The first time I heard David Lindley was when he came out on stage as the warm up act for Santana and The Grateful Dead in the Sierra foothills in California. It was a hot August day and it was still early afternoon so the sun was blazing down on the crowd. We had just watched an airshow above our heads with prop planes tearing up the skies above us so everyone’s face was hot and necks were sore. David came out on stage in a polyester body suit and went into a version of Twist and Shout (2nd track on the player below) that sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before.
He was ripping it up and within minutes started sweating so much that his long hair immediately grew straggly and stuck to his face. I was worried he would spontaneously combust in the heat but Lindley and the band soldiered on and launched into fast ska version of Papa Was A Rolling Stone (5th track) that immediately got everyone on their feet. He jumped through several genres and also showed off his mastery of the slide guitar on Mercury Blues (10th track)
I saw him again in Tokyo, many years later, as he toured with Ry Cooder and both their kids. I had heard that Lindley was playing the World Music scene with Henry Kaiser, capturing field recordings in Madagascar for A World Out of Time. When he came to Tokyo, Lindley and Cooder brought all sorts of instruments I had never heard before, explaining each before playing them. They played in a small theater in Gotanda and I felt lucky to see them.
The final time I saw Lindley was at the invitation of a friend (thanks Rick!) who said he’d be playing at a birthday party in the Berkeley hills. As when I saw him in Tokyo, he was chatting up the crowd and explaining each of the instruments he had with him, their origins and he learned about them and where he got the one he was holding before us. Lindley was a musicologist (his bushy mutton chops accentuated his professorial air) but he played each of his instruments with a passion and soul that would make the instrument, designed for another type of music, sound new.
Listen below to David play the old blues tune Minglewood Blues on a Middle-Eastern Oud. Playing an old American folk tune on an ancient instrument from Northern Africa connects the two cultures in a weird way that makes you rethink all your preconceptions of the song and rediscover its story in a new light. Then you look up and see the guy playing for you is in a Hawaiian shirt and is sporting yellow patent-leather loafers and you smile at the wonderfully diverse world around us that makes it all work.