David Lindley

Singular American musician David Lindley turns 77

“Mr. Dave” laid down licks across popular music while earning his own cult following that endures to this day. I believe I have seen him more in concert than any other artist.

David Lindley is likely heard most often on the classic rock radio hit “Running on Empty.”

An American Original

As a teen, David Lindley won the Topanga Canyon Fiddle and Banjo Contest. After winning five years in a row, they made him a judge. It was only up from there.

He was a founding member of the psychedelic band Kaleidoscope across the late 1960s, when he started to get session work that put his unique sound on albums by rising stars like Leonard Cohen, the Youngbloods, Graham Nash, and America, before joining the band of English singer/guitarist Terry Reid. In 1972, he began a collaboration with fellow-Californian Jackson Browne, with whom he toured for the next eight years as a duo act and with the larger commercial bands tried to Browne’s career as a recording artist.

David Lindley first entered my stream of consciousness through Jackson Browne’s second album, For Everyman, where his melodic lead guitar work, beefy violin accompaniment, and transcendent steel guitar playing, and out-shown Elton John’s piano, and the big name voices joining in on harmony vocals that helped launch Browne to international stardom. I have remained his enthusiastic admirer every since, quickly losing interest in Browne’s music once Lindley moved on to tour and record for Rod Stewart, Crosby & Nash, Dolly Parton, and many, many others.

I knew nothing about him in those days, just that, should I ever become proficient enough to perform with other people, I wanted my lead guitar playing to be as pretty or as searing, and always tastefully supportive of the songs and singers rather than upstaging them, just David Lindley.

While the rest of this birthday homage features videos, here is the studio recording of the song that made me want to become a “sideman” guitarist:

As a solo artist and front man, Mr. Dave, as he is affectionately known by his friends and fans, has chosen to play what he likes, both in terms of his music and his instruments. Famous for his clashing polyester, and his choice of unusual cover tunes and original compositions often laced with a Zappa-esque sense of humor and altruistic love for the little guy in the big bad world, be it with his Reggae-inspired band El Rayo-X…

From a later version of the band

… another high-octane steel guitar performance from their original 1980s days…

… and across his more eclectic collaborations with Ry Cooder and his duo touring with percussionists like Wally Ingram, where Lindley features his lap steel playing on instruments derived from the hollow-neck Weissenborn guitars made for Hawaiian-style music in the 1920s…

A true story of bad backstage food, “Cat Food Sandwiches”…

… as well as instruments from the cittern family like the mandolin, charango, and Irish bouzouki; and from the lute family, like the Turkish oud, bağlama, and gumbus; and the fiddle family, like the Norwegian hardingfele, and the list goes on and on…

“New Minglewood Blues” on an oud.

Performing Lindley & Browne’s composition “Call it a Loan” during their acoustic reunion tour, which played to much larger audiences than they drew in 1973, before For Everyman had hit the radio waves…

And here is a full set from 1976, after their duets were expanded into a full band.


Happy Birthday Mr. Dave. Thanks for the music!