a little bit managed,” he relates, “and sometimes it’s a lot managed. So I go to foreign sources. I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany, and I get to read things and see stuff on TV. The BBC is really good, and the French newspaper Le Monde. But any kind of news thing, where people hear another perspective, is really interesting.”
Lindley’s blinders-off world-view is not surprising when you consider how open and far-reaching his musical outlook is. Although he first garnered attention as Jackson Browne’s coconspirator during the late-’70s Running on Empty period—that’s him doing the famous falsetto vocal on that album’s hit version of Maurice Williams’s “Stay”—his career has included stints in the eclectic ’60s folk act Kaleidoscope, an ongoing partnership with roots guru Ry Cooder, and world-music collaborations with Bay Area guitarist Henry Kaiser and Jordanian percussionist Hani Naser. Through it all he’s also been one of Hollywood’s most in-demand session players, working for the likes of Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, and Little Feat. It all started when he picked up the banjo as a teenager, which, strangely enough, did not evoke derision from his peers.
“Nah—this was a five-string banjo,” he recalls, “and bluegrass five-string banjo has always mystified people, so it was kinda like, ‘Wow, what is that?’ My parents did not approve of it, because it was hillbilly music. You know how that is: ‘Oh no, my son the hillbilly!’ But I just loved it anyways, so I studied as much as I could, and I played my banjo in my closet with no air. Oxygen deprivation.”
Nowadays Lindley—who plays Richard’s on Richards on Wednesday (August 14)—prefers more exotic instruments than banjo while performing his current reggae- and blues-based repertoire. “I’m doing a lot of oud these days,” notes the 58-year-old picker, referring to the Arabic cousin of the lute. “I’ve always wanted to play that, and I kinda messed around with it before, but now it’s serious time.”