David Lindley: 1944—2023
The great multi-instrumentalist, world music pioneer, and larger-than-life personality is warmly remembered by his friend, veteran music journalist and musician Dan Forte.
People often ask me, “Who was the best musician you ever met?” or, “Who was your favorite interviewee?” I always say David Lindley and David Lindley. Across 47 years and some 1,000-plus interviews, with such fascinating subjects as Frank Zappa and George Harrison and master musicians the caliber of Stéphane Grappelli and James Jamerson, Lindley takes the cake.
Have you ever been too depressed to cry? That’s been my condition since hearing that Lindley died on the morning of March 3 due to complications with long Covid. I did nine articles on David and interviewed him several times more. In the grand scheme of things, it’s very rare for a writer and artist to become friends and have a relationship beyond the interview. But there was a connection from our first meeting, and I was lucky enough to spend quality, “off the clock” time with David.
I’ve been asked to share a few stories about Lindley … not to make it all about Me, but to illustrate what kind of person, as well as musician, he was.
In 1967, I saw the man in Kaleidoscope, arguably the first “world music” rock band, decades before the term was coined. They played an “Electric Band Session” as part of the Berkeley Folk Music Festival. I was not quite 14. Practically every member of the group was a multi-instrumentalist, and David even brought his huge Gibson harp guitar (an early-20th Century Style U) on the road. At one point they’d gotten themselves situated with their chosen instruments when, just before the downbeat, some fan hollered, “Louisiana Man!” They paused, looked at each, and then started exchanging instruments while the crowd laughed. They proceeded to peel off a terrific rendition of Doug Kershaw’s Cajun classic.
Decades later, I interviewed Ben Harper, who was a neighbor of the Lindleys growing up in Claremont, California. He’s about 15 years younger than I am, and when I told him I’d seen the band, we got into a “No way!” “Way!” exchange à la Wayne’s World.
I first interviewed Lindley in 1977, after a United Farm Workers benefit with Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon. Riding to the hotel with Lindley and Zevon, their back-and-forth had me laughing all the way, including a battle of the Long John Silvers: Robert Newton versus Wallace Beery.
Completing the interview a month later at his home, David allowed me into the “inner sanctum,” where instruments took nearly all floor and wall space—guitars, steels, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, viola de gamba, saz, tar, cümbüş, the Gibson harp guitar, and more. Regarding his approach to disparate instruments, he said, “You know how an ant can taste and hear and smell with one organ—this all-encompassing feeler? That’s more what it’s like … being an ant.”
Blurring lines between traditional and iconoclastic, he studied, investigated, incorporated, and became a prominent voice in styles spanning the globe, on more instruments than even he knew. He said, “I played all kinds of things which were ‘not played’ on guitar.” This included bowing an electric guitar. He laughed, “And it wasn’t Jimmy Page.”
David Lindley lays into a vintage Silvertone. Dan Forte recalls, “He was the first guy I saw in a major act playing Silvertone amp-in-case models or a Dan Armstrong London with two sliding pickups—extracting killer tones—leading me down a rabbit-hole hunt for Goyas and Zim-Gars.”
Photo by Ebet Roberts
In the process, he expanded the parameters of popular music, stylistically and instrumentally, to a degree that precious few can claim.
His inspiration for taking up lap steel was the late bluesman Freddie Roulette. But of influences on the instrument, he said, “I’m basically a sax player”— naming King Curtis, Junior Walker, and David Sanborn.
Obituaries lump him in with soft rock, which was true of much of his ’70s work. But the highlights of countless Jackson Browne concerts were Lindley’s incandescent lap-steel solos on “Doctor My Eyes” and “Running on Empty.” And his performances were also an indelible part of hits by Linda Ronstadt, Rod Stewart, Zevon, Dolly Parton, and many more.
When it finally came time for a solo album, 1981’s El Rayo-X defied and exceeded all expectations. It was mature, fully realized, and original; eclectic but cohesive. Rather than present a Whitman’s sampler of various styles, he said, “I wanted to have a coherent theme to the whole thing.
“You know how an ant can taste and hear and smell with one organ—this all-encompassing feeler? That’s more what it’s like … being an ant.”—David Lindley
His associates were eager to sing his praises, and I was able to interview several. Booker T. Jones said, “He’s the one who makes the band go,” while Ry Cooder declared, “He has the sensitivity that allows him to grasp what the hell is going on.”
Graham Nash described a session with Lindley on fiddle: “I said, ‘I’d like you to stand on the street corner and play like an old bum.’ And he said, ‘Boy, that’s real easy for me.’”
Ronstadt offered, “He just instinctively gravitates towards something that is extremely high-quality and has integrity in whatever art form he’s contemplating—which is a lovely thing to have.”
Although Lindley supports Jackson Browne on round-neck guitar here, the highlights of countless Browne concerts were Lindley’s incandescent lap-steel solos on “Doctor My Eyes” and “Running on Empty.”
Photo by Ebet Roberts
And Browne stated, “I can’t even call it ‘my music’ when I think about David, because he’s such an integral part of it."
The band David put together, also named El Rayo-X, was without question one of the top five live bands I ever saw. And I saw Jimi Hendrix twice! Mr. Dave had me open for them in 1981, when my surf combo Cowabunga had only done three gigs. But I got to actually play with David in ’98, as part of the Festival d'été de Québec City’s “guitar summit,” featuring Martin Simpson, Bob Brozman, percussionist Wally Ingram, and Lindley on acoustic Hawaiian Weissenborn slide. During a mini-rehearsal, I’m guessing he could sense that I was nervous. (Wouldn’t you be?) But he put me at ease, and wanted to give me a chunk of the spotlight. I asked him if he still did “Brother John,” the Wild Tchoupitoulas song. I had a second line take on “Limbo Rock,” so we stitched them together. Somewhere during my solo, I quoted War’s “Low Rider,” and Lindley was on it in a millisecond.
Things That Lindley Fans Might Not Know About Him
• Correlating his musical aptitude and high school track career, he said, “I could run hurdles the first time—I knew what I was doing. So, they put me in the 120 low hurdles.”
• Also, during high school, he played flamenco in a guitar duo.
• The bane of Lindley’s existence was that loud knock from housekeeping—despite threatening signs he affixed to hotel doors. As good as he was with voices, his impersonation of a mad dog just inside the door was so convincing, the next sound was that of the maid running for dear life.
• He was a great cartoonist, illustrating his solo CDs with comical self-portraits.
• David once mentioned that Peter Lewis of Moby Grape was his cousin. I said, “Isn’t he Loretta Young’s son?” “Yep.” “So, Loretta Young is your aunt?” It’s true: Lindley was part of the same gene pool as the epitome of Hollywood glamor.
• At a time when female producers were extremely rare, he asked Ronstadt to helm his fourth solo album, Very Greasy.
• He was an expert marksman and archer.
• He and guitarist/producer Henry Kaiser traveled to Madagascar to record the acclaimed A World Out of Time albums with indigenous musicians, resulting in considerable income for the Malagasy players and citizens.
I’ve always been fascinated with the so-called “zone” musicians sometimes achieve, like a basketball player with a hot hand, when you play something you didn’t know you could. It doesn’t require virtuosity, but the chances for someone with Lindley’s talent surely improves the odds. He described the sort of out-of-body experience. “I fail a lot. When that happens, that’s when you have to fall back on all the mechanical stuff and technique,” he told me in 2006. But being in the zone, he said, was like watching himself from three feet away.
“The bane of Lindley’s existence was that loud knock from housekeeping. His impersonation of a mad dog just inside the door was so convincing, the next sound was that of the maid running for dear life.”
I’ve thought about what influence, if any, David had on me. Not as a guitarist, really, because I can’t play like him; no one can. But he was the first guy I saw in a major act playing Silvertone amp-in-case models or a Dan Armstrong London with two sliding pickups— extracting killer tones—leading me down a rabbit-hole hunt for Goyas and Zim-Gars. He even gave me my pen- and stage-name, Teisco Del Rey. Then there was his clothes. Need I say more?
He was a serious musician not taking himself too seriously. He didn’t hide his wacky sense of humor in order to make music of the highest order. That’s the dichotomy. He wrote songs like “Sport Utility Suck,” “Cat Food Sandwiches,” and “When a Guy Gets Boobs,” and told hilarious stories onstage. He led audiences in singalongs to Frizz Fuller’s “Tiki Torches at Twilight.” So, you’d see this leprechaun in garish polyester, talking about Krispy Kreme donuts, and then he’d play something beautiful like his “Quarter of a Man” or something biting like "Revenge Will Come” [for every child kept down].
He gave me permission to display all sides of my personality, and you have that permission too. We have him to thank for that and so much more.
In Memoriam: Edward Lodewijk Van Halen
Gold necklaces, contraband mags, and backstage near-run-ins: How the guitar god helped shape the life of PG’s editorial director in far more than just guitar playing.
My earliest memory of Edward Van Halen is from 1978, the year his band’s eponymous debut LP was released. I was 6 years old, and our family had just moved to a new neighborhood miles from everything I’d ever known. I was in a new school and didn’t know a soul. My shyness didn’t help matters. I felt alone and insignificant.
I remember standing in front of the big Sharp-brand record player in our hardly furnished, plush maroon-carpeted basement family room, in utter awe at the sounds emanating from the 2-foot-high speakers. The backward car horns, the foreboding Eb bass note, the behind-the-nut string plucks, all worming through a black hole and forever into my brain. As a goody-two-shoes (then) Mormon kid from Provo, Utah, I felt guilty for being so captivated by a song called “Runnin’ with the Devil.” But that didn’t last long, as the next track was “Eruption”—Eddie’s tour de force instrumental guitar track that blew minds around the world and changed the landscape of modern music. It didn’t matter that I didn’t yet know how to play guitar—in fact, the idea had never even occurred to me before that. I didn’t need to know a thing about the 6-string to echo millions of other music fans—including expert guitarists—in gaping, “How the heck is he even doing that? Is that really a guitar?”
I wouldn’t lay my hands on the instrument myself for another six years, but the seed was planted. I’ve already shared how, as a kid, the only 8-track cassette I ever wanted to listen to in the family car was Van Halen II. And my older brother, Sam, and I spent countless hours lip-syncing to all the Roth-era albums. School art projects, workbooks, and folders were crisscrossed with striped patterns like those on Ed’s famed Frankenstrat, his Ibanez “Shark” Destroyer, and all those weird axes on the slipcover for 1982’s Diver Down.
Besides imprinting on my musical mind, EVH affected my very identity in other ways … some of which are pretty funny/embarrassing. The year Women and Children First came out (1980), the images of Eddie suddenly made me enamored with gold chains. I unabashedly drew pictures of myself on school stuff with long hair and a VH (“Van Hammond”)-logo necklace. Before long I’d gotten in trouble for absconding with Mom’s recently bought gold chain and wearing it to either a baseball practice or a scout get-together. I forget which it was, but I do know that once I’d gotten to the activity, Sam noticed the chain and made me take it off so it wouldn’t get broken. But he put it on instead, so he probably just wanted to look like Eddie, too.
On vacation that same summer, I pestered my parents so bad about getting my own gold chain that they finally acquiesced and got me a cheap fake-gold thing. I’d wanted one with a crucifix, too, just like the one clearly visible around Ed’s neck on the back of Women and Children, but Mormons don’t typically wear crucifixes and I knew not to push it with Mom and Dad on vacation. Dad was probably never more ashamed of me than he was when I donned a sissy piece of jewelry out of love for the greatest guitarist I’d ever heard—the guitarist responsible for music he insisted they’d be playing in hell. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t voice my desire for the jumpsuit Ed was wearing in the same pics.
By the time 1984 came out, new wave and synth-pop were all the rage. Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, A-ha, Depeche Mode, Alphaville, Men Without Hats, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, etc. were in, and to kids at school everything else was outdated garbage from a bygone, no-longer-cool era. I liked a fair amount of the new stuff, too, but I took all sorts of heat for being the die-hard Van Halen fan still decorating everything in sight with red-and-white stripes.
That year was a huge turning point in two ways. First, I finally started taking guitar lessons. I had no interest in “boring” ol’ acoustic guitar, but Mom said I could switch to electric if I stuck with it for a year. Second, I went to my first ever rock concert. Fittingly, it was Van Halen's 1984 tour. It was just me and Mom, in the nosebleeds at the Salt Palace arena in Salt Lake City. (Sam, despite being the one who slept in line for tickets, prioritized some school event that he’s probably kicking himself over to this day.) I’m not ashamed to admit that the “Little Dreamer” in 12-year-old Shawn sat there, peering through the haze of pot and tobacco smoke, fantasizing about being called onstage to play alongside EVH, despite the fact that I could barely play a barre chord, let alone pull off blazing double-tapped runs.
In 1985 I got my first electric, a 1983 Fender Strat the local shop had never been able to sell. I didn’t know anything about electrics except that I wanted one and a Strat technically was one. I began devouring every guitar magazine I could lay my hands on, and I’d only had my Strat for a few months before I realized it simply wouldn’t do. The interviews and ads clearly showed Eddie with cool-looking, brightly colored Kramer guitars outfitted with a humbucker and Floyd Rose tremolo you could endlessly wail on. Naturally, I had to start nagging Mom again. Within another year, I’d saved up for the best Kramer in the state of Utah, a Stagemaster Custom in “flip-flop red.” All because of my hero Ed, whose poster was over my dresser, bidding me good day as I headed to school each morning.
That year, Mom and I also hit the 5150 tour, and when OU812 came around, Sam took me to that show. As difficult as it is for longtime readers of my Tuning Up column to believe, the now-atheist author of those columns was a door-knocking missionary in Washington state when For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge came out. I wasn’t supposed to listen to anything but church or classical music during those two full years of proselytizing, but on days off I sometimes managed to convince my missionary “companion” (I know, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?) that it was okay to sneak off to the local music shop so I could play electric guitar for a little bit. On one of those visits, I saw Ed on the cover of a guitar mag for an interview about Carnal Knowledge. I bought it and voraciously consumed the contraband interview, against missionary rules. It was the only time I did so during those two years, and the fact that it was for the only EVH-related mag I saw during that period attests to the pull the man who “ran” with the Devil still had over me, even then. Naturally, I missed that tour, but Balance came out the year I married my wife, and she and I took Mom to that one, too.
Several years later, I had two windows to meet the man who’d turned me into a lifelong guitar freak. In 2011, while covering the Winter NAMM show for PG, I spotted Edward just a few feet away in Fender’s exhibition space. As you’d imagine, people thronged about him, as they must have everywhere. I’ve never wanted to be that guy, fawning and pawing for an autograph or a selfie. Plus, I was behind schedule for my next video appointment. I hoped someday I’d have another chance to say hello under better, less harried circumstances. I always held out hope we’d get to do a proper interview.
The following year, PG multimedia manager Chris Kies and I flew to Nashville in 2012 to do the closest thing to an interview or Rig Rundown that Van Halen management would approve. We got to sit in on soundcheck. Eddie played impeccably, and it was lovely to see and hear him and son Wolfgang having a ball together onstage, all while singing trademark Van Halen harmonies perfectly, unimpeded by Roth’s struggling vocalizations. Afterward, we got to photograph Edward’s gear and talk to his and Wolf’s guitar techs.
In the midst of all this, as I was walking back from a trip to the backstage restroom, I saw Eddie briefly emerge from a side hallway blocked off with a curtain and an “authorized personnel only” sign. Having been given strict instructions from Van Halen management to not exceed the bounds of the agreed-upon arrangement, I had a mighty internal dilemma. With a mind to both management strictures and my lifelong aversion to coming across like an ass-kissing wanker, I chose to play it cool. I smiled and gave a friendly wave, and within a couple of seconds he was gone. Ever since then I’ve held out hope for that proper interview. I’m sure he had no idea who I was. But I know who he was. He was and is my hero, Edward Van Halen.
Julian Bream: 1933-2020
Jason Vieaux remembers the “Dionysian” classical guitarist—arguably the ultimate classical musician and artist, and, perhaps, someone you could enjoy a few pints with.
As a kid growing up in Buffalo, New York, doggedly working on repertoire, English maestro Julian Bream was, more than any other guitarist, my role model as a practicing classical musician. Although I listened for hours to records by Andrés Segovia, John Williams, and Christopher Parkening (along with the new wave of guitarists like David Russell and Manuel Barrueco), I simply enjoyed Bream albums more. I really loved listening to him, and I didn’t understand why at the time. Sitting in the second row of the Buffalo Philharmonic’s Kleinhans Music Hall in 1988 for his lute/guitar recital was like sitting a few feet away from Paul McCartney. I was 14 then, and Bream was a god to me.
In spite of many advances and discoveries in technique, musicianship, and scholarship, two generations after Bream, I found that he was still the embodiment of the complete classical artist. As a young touring professional in the 1990s, I discovered that, for countless players I met everywhere, Bream was still the man.
Bream was 87 when he died at his home in Wiltshire, in the English countryside, on August 14, leaving a broad wake of influence established through roughly 100 albums, videos, and thousands of concerts during a half-century of performing. Arguably, Bream, for his wide-ranging and fluid approach and advocacy for expanding the classical-guitar repertoire, was even more important than Segovia in establishing the guitar as a serious solo instrument in the classical realm.
I must confess that back in the ’90s I had only recently recovered from a major case of Julian Bream Emulation Disease (JBED) during my teens. I was still insecure about that in my 20s. So, at that time, when answering a question from a colleague or interviewer, I was careful to name five to seven of my favorite classical guitarists in no particular order. Bream’s name was always there, but judiciously seldom topped my list.
A little context is needed here. For a time in the 1990s, it seemed the indelible fingerprints of Bream’s artistry became a little passé. His spicy and frequent use of color, liberal mix of both rest-stroke and free-stroke, elements of whimsy, fun, humor and surprise, the sense that he was inventing his interpretive ideas off-the-cuff and in the moment, etc., were not the aesthetic order of the day.
For many of the two generations of guitarists that came after Bream, there was a more conservative ideal. Now, through countless hours of personal wrangling, scholarship, and strife, we guitarists had to arrive at a “definitive” interpretation of a given piece of music. Rest-strokes were to be minimized or avoided entirely. A more clinical performance of a major work, whilst imbuing the music with stricter rhythm and time, very spare rubato, etc., was encouraged. This was probably an inevitable generational backlash to players like Segovia, Yepes, Lagoya, Presti, and, by extension, Bream. As my Cleveland Institute of Music colleague Colin Davin would say, here was an Apollonian versus a Dionysian approach.
I went through this phase myself, because as a young artist in the 1990s, I still wasn’t “all in” with the way I really wanted to play a given piece of music. Partly this was because of the great new players I met, with different and exciting (at least to me) ideas on interpretation and historical style. And remember that guitarists were steeped in scholarship relatively recently, compared to pianists and string players, and now able to earn advanced degrees almost anywhere. In the 1960s, the Peabody Institute in Baltimore was the first major conservatory in the U.S. to start a guitar department. Sharon Isbin founded the guitar department at Juilliard in 1989. Closer to home for me was inaugurating the guitar department at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, with my colleague David Starobin, only as recently as 2011.
This also was before the full flowering of the internet, which soon would allow instant learning and emulation via easy access. Gen-Xers and older had to make do with the public library and the local record store, or if a guitarist came through your 100-mile radius, which as a kid my parents and I didn’t miss. We respected anyone with the gumption to play an entire recital from memory, on a single guitar.
So, I self-consciously wanted to do the “proper” and “definitive” service with everything to which I put my fingers and mind. Many of my favorite contemporaries also supported this approach. At the same time, more established colleagues noted that I had an “instantly recognizable sound,” what some might call a style. This made me uneasy in my 20s, because I was, in my mind, playing this music the “right” way. (The reader is welcome to have a chuckle here, and this also reminds me of the famous quote from Wanda Landowska to Pablo Casals: “You play Bach your way, and I’ll play him his way.”) So, in comparison, Bream seemed like the guitarist equivalent of Austin Powers combined with “the Dude.” He did what he wanted, and it seemed like he couldn’t care less about what a colleague or contemporary might think. Bream was the wild foil to John Williams’ more reserved scholar. This was the vibe Bream always appeared to project to me as a fan. Segovia certainly had an air of confidence, in the way he comported himself. But with Bream, it felt more natural, genuine, fun, humble, warm. In my imagination, Segovia seemed dismissive or admonishing, and Williams seemed nice but fastidious. Bream was the guy you could have a pint (or three) with at the local pub.
Of course, I never got to know any of the “Big Three.” And really, my reservations toward Bream were pure folly. In truth, he was arguably second to none as a scholar, and fiercely conscientious in his way of playing, even as he had a totally personal sound and approach. But I got older, and as the amount of my own performance material ballooned to 8-9 hours or more per concert season (plus frequent recording deadlines), my youthful reserve toward Bream faded. I gradually realized that he was the ultimate classical musician and artist, regardless of instrument. He was the main role model for me the whole time.
Julian Bream is shown here with a student in Liechtenstein in July 1985. Photo by Georg Erlich / CC BY-SA 3.0
And hey, he could comp and blow over changes on American songbook lead sheets and jazz tunes. (C’mon, he named one of his dogs Django!) Bream was hip, sophisticated, and earthy, all at once. In hindsight, he was like a guitarist from the future. He shepherded new guitar pieces by Arnold, Britten, Henze, Takemitsu, and Walton, to name a few. He played lute for the first half of many of his recitals. If half the audience left after Part 1 of Hans Werner Henze’s caustic Royal Winter Music, Bream didn’t care. That right there is as rock or punk an attitude as anything within the pop world.
Albums like Classic Guitar, Popular Classics for Spanish Guitar, 20th Century Guitar, the 1978 Villa-Lobos LP, the Granados/Albéniz, the ¡Guitarra! video series—on and on it goes. I probably listened to his Villa-Lobos Concerto every day the summer after my senior year of high school, and it was as exciting and moving to me as that year’s Public Enemy record. No phony showmanship, cheap histrionics, or careful image manipulation. Just real confidence, vitality, artistry, musicianship, and a lot of killer guitar playing. This person actually existed!
Whether it’s a musician’s responsibility to the instrument, to the audience, to the repertoire, discovering unheard works from bygone eras, exploring contemporary repertoire, balancing year after year of concert performances, recording, or following a true voice and vision—Bream did it all. One could argue that no classical guitarist has done more for the instrument and its future. The number and scope of his contributions are staggering.
Julian Bream will always be a towering giant in my mind and in my heart.