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Musicians Rock Music

David Lindley RIP

After posting last week’s blog, I then learned of the death of David Lindley. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you have definitely heard his definitive work on classic rock radio over the years.

David was a true character in the rock-n-roll world. He could play just about any stringed instrument that was handed to him, but his forte was lap steel guitar. His distinctive long curly hair and muttonchop sideburns were as obvious as his taste in clothing, always seen with colorful Hawaiian-style shirts and clashing pants. His bandmates and the music press tagged him “Prince of Polyester.”

However, it was his playing that made him legendary. While he did work with Warren Zevon, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby, and Bruce Springsteen, it was his lap steel guitar playing for Jackson Browne during the 1970s that David is best known. And his best known work during this time was the solos on “Running on Empty.” It is a great song, indeed, but those lap steel solos truly make it a classic. Upon first hearing it, you question what kind of instrument it is. It doesn’t sound like a guitar, a keyboard, or any horn instrument. That sliding-note fill fits the mood of the song perfectly. Only one man could have created that sound, it was David Lindley.

I had the pleasure of seeing David once at The Ark in Ann Arbor about a decade ago. The man was a true wizard on stringed instruments. To make matters even more crazy, he never played the common Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul for an electric guitar choice. No, it was usually some off-the-wall Japanese or Korean clunker from the 1960s that he straightened out and hot-rodded.

The music world needed someone like David to chuckle at itself occasionally. We can take ourselves seriously with our top-notch equipment and poetic songwriting, but there needs to be that point where we realize that we are human as well, and do silly things. David could do that, but with professionalism. He was equal Paco De Luca and Spike Jones. He knew what sound fit in at the right time, but could make you laugh at a dissonant but intended note.

There will never be a rock-n-roll character like David Lindley, so seek out an album of his (El-Rayo-X and Win This Record are good choices) and put a smile on your face.

Chew on it and comment.

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By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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