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Off the Beaten Tracks: Mr Dave, Jackson Browne’s main man

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WHILE his contributions to classic LPs by Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Terry Reid, Ry Cooder, Warren Zevon and many others would be enough to cement his reputation as one of the all-time greats, David Lindley is also responsible for 20 or so of his own albums which showcase his incredible virtuosity on all manner of stringed instruments. Lap steel, banjo, mandolin, cittern, oud and zither to name but half a dozen. So here’s a brief journey through the life and music of the artist also known as Mr Dave and De Paris La Tante.

David Perry Lindley was born on March 21, 1944 in San Marino, California. As a teenager he won the annual Topanga Canyon banjo contest five times. In 1967 he founded what he describes as the first world-music rock band, Kaleidoscope. Their debut album that year, Side Trips, combines psychedelic rock with Arabic influences. The opening track, Egyptian Gardens, is a fair summing-up of the Kaleidoscope sound. Most of the ten tracks are brief and the total time is only just over 26 minutes.

The following year A Beacon From Mars clocked in at a much more respectable 44 minutes. The 12-minute title song is a trippy workout which sounds very much of its time while the other lengthy track, Taxim, is an intriguing work based on a Turkish theme. For this album Lindley restricted himself to guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo but his bandmate Solomon Feldthouse, who grew up in Turkey, supplied such exotic instruments as the oud, dumbek, saz, dulcimer, vina and bouzouki, on all of which David would later become proficient.

Incredible! Kaleidoscope followed in 1969, with its highlight being the 11-minute instrumental Seven-Ate-Sweet. This LP became the band’s only one to chart, reaching No 139 in the US. The band broke up after the release of their fourth album, Bernice, in 1970. Lindley travelled to England, where he joined Terry Reid’s band, playing at the Isle of Wight Festival and on Reid’s excellent album River. Here’s the title track, plus an alternate take released in 2016.

In 1972 came a musical marriage made in heaven when Lindley teamed up with Jackson Browne. His playing on Browne’s LP For Everyman the following year transformed tracks such as the sublime These Days.  And better was yet to come in 1974 with Lindley’s huge and vital contribution to Browne’s utterly brilliant album Late For The Sky. 

His playing on the Ian Matthews album Some Days You Eat The Bear and Some Days The Bear Eats You is equally awesome, particularly on the song Biloxi. He also adorned the Linda Ronstadt LPs Heart Like a Wheel and Prisoner in Disguise, Crosby & Nash’s Wind on the Water and Rod Stewart’s Atlantic Crossing. In 1976 Lindley’s role with Browne was reduced for the LP The Pretender, probably because he had so many other commitments. Under the pseudonym De Paris La Tante, he took part in a Kaleidoscope reunion album, When Scopes Collide, which includes this nice cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky. Then there was Warren Zevon’s eponymous debut album, Crosby & Nash’s Whistling Down the Wire, Rod Stewart’s A Night on the Town and Terry Reid’s Seed of Memory.

In 1977 Lindley joined Browne on the tour which would produce the album Running on Empty, recorded live in concerts, on buses and in hotel rooms. The world was introduced to David’s falsetto vocals on a hit cover version of Stay. Following further collaborations with Ronstadt, Cooder and Browne, he decided in 1981 to form his own band, El Rayo-X, combining US pop, roots and world music influences with a major dose of reggae. It was co-produced by Greg Ladanyi and Browne, the latter of whom provided vocals on covers of Bye Bye Love, Twist and Shout and Don’t Look Back. Lindley refrained from session work over the next few years, concentrating on his own albums Win This Record!, El Rayo Live, Mr Dave and Very Greasy. All reflect his extraordinary musicianship and manic humour.

In 1990 Lindley had a jam session with the Jordanian Hani Naser, a percussionist and oud player, and they performed so well together that they toured the world as a double act, releasing albums including Official Bootleg #1: Live in Tokyo Playing Real Good and Official Bootleg #2: Live All Over the Place Playing Even Better. In 1991 Lindley and guitarist Henry Kaiser spent time in Madagascar recording indigenous music including the CDs A World out of Time vols 1 & 2, acknowledged as milestones in the development of the world music scene. The two also travelled to Norway for The Sweet Sunny North vols 1 & 2, which include chanting Laplanders.

By this time Mr Dave had amassed a huge number of mainly stringed instruments, many of them listed on his fun website davidlindley.com, and admits there are too many to count. Among his preferences are cheap guitars sold to beginners in department stores.

It was in July 1995 that I finally got to see Lindley in the flesh, at the Royal Festival Hall. He was taking part in what was billed as The Family Tour with Ry Cooder, Ry’s son Joachim on drums and Dave’s daughter Roseanne on vocals. It was, of course, a super night with the two guitar greats pushing each other to new heights. I think their version of Vigilante Man was the best of the many I have heard. I have kept our tickets all these years.

Fairly soon afterwards I managed to find a bootleg double CD of the tour, recorded in Vienna for Austrian radio, although there is now an official version available. 

In 1996 Lindley joined forces with American drummer Wally Ingram and they made four live albums together, Twango Bango Deluxe, Twango Bango II and III, and Live in Europe. Although a less prolific sessioneer than before, David found time to appear on several Zevon albums up to Warren’s death in 2003.

In March 2006 Jackson Browne and David Lindley embarked on a brief Spanish tour which resulted in the live double album Love Is Strange: En Vivo Con Tino, featuring several Spanish musicians and Browne revealing a facility with the local lingo. It’s a joy. Savour the vocal interplay on the title track, which segues into Stay.

Reviewing the record for Uncut magazine, the veteran writer Bud Scoppa wrote: ‘Several of the songs Browne chose to revisit are from records on which Lindley didn’t appear, enabling the one-time partners to see what they could bring to the more recent material in tandem. The resulting performances are less renderings than transformations. Browne, with a crucial assist from Lindley, fluidly unifies his entire body of work.’

The pair continued to tour together; here’s a lovely performance of Before The Deluge from ten years ago. Dig the white Lindley socks.

At the age of 76, Mr Dave still regularly treads the boards (virus permitting). Let’s hope that he and Jackson reunite once more and play . . .  just a little bit longer.

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells with the family dog Bingo. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to alanj126@yahoo.co.uk

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