Sunday, May 05, 2013

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The first time I laid eyes on David Lindley I shivered. Dressed in polyester, plaids and prints, long hair flowing like Crosby's freak flag! He was playing a sizzling lap steel guitar, sitting on a stacking chair in Jackson Browne's band. I was not a real Browne fan but this guitar player floored me. Then when Jackson introduced the band I realized I'd been listening to this guy on all sorts of records, admiring his style, his skill, his sizzle behind Ry Cooder, Graham Nash and David Crosby, Terry Reid, and even Kaleidoscope. His solo record output can be divided into two eras. The Corporate Dave, and Independent Dave. Apart from one slight misstep...there is great music to be heard from either era.

Lindley's first lead vocal appeared on Jackson Browne's live Running On Empty album. Mr. Dave squealed "Stay" and it was a big hit. Browne then returned the favor by producing (with Greg Ladanyi) Lindley's first album. El Rayo X appeared in record stores in 1981; its cover a shocking neon orange and blue, a cutout picture of Polyester Dave. It began with some twanging guitar, and a reggae beat; the song "She Took Off My Romeos." Now what the heck are "Romeos?" Well, they're a comfortable and light-weight slip on shoe...which I'm wearing right now! "A pretty little woman, well, she took off [his] romeos!" Lucky guy.
The reggae continues with a version of "Bye Bye Love" and Lindley's reedy tenor suits the Jamaican patois to a tee. The standout track, and one that radio stations play even today, is the full out rocker, "Mercury Blues," where Lindley's slide guitar aims for the stratosphere. The rest of the album mixes reggae with a slightly Tex-Mex sound, and maybe a touch of Acadian music, for an altogether satisying first album.

The formula was repeated on 1982's Win This Record with slightly less success. Maybe it was the songs -- it certainly wasn't the band. Ian Wallace on drums, Bernie Larsen on organ and Jorge Calderon on bass provided a solid and rocking framework. Lindley's fretwork is always outstanding...but Win This Recordsimply wasn't as good as El Rayo X (which now became the name of the band). Later that same year though, the Japanese import El Rayo Live showed what this group could do in a small club. The version of "Mercury Blues" made my stereo sweat! Percussionist Ras Baboo was outstanding.

Lindley then disappeared into the studio, and on the road, backing up just about everyone. He appeared on most of Jackson Browne's albums, as well as playing for Warren Zevon and even Dolly Parton, adding his trademark slide or the exotic sounds of the saz to a broad range of projects. In 1985 he released Mr. Dave. This album was hard to find, being released in Europe but not at home. I managed to locate a copy from Sweden and it's a mixed bag, the one misstep in Lindley's long career. Is that a drum machine? The cheesy organ just sounds -- cheesy. This attempt to present Mr. Dave as a songwriter fails because Lindley's songs are just too idiosyncratic to be taken really seriously. And the funny songs from the first couple of albums were written by Bob "Frizz" Fuller anyway. There's no band, just a series of session players; echoes of the funky reggae, a tasty guitar part here and there, but not much more. Lindley retreated to session work, and soundtracks with his buddy Ry Cooder. Linda Ronstadt decided to produce an album for Lindley and the result was 1988's Very Greasy: a total return to form, in almost every way the equal to his first album. If you were looking for a funky producer...would Linda Ronstadt spring first to your mind? Well, forget everything you ever knew about Linda, this album rocks! Don't miss Mr. Dave's extraordinary take on "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," or the lovely "Tiki Torches at Twilight" (by the great Bob "Frizz" Fuller).

David Lindley then went independent. He set up a little mail order business, opened a Web site and recorded some live concerts. He was playing with percussionist Hani Nasser. Just two guys and a stage full of obscure instruments, and a century of songs. Keep the costs down, release the stuff yourself, beat the bootleggers...and did I mention the threat that accompanies these albums! Lindley's bizarro sense of humor runs right through his business. He draws the covers, hand writes the song lists, and adds little cartoons of his scary self, and warns that if you copy these CDs without first sending him some money to pay for the rights he will find you and do you some serious damage. I believe him!

David Lindley and Hani Nasser made a formidable pair. Their two albums are very similar to each other. Well recorded live tapes, of beautifully played tunes, Lindley playing a variety of stringed instruments and Nasser laying down exotic but solid rhythms on all sorts of drums. On Playing Real Good, "Ain't No Way, Baby" and "Romeos" appear in new stripped down versions, "Tiki Torches" is done as a sing along, and the closing "Mercury Blues" has all the energy of the original at lower volume. Playing Even Betterfeatures songs by Danny O'Keefe, Mac Vickery, Bob Dylan and J.J.Cale (among others). Mr. Dave is still into reggae beats and stunning slide guitar parts, played on such esoteric instruments as a Weissenborn or a Danelectric.
Then Lindley and Nasser parted company, and Mr. Dave toured with Ry Cooder. They recorded one of their shows for mail order release, but the bootleggers beat them to the punch so Live at the Vienna Opera House never appeared. The bootleg is, I'm told, fabulous. With some encouragement, maybe Lindley will let it see the light of day. After 1999 he did release a new collection of El Rayo X Live!!Taken from shows a decade apart this is a potent brew of reggae sizzle, with a side order of soul. "Do You Wanna Dance," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," "Alien Invasion" and "Quarter of a Man" are all highlights. The songwriting of Bob "Frizz" Fuller never lets you down.

He next appeared with a new partner, a new Web site and new music. You will find all the independent releases here, and if you ask nicely he'll sign them for you just before he slips them into the envelope and writes your name on the package! Twango Bango Deluxe introduced the extraordinary percussion of Wally Ingram to the mix. Ingram, who has drummed for Jackson Browne, Sheryl Crow, Taj Mahal, Pat McDonald and others adds a rockier edge to the sound, although he is every bit as sensitive and steady as Nasser was. TBD is a studio album, recorded live off the floor in the studio. Mr. Dave's guitars and vocals have a real presence and Wally's drums provide a solid foundation. This is the formula for the three Twango Bango albums. Dave provides the twango and Wally does the bango.
Each album has something to offer. The songs come from the blues, from Lindley's ever creative pals (like Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, Danny O'Keefe) and from World Music. Dave and Wally promote themselves as the Beavis and Butthead of World Music, and as they present their tunes with twisted slide guitars and strange pieces of skin pulled across different orifices, clothed in checkered pants and Hawaiian shirts, the epithet makes sense. The great Pahinui Brothers' classic "Waimanalo Blues" is one highlight; Lindley's own "Cat Food Sandwiches" speaks to the plight of the hungry musician on the road. Twango Bango II offers Mr. Dave's rendition of Dock Boggs's spooky "Oh Death," and a handful of Lindley tunes, like "Methlab Boyfriend" and "Sport Utility Suck." Twango Bango III has a few traditional tunes, a bit of CandW, an angry new song about bootleggers by Lindley and Ry Cooder, and a truly bizarro song Mr. Dave wrote after seeing his aging body in a mirror -- "When a Guy Gets Boobs."

David Lindley continues to shop at used clothing shops. His freak flag continues to fly proudly. His sparkling sense of humor still brightens his recordings, but it is his ability with stringed instruments -- to find the right sound for whatever environment he's in at a given time, to play like a man possessed, or to melt your heart with his sensitivity -- that makes him one of the most sought after "sweeteners" in sessionland. These albums each contain music worth listening to. Some are better than others, and a couple of them are absolutely must-haves! Get yourself a little T and B.

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