“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”—Miles Davis
“You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best.—Jerry Garcia
You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”
Turkish ‘ud— The Turkish version of the ‘ud, with a slightly smaller body and a very resonant sound. Turkish saz— One of the most popular instruments of Turkish music, the saz may derive from the Iranian sehtâr or tambur. It is popular throughout Turkey, and is commonly used in Anatolia, particularly by the ashiklar— singing poets who accompany themselves with the instrument. It is fretted to allow for the quarter tones of Turkish music. Turkish/Greek lauta— A four-course lute similar to an ‘ud, but with a smaller body, longer neck, and frets (like a saz). Popular in the Greek islands as well as Western Turkey.
While these instruments may be understandably foreign to guitarists, most of us can vividly, jealously recall the thick, soaring slide tones that Dave first laid down on the early Jackson Browne records. Those tracks provided Lindley with a well-deserved coming out party during the ‘70’s, and they remain as fresh and inventive today as they were then. But within the close community of L.A. musicians, Lindley had already established a presence that preceded his work with Browne, first on 5-string banjo playing bluegrass with The Dry City Scat Band, followed by the psychedelic spills and thrills of Kaleidoscope, which Jimmy Page credited as being “my favorite band of all time—my ideal band” when he was a member of The Yardbirds. Indeed, it was a very young David Lindley who first bowed an electric guitar at The Avalon Ballroom in Page’s presence, long before Page did so with Led Zeppelin.
In addition to crafting hits with Jackson Browne for years, Lindley collaborated with a host of heavies, including Little Feat’s Lowell George, Linda Ronstadt, Rod Stewart, Dolly Parton and Ry Cooder (Bop Til You Drop, The Long Riders). In 1981 he formed El Rayo-X— a bizarro party band that delivered a bashment of rootsy rhythms, hot, hot tones and the coolest polyester high couture known to man. “Deyve be trash an ready, mon… A don gorgon!” (For a translation, please visit jamaicans.com/speak-jamaican).
In 1991 Lindley and guitarist Henry Kaiser journeyed to Madagascar where they recorded six albums of Malagasy music that produced a well-deserved Grammy nomination, and thanks to Lindley and Kaiser the musicians in Madagascar actually got paid. Yessir, they was all paid! Lindley’s next adventure grew from a 1990 jam with Jordanian percussionist and oud player Hani Nasser. Two excellent recordings resulted from their collaboration— “Live In Tokyo Playing Real Good” and “Playing Even Better.” Both will tease you into strange new places well worth the visit, as will the double CD set “Cooder/Lindley Family Live at the Vienna Opera House.” Lindley is now touring solo with oud, saz and a 7-string Weissenborn, and his latest CD release is titled “Live in Europe” with percussionist Wally Ingram.
You should know that Dave works an interview with the same wry humor that has always been present in his shows and so many of his songs. How can you not like a man who wakes up one morning, sizes himself up in the bathroom mirror and writes a song titled “When a Guy Gets Boobs?” You might think that anyone twisted enough to pen stuff like “SUV’s Suck –Hang Up and Drive You Blood Clot” “Meth Lab Boyfriend” and “Cat Food Sandwiches” is teetering at the precipice of Zappa territory, but Lindley pours equal amounts of creative energy, care and deft technique into every song he plays; the humor is a bonus. If his observations on the absurdities of life help you crack a smile, just ease up and enjoy the trip. Hey… it’s OK to be a guitar player that can smile a little at the same time, and how we do grow tired of seeing pictures of guitar slingers tearing off a lick while the look on their face suggests something much more personal is being torn off… Stop the grimacing!
As you are about to discover, David Lindley has been mining the mighty fine note for nearly four decades with an obsession for tone that has become legendary, and if there is a secret to his sonic sauce, it seems to be this: When you hear something played that really grabs you, stop the world for as long as it takes to discover what it was and how it was played. “Check it deep, bwoy… Doncha be no craven choke puppy, and you too may find all fruits ripe.” Irie.
TQR: How were you exposed to music, David?
My uncle, Howard Wells, was a concert pianist and we always had music in the house. Howard actually had his piano in our house for a while, and he was very, very good. My dad also had a large record collection that he would play all the time. My brother played piano and harpsichord, and we had a funky old upright that he would practice on in the next room. I remember him playing Wanda Landowska’s “Well Tempered Clavier” and the Brandenberg concertos. I knew them all almost note for note.
TQR: How old were you during this time?
Patrick was six and I was nine.
TQR: So you were thoroughly steeped in music from the very beginning…
All the time. Then of course there was my exposure to Fats Domino and Little Richard, Duane Eddy… all kinds of stuff, and then I started getting interested in Folk music. Things like The Kingston Trio… Brother John brought one of their albums home and I thought, “Boy, I like that— that’s got some twang.” And I was already listening to Segovia, Carlos Montoya, Ramon Montoya… all the records that my dad owned. I just had this burning interest in any instrument that had strings on it.
TQR: Purely from your own initiative…
Definitely. I also went to a party in Balboa and there was a guy there with a guitar just strumming chords, you know, and there were all these girls hanging around him. Then a light bulb came on… Hey, hey… Lindley… come on… wake the fuck up! Check this out! So I did, and boy, did it work. (laughing)
TQR: You’re usually described as having started out as a banjo player.
I started off on the guitar, but the banjo came soon after. I had a really good Wyman plectrum banjo and I had a 5-string neck made for it. I really became obsessed with that because I’d go down to Bernardo’s Guitar Shop where I had the neck made. It was down on Brooklyn Avenue in East L.A., and now it’s called Candella’s Guitar Shop. David Hidalgo used to go down to Bernardo’s – both Bernardo’s and Candella’s. The Delgado brothers… Dario Delgado worked for Rico Bernardo, and Candelaria Delgado had a shop on Sunset Boulevard. A lot of guitarists and people that played different string instruments would go to both of the Delgado brothers to get something repaired. BC Rich guitars originally came out of Bernardo’s. That was “Bernardo Rico” Junior. Rico (Barney) was a very good friend of mine and an incredible guitar maker. He made flamenco guitars that were every bit as good as Ramirez, and he made the best steel string dreadnoughts. The early BC Rich herringbone dreadnoughts were killers… I can still remember them to this day.
Domenick Cianno asked him to make an electric guitar and he said he didn’t want to do it. I remember going in there and saying, “Barney, electric guitars are huge… gigantic… just make it different looking from all these other things that are all copies.” “Yeah, yeah, OK…” So what he did was copy an F-5 mandolin… actually a 3-point mandolin… made a solidbody, painted it black and put gold hardware on it. Those guitars are still around, and he started making all kinds of variations on that. So I hung out with those guys all the time and got to hear a lot of great guitarists. Sabicas was a friend of Barnie’s— a great flamenco guitarist who is one of my favorites. There was a guitar maker named Corea who used to work on his own, and Bernardo would sell him wood and he would use the shop sometimes. I actually learned how to make a guitar from Corea. It was one of his traditions that if he built a guitar that wasn’t really good he’d just break it, because you didn’t want bad examples of your work floating around (laughing). So I broke it, because it really wasn’t that good. I had used some really weird, non-traditional bracing on the inside that I thought was really cool, but it didn’t work.
TQR: But how did you acquire such a unique musical perspective and how were you exposed to so many wild and varied influences?
It was all influences, and there were a lot of them. When I was growing up I heard Ude Shankar’s dance troupe, which was classical Indian folk music and dancing. My dad knew about Indian music and he would play them. Then I became interested in the oud, and I would go see different players at The Fez in Hollywood, which was a Middle Eastern club. Hami Safino was one of the guys I used to see all the time. There were different players there all the time and I loved to go see them. I messed around with the instruments, but I didn’t have access to an oud for a very long time because those that were available were either really, really expensive or just crap. I remember walking into a music store in Westwood and hanging on the wall was a Manno oud— a very famous oud that Hermann Walecki had acquired, and although it needed some repair, it was really the Stradivarius of Greek ouds. Manno was a very famous Greek oud maker. It was just gorgeous and I couldn’t afford it. So I settled for playing bazoukis and stuff that I could actually get my hands on.
TQR: How did you figure out how to play all of these strange instruments?
Listening to them and watching people play. I developed the ability to watch how people were doing things and come as close to it as I possibly could and get the sound.
TQR: I think you were just fearless.
Oh, I was obsessed. Obsessed is a better word. I was a closet banjo player. I had the loudest 5-string banjo, which was an old Vega “Little Wonder” that Walt Pittman put a Gibson tone ring in and it was the loudest banjo ever. I used to practice with a mute in the closet in my bedroom, and I would have to come out for air. It was oxygen deprivation (laughs). I discovered putting socks inside to muffle the sound and stuff like that… My mom didn’t sleep very well, and I would tell her that she couldn’t possibly hear me playing at night in the closet and she would say, “No, but I know you’re doing it!” That was just not fair. It was total rebellion. Just live with it. “Oh, no, he’s going to become a banjo player and play hillbilly music!” They really tried to discourage me, and it was like… I loved the mandolin, and they would say, “Oh, mandolin is a folk instrument! Oh, god…” It was the classical influence. My brother was already playing very well and my uncle Howard was playing concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and doing all kinds of stuff. It was very much a classical music family, so what did I get interested in? Hillbilly music, dammit! Roscoe Holcomb and ‘ol Bill Ramsey! I just loved all of that because I met Walt Pittman at Bernardo’s. Walt Pittman played a really beautiful old Gibson Mastertone banjo and he made necks, so I started hanging around him. He said, “Ahhh, you wanna buy a good 5-string, you go over to see Russ Miller in South El Monte.” There were these guys that used to go over to Russ Miller’s and get stuff, too, and he had all kinds of old Martins and Gibsons and old Gibson mandolins and stuff, and it was the White brothers… Clarence and Roland and Eric White— The Country Boys. I was really interested in Bluegrass and I had gotten all of these records and started learning stuff off of them. Walt had been really good friends with Earl Scruggs, because they had developed the changeable tuning peg together. The first bona fide Bluegrass 5-string I had was that Vega that Walt put the tone ring in and I had Bernardo make a really fancy maple neck for it. I thought, “Boy, what a sound,” and I played that all the time. And I got some other ones… S.S. Stewarts… I also liked the old traditional style— Uncle Dave Macon and Rufus Crisp and Stu Jamieson— what they call the traditional ‘clawhammer’ style, and that’s what I wound up playing more of than the 3-finger bluegrass style.
TQR: How did that…
It learned to feed itself. Just like a junkie… I developed a tolerance for it and I needed more. And that’s what I did.
TQR: When and where did the lap steel show up?
Playing Bluegrass, I had been exposed to Dobro all the time, and I had gotten to watch Uncle Josh Graves and I played in a band with two really good players. One of them was Peter Madelin and the other was Mane Smith. Mane Smith did all kinds of weird stuff. He would bend strings behind the bar and he could play really interesting, good stuff. Peter was a great 5-string banjo player and Dobro player who invented a lot of stuff. He could just watch somebody playing and learn exactly what they were doing. And there was a guy around named Mike McClellan who knew all kinds of things. He was the first killer multi-instrumentalist that I ran into. He played the 12-string like Ledbelly and the 5-string… really good player and he showed me a lot. He was a real big influence. A lot of times I mention some of my influences and I totally forget about McClellan. He knew how to figure stuff out. I said, “What’s this guy doing— like Doug Dillard— what is he playing?” “Oh, he’s doing it backwards, this style here— playing the melody with your index finger or the middle finger instead of your thumb.” And The Country Gentlemen, who were fascinating… Eddie Adcock, the banjo player and John Duffy, the mandolin player played strange stuff. Eddie Adcock was the strangest banjo player we had ever heard, so, of course we all tried to learn what he was playing. He was a real innovator and we tried to decipher his records and how he was doing it. A lot of it came from learning off of records and then when people came to town to play the Ash Grove or whatever, we would go watch them— Eric Weissberg or Marshall Brickman…
TQR: Constantly, obsessively observing and watching…
Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal are all in the audience and we were all doing the same thing. We all went to watch people play at the Ash Grove and sat down with them afterwards and asked, “How do you play this?” Scotty Stoneman came through there— The Stoneman Family— he just blew everybody away, and everyone wanted to learn how to play like Scotty Stoneman. Clarence White lived in El Monte. Clarence White was probably the biggest influence on Bluegrass guitar— just a huge influence. There’s the Tony Rice thing, but Tony was like a student of Clarence’s. Clarence could play like Jimmy Bryant… he could play all kinds of stuff… play like Chet Atkins. But his big thing was Bluegrass lead guitar with a flat pick. That was his big thing. He just played the shit out of it, and we were all mystified by it. I can remember when Clarence played one of his first electric gigs at the Whiskey A Go Go. A friend of mine took me and said, “Look what Clarence is doing.” He was playing with The Godsden Brothers, and he was playing like James Burton, except with Clarence White thrown in there. Boy, that was really good. I liked that. I talked to Clarence after that. “The Telecaster… that’s the guitar.” It evolved from that into Kaleidoscope and all that. That went with my previous musical styles and the abilities I had developed on the 5-string banjo. I played the guitar with fingerpicks and it worked really well.
TQR: It was a blend and an amalgamation of everything that you had observed and digested before. Is that what opened the doors for you as far as becoming a studio player in L.A.?
Yeah, because I played everything. I can remember having conversations about that with everybody. You want to be in a band? Oh, oh, they already have a 5-string player. Well, let’s see… I’ll play the fiddle. But with me, learning the fiddle was more obsession. I had heard these guys play and I just wanted to play like them. I didn’t learn it so I could work. I explored all different kinds of stuff and I would take techniques from one instrument and put them on another. And I started listening to singers, and that’s where the lap steel came in. The lap steel was my way of singing— of playing a vocal. I heard Freddy Roulette, I heard bottleneck players and Dobro players, and when I saw Freddy Roulette it opened up a totally different style. He played a style that was almost like bee bop on the 8-string steel, and I said, “Well, that’s gonna take a lot of time, so I’ll just go the Dobro approach.” So I tuned it to open E and one day I was playing a little amp and I turned it up all the way and this sound came out of it and I thought, “Holy shit! Boy, is that good!” So I started playing like that. It just comes from turning the amp up to 10. A really good tube amp with good speakers that can support that kind of instrument, so what that does is set something off. What does that set off? Well, let’s see… this little yellow Harmony lap steel thing… well, this is what’s available. But what did Freddy play? Freddy played a National, so I went looking for a National and found one in a music store on Santa Monica Boulevard. Went in there and bought it. Oh, boy, now I have one like Freddy’s. I play that on sessions. I still have it— the same one I bought in the ‘60s, and what a sound it has.
TQR: And these old lap steels are still around…
TQR: They’re relatively cheap…
TQR: And the pickups in them are often amazing…
Yes, they are.
TQR: But like all of the old pickups from the ‘50s, the main thing was that they worked, and they could be very different from one to another among identical models, some producing the voice of God, and others being less spectacular…
Yes. And I used to hang around Doc Kauffman, who was Leo Fender’s original partner with K&F. Doc was a great friend of mine, and I used to go down and have him rewind pickups and recharge magnets and do all kinds of stuff. He’d say, “Awww, you’re not getting enough low end out of there. Let me put some juice in there.” So he would charge the magnets up, and this was like alchemy to me. “OK, this Stratocaster sounds really thin…”Awww, no problem— here, let me zap it a little bit here.” So he would charge the magnets up and all of a sudden this huge sound would come out of it. “Hey…wait a minute… what did you do?” “Awww, just charge the magnets up. They’re Alnico I, Alnico II… Alnico I and Alnico II are a lot better sounding… Listen to it. Listen to it. OK, now here’s a new one… listen to it. Sounds like shit, doesn’t it? That sounds like shit! Well… you know, the wire’s a little different on these old ones… they use a little bigger wire on the newer ones… Oh, I got spools of it— cubic shitloads of that old wire. Let me rewind that thing, here.” And he’d carry on a conversation with me while he was rewinding the pickups with his little foot-operated sewing machine motor and a little jig that he made. He’d wind the pickups and charge the magnets and then he’d say, “Well… let’s see how that sounds! I’ll bet that sounds good! 8500 Ohms… yeah, 8500 ohms… That sounds good!” He had this guitar with the center cut out of it and he would move the pickups around. “Where do you want to put it? Hey, that sounds pretty good. Wait a minute… let’s move it up here. It sounds better right here… That’s where you want it, right there. No, tape it in first and mark it right there.”
So I started doing all kinds of stuff with pickups, and over time you develop this memory for what certain pickups sound like, and Doc would tell me certain things… “Ahhh, you know those Fender lap steels with that funny trapezoid looking peghead thing on it? You look under there, that’s a Broadcaster pickup.” “Oooh, a real Broadcaster…” “Well… a little bit different but it’s basically the same thing with the flat pole pieces… That’s what you do. You get one of those and put that in your Telecaster and you’ll have something memorable.” So I’d get one of those and stick one in there and oh, boy, did it sound good. So that whole thing about rewinding pickups… Seymour Duncan was into it and a lot of people, but it was Doc Kauffman and people like Paul Barth out in Riverside… There was a guy named Leo Krebs… Leo Krebs or Leon? I forget which, but he was out on Lancashire Boulevard and Jimmy Bryant used to go out there all the time. He didn’t quite have the touch that Doc had, but he would wind you pickups, too.
TQR: Sounds like Doc would charge the magnets but he was also using a smaller wire so he could get more turns on the bobbin.
Yeah, that’s right, and it was also the original wire that they used on the Broadcaster. He liked it better. He said it sounded better, and he was right. “Well, let’s see… No, you don’t want to pot that pickup. You don’t want that wax in there. You want it a little bit microphonic. No, no, you put it in the hot wax and it anneals that copper, and you know what that means— makes it softer.” And he would do these experiments… He would pick the magnets up and drop them on the floor and say, “You hear what that sounds like? You’re gonna get some of that sound in your pickup. OK, here’s a ceramic magnet. Drop it. Hear that sound? You’re gonna get some of that.” He was experimenting with everything all of the time. He was like a little kid.
TQR: Did you realize just how lucky you were at the time?
Oh, I used to take people down there and they would be drooling. I took Steve Berg one time. He wanted to get his Stratocaster pickups rewound and I took him down to Doc. He put one of them on his machine and he said, “Whaddya want? 8500 is good… Yeah, it’s taking… 8500 is good. Meanwhile, he’s winding the pickup and talking to us about his quail— quail eggs. “You know, you can eat ‘em! In Japan they’re a delicacy!” No counter on his winder, just the foot treadle thing and he knew when to shut it off and it’s exactly 8500 Ohms. He did it all by feel. And Steve was sitting there just white as a sheet. “Oh, no… it’s black magic!” Those original minds… Les Paul had the same look in his eye. These guys were students all of their lives. Walt Pittman was the same way. He had this enthusiasm. They had that look, so I kind of tried to find that look. Milt Owen… he was a repair guy at Apple Music over on Broadway. Milt Owen knew everything. He knew all about archtop guitars. He knew all about Django Rhinehart. If you had punched out a hole in the side of your guitar he could fix it so you would never know that it had been fixed. Jackson (Browne) and I used to go over there with guitars for him to fix all the time. And he hated Stratocasters… “It’s a damn plank… It’s a god-damn plank! Damn Stratocasters… you can have ‘em all.” And he did fabulous fret jobs on acoustic guitars. “Well, it’s gonna buzz… So what do you want? That top is flappin, ’so what do you want? You want low action with some buzz or you want me to raise the action a bit?” He knew how to change the neck angle a little to get everything right. He was also Spike Jones ‘prop man, and he had great stories about Django Rhinehart… “Django was a real Cassanova… You know, he was in Algiers with his wife and it was raining and there was mud in the street and Django had these red lizard shoes… He just bought ‘em and he didn’t want to get ‘em muddy, so his wife… she was pretty big… she picked him up in her arms— him and his guitar— and carried them both across the street.”
So we would go there… especially me and Jackson. We would go there and just talk to this guy because he knew all this stuff besides being a great repair guy. He knew all these stories about the great performers. And Jackson’s dad played with Django Rhinehart— played piano with him. There is a very famous picture of them that Jackson has used on a few albums. So there was all of this interconnection going on in L.A. You have Jack Willick, who repaired guitars and used to work on Howard Robert’s instruments and George Van Epps’. He was incredibly good, too— in the same class as Milt Owen— and his thing was that he used to work for Gibson and he got fired for refinishing Bill Monroe’s mandolin. Ben Harper— Ben Harper’s mom studied guitar repair with Jack Willick and then Ben was doing that for a while and he studied with Jack. Jack was the guy— he was the guy. So there is this whole Los Angeles thing that was going on. And they had pawnshops down there in downtown L.A. where you could find a 000-45. Eagle Music Exchange… Milt Grishman… go see Milt. “Oh, David, I have something that you would be interested in. Look in that case.” It’s a weird shaped case and I open it up. It’s a heart-shaped mandocello that belonged to Rudolph Valentino— with letters in the pocket. “Nope, don’t have enough money— $600.” So here it is, Los Angeles, The Ash Grove, the Claremont Folk Music Center… There was a big music scene here and I took full advantage of it.
TQR: And you had absolutely no fear. Some people would have been intimidated by these people you’ve described, but for you, that wasn’t even an option.
Oh, no (laughs). Fuck, no (laughing). I wanted to learn how these guys did stuff. I did a lot of my own work for a long time, but I found out that I really didn’t have time to do it. I would dress frets down and round them off. I still make nuts and bridges and saddles and stuff, but now I’ve found people who can do that really, really well. Then of course you’re into electronics… You have to get people who are really, really good to do that stuff— especially people who know all the old tube stuff, like Paul Marte at Technical Services, who does incredible amp work. He knew Doc… he knew all these people. You find these people. You seek them out. “Oh, Dumble… you gotta meet Dumble… Makes these amps, boy. They are really good…”
TQR: You were definitely in on the ground floor of that.
Oh, you bet. In fact, Dumble and I developed a bunch of stuff. We spent some time wondering what it was about that old 25L15 Standel. What makes it sound so good?
TQR: The old white ones with the ‘50s dinette table-looking aluminum band around the cabinet and the James B. Lansing 15″?
Yeah, I have one of those amps. It’s the greatest pedal steel amp in the world…
TQR: And it has that stealth input jack underneath the chassis to discourage people who want to sit in. “Sorry, there’s only one input…” Unless you wanted them to sit in, and then you’d plug them into the hidden jack. Very cool.
Yeah, mine is in the living room right now and there is nothing like the sound of that amp. I need to get it worked on, and I have a schematic for it. My amp used to belong to Franks Garlock’s father, who was a friend of Bob Crook’s, who started Standel. They used to make these things in a garage down—in El Monte across from Arroyo High School. The Standels were different— a completely different thing. This amp is so amazing. It sounds like nothing else.
TQR: You’ve probably been hip to them for a long time.
I got this from Frank Garlock back in 1967. They’re making these things again and they’re like five grand. I think Ry Cooder got a hold of one. The old ones have a high-end that’s like nothing else, especially if you have the original speaker in them. Then there were the Flot-a-Tones…
TQR: Yep, Danny Flowers and James Pennebaker are really into them. Made in Milwaukee, I believe. The look of them reminds me of ‘50s bowling gear for some reason. Did you ever get into Magnatones?
Oh, yeah, although not as much as some other people did. I do have one of the gray “mother of toilet seat” Magnatone amps with a matching steel. That’s kind of a secret weapon that I have used on a lot of sessions.
TQR: What are some of your favorite old lap steels?
The Magnatones… there are all different eras of them, but there is one that was really good. It was above the body of the instrument. They made some that were built into the body, but this one was built above the body with a palm rest on the top. They had clear plastic tuning pegs and plastic jewels and stuff on the peghead— red ruby plastic jewels. Those are really good, and they were made out of poplar— something super light— or if they were made out of maple it was sapwood or something. But that one has an amazing sound. A lot of this has to do with the combination of the amp and the guitar. You have some of these older amps… you get a Fender lap steel and put it through an old Rickenbacker amp and it sounds really wimpy. The sensitivity of a Rickenbacker amp was made for a Rickenbacker guitar, and Rickenbacker guitars had huge output, so when you play a Rickenbacker guitar through a Fender amp… Ooooh… that’s really powerful. That was one of the first discoveries.
TQR: You have to match certain pickups with specific amps. We’ve been saying that for a long time, because no one ever mentions the pickup and amp combination when they’re describing the sound of specific pickups. It depends— one set of pickups might not work well at all with some amps, and with others, it’s all over. You’re done!
That’s right. There you go. You have to try them out. “Aww, this is shit! Those guys were lying to me!” That kind of stuff happens all the time. It’s the combination of amp and guitar, and it’s always been that way. Like the Dumble Overdrive Special… OK, you put a Stratocaster through it and it sounds great. Play some other guitars through it and it sounds different. Play a lap steel through it and, “Oooh… that’s really good.”
TQR: Can you think of any other unique combinations you’ve discovered?
Well, there’s the Nationals and Supros and the little grass-cloth Fenders. They sound great. Then you get into strings. Then you get into charging the magnets. With the Supros, you either have the student model or the professional model. The student model has one magnet and a piece of wood and the professional has two magnets, and you go charging those up and you get a bigger sound. Then what kind of pots do you have? I was doing that for a while, going to 1 meg pots…
TQR: It opened it up…
Opened it up, of course, and then I thought, “Hey, what about no pots at all? Direct chain drive. You just plug the sucker in. No tone pot, just a volume control. Because I would get these pickups wound from Doc and in order to try them out I would take a guitar cord and take the jack off and just twist the wires together and tape the pickup under the strings. These instruments sounded so good. They had all kinds of sustain and they had this big, huge, golden, fabulous sound at all volumes, and then the minute you put a screw in it and bolted it to the back of the instrument the sound changed. Then when you put a pickguard on top of that and screwed that to the guitar, the sound changed again.
Yeah, and the pickup was a little more microphonic. You have this screaming pickup and you want to add a little more low end, you bolt it to the body.
TQR: And Doc was winding these things to 8500 Ohms resistance?
That was one of the figures, depending on what it was and where you put it. 6500 was another good one. Then there was in between… I think I have a Stratocaster with all three pickups wound to 8500 ohms that he did for me. Doc used to say, “Well, I don’t know why they… now they’re winding more on the bridge and less windings in the middle and even less on the neck. I don’t know why they do that because now you can’t put the switch in the middle, and when you put the switch in the middle you get this out of phase thing.” So we would take the Stratocaster switches and put it in between the first and the second pickup to get that out of phase thing. “Well, Doc, can you do that?” “Oh, sure… now it’ll be like a Mustang.” He was an amazing person and an inspiration to me. He had a windmill up on a hill on his property generating electricity and he would use it to charge up his Volkswagen that he had converted to electric power. He was always fighting with the city of Santa Ana because they didn’t like him having that windmill up there— it was too tall, I guess.
TQR: So your experiences charging up these pickups with Doc were a seminal part of your having arrived at this signature tone that we ultimately heard on the Jackson Browne records?
Yes. He’d charge them up and the guitar would come alive. That was one of the main things and we would do the same thing with some of the patent-applied-for humbucking pickups. A lot of it was the amp, too. In El Rayo-X for example, to get that ‘gonky ’sound from the Danelectros and all that, Jackson and I had bought a shitload of the old Celestion G12 Vox speakers that came in the old AC30’s. They made everything sound great and I would put them in old Deluxes. And then the other speaker we used was the old white Altec speakers that Dumble used in the early days. I still have some of them. He also used EV’s, but the best sounding ones were the Altecs. I think Jim Messina has a bunch of old Vox speakers, too. There were two of them… the ‘E’ cones and the ‘C’ cones. The ‘C’ cones were a little darker, but the ‘E’ cones were made for guitar and they had that ‘gonky’ tone.
TQR: And all of this culminated in your having discovered this signature sound that really put you on the map as far as the studio scene in L.A. was concerned…
On the slide, usually, but on the electric guitar stuff, too… On Jackson’s stuff, like Late for the Sky, I had an old Melody Maker with the original pickup in the neck and one of those old Gibson pickups with the square magnets from an old Super 400 at the bridge. Jeff Baxter put that guitar together for me and it was pretty amazing. I used it on most of Jackson’s records.
TQR: Do you still have it?
Of course I do. And at the same time, I was hanging around Dan Armstrong. He had all kinds of theories about what made things sound better and he told me about this stuff and I put it to use. Then I started going over to Charvel, experimenting with different body woods and different necks— getting this combination to work and it did, using a lighter body with a heavier neck. The Kaleidoscope era was all about getting something cool that sounded real good, and that was a white, gold-plated SG Custom. It had an incredible sound and we’d do feedback solos and stuff like that. One of the things I did was to lay the guitar neck down with the strings touching the ride cymbal while the drummer played the cymbal, and I would change the tone controls at the same time. It was the cymbal sound from hell (laughing).
TQR: And this was something that just popped into your head one night on stage?
Yeah… “Errr… transfer the vibrations from the cymbal through my amp. Do it now…”The first time we heard that we just all freaked. “Let’s do that for an hour!” That was at the Avalon Ballroom.
TQR: You also blew up one of Steve Miller’s amps on stage and would up playing an electric violin through a Marshall stack one night…
Yeah… unbelievable. You could blow up anything with one of those Barcus Berry fiddles. The blue one that I played was so powerful that it developed a crack right next to the volume control on the top. It fed back and you’d get it going and change the position of the body relative to the speaker and get it feeding back more and then fret it higher up the neck on another string and get that going. A violin just isn’t made for that. We were all experimenting, and in L.A. at that time everybody was influencing everyone else.
The guy that signed Kaleidoscope to Epic Records was a musician and he really liked what we were doing. Then he left, of course, and we were in “the kennel.” They really didn’t know what to do with us. We went to New York once and we were staying at the Albert Hotel doing gigs up and down the East Coast for six weeks, and we weren’t making much money— we were all living in one room at the Albert. So we went into the Epic office with our managers at that time, Stuart Eisen and Michael Goldberg. Stuart was the cool one – a real street smart guy. So Stuart took Solomon (Solomon Feldthouse) into the office of the head guy at Epic and he asked if we could get an advance against royalties. The guy at Epic said, “Royalties? What royalties? You’re never going to get any royalties.” And Stuart says, “Yeah, but they are all living in one room at the Albert. These guys are starving.” And the guy at Epic says, “Well, you’ll just have to starve then.” That’s when Solomon pulls out his navaja— a folding gypsy clamshell knife, and he’s going to stick him! Stuart was a big guy, and he was able to hold him back, but that gave us an indication of just how far a record company would go to maintain the status quo. They didn’t give a shit. It was us and them. Survival. “Oh, you’re not going to do that? Well, here… let me give you another smile right below that other fuckin’smile…” There were certain record companies that were good— that cared about it. Warner Brothers kept Ry going— Lenny
Waronker and Russ Titelman— they believed in the music and it wasn’t just accountants. And in those days you had to pay all the expenses back— studio expenses and “all other applicable costs.” Whatever that was… The system was designed to keep everybody working.
TQR: And it wasn’t uncommon for artists to give away all of their publishing as part of the deal in “getting signed.”
Yes, they did. Par for the course. Usually what happened is that you would sign to a production company and they would sign with the record company. There was a middleman in there that you had to feed. Nowadays that has changed a bit. The production company is often a subsidiary of a larger label, and there are actually small record companies that do what they say they do, along with various other permutations.
TQR: But you made the decision long ago to maintain everything yourself independently…
Yeah, I don’t know if it was Bruce Lee who said, “You have to take a few punches in order to learn how to deliver the death blow.” I had really good lawyers who did everything possible to make sure that I was treated well. I still have the last contract I ever signed which said that I couldn’t do sessions for any other musicians. I was an indentured servant to the record company. I met the head of the legal department at Capitol one time in the hallway— I won’t say his name— and I got the galloping creepies as he was standing there smiling at me. (Spoken in Jamaican patois) “This is Satan, mon… This mon is the slave owner, mon… a Babylonian slave owner!” (laughing)
TQR: So now, if someone wants to buy one of your CD’s they can just log on to the web site.
Yeah. And rather than just paying someone double scale for a recording, we split it up so that there is some participation in the sales. Jackson did that with me early on and it made me realize there was another way to do this.
TQR: What’s it like playing solo shows now?
I’m also playing with the Blind Boys from Alabama, but I like the solo shows… it’s more portable, affordable… But I also have to play better because I’m not comping. I have to play more, or if I’m playing sparsely it has to have more weight.
TQR: What instruments are you taking out?
I’m playing the big, low-tuned Weissenborns, the oud, which has turned into one of the main instruments, and then I have an instrument that is a variety of saz with four courses on it. It started life as a bouzouki and I added extra frets and I’m learning different tunings on it.
TQR: About tunings… do you have favorites for the guitar?
Whatever sounds good. Heavy strings… endless.
TQR: How heavy? Like a .058?
A .070 so you can really get the bass in there. I work with D’Addario and they have everything— oud strings— they’re the best. They even have gauged wound nylon strings. People are making instruments like nylon string mandocellos, so it’s really nice to have strings for these instruments.
TQR: But don’t you have specific tunings that you like for 6-string guitar?
Well, drop D. There are some old banjo tunings I like to use, or tune the guitar all in fifths, or all in fourths… that kind of thing. I’m also playing a Turkish lauta which has nylon strings, tuned in fourths with quarter tone frets. So you have an endless number of frets… 40 or something, and you attempt to play that.
TQR: It seems amazing that you can stay up to speed on so many different instruments all the time…
If you keep doing it… The only one I haven’t played in a while is the fiddle, and that is pretty high maintenance because it requires you to use different muscles in your fretting hand. So right now my hands are adjusted to the oud, the saz and slide.
TQR: All acoustic…
Well, they have different pickups on them and I’m always experimenting with them. I have a Najarian setup and I think it is really, really good, and I have a saz bridge that he made me that is astounding. I use different preamps… the Highlander, LL Baggs, Seymour Duncan-Rick Turner setup. I also use some modified Ashley preamps that run with a stereo Klark-Technic graphic EQ. I used to have an SAE graphic that had a beautiful sound but it was not very roadable.
TQR: Are you still doing sessions?
Yeah, some, although I was never paid for the last two. I guess the check is still in the mail, so I stopped for awhile.
TQR: Are people able to ‘fly ‘stuff over to you and you cut tracks at home?
I did that a couple of times and it wasn’t worth it. You know, you do a project for somebody and you play what you think is the perfect part to play on it and then you find out that they wanted something played a little lower or higher. You need to have that kind of feedback when you’re working it out. I’m working on getting everything set up on a computer, but the learning curve is pretty long. Going from slide pots and buttons to scrolling down and finding your EQ and waiting for it to flash on screen— it takes a lot of time. If I took a year off and did nothing else, but of course, by the time you’re-finished learning how to use that thing it has become obsolete. “Oh, we don’t make that format anymore.” There was a time when everyone was using ADAT… I have three of them (laughs). I have the Alesis 24-track hard drive. The coolest thing was what Kai Fricke used in Germany on the Live In Europe CD I did with Wally – the IZ RADAR 24 (24bit/96K) Mac based system. He got some amazing sounds on that recording, and Kai is a drummer, too, so the drum sounds are incredible.
TQR: A lot of guitar players are going to be reading this, and they may be wondering when we’re going to hear more of the gonzo, rippin’ slide stuff from you.
Well, playing with the Blind Boys allows me to play slide and blues, and of course I’ll be doing that on sessions from time to time. But you know, there was a time when I was playing 5-string banjo and I would sit in with different bands and play with my own band, and I was known as a 5-string banjo player. Then I’d be out doing something else and they would ask me when I was going to play the 5-string banjo again. “Well, I’m doing this now.” I’m obsessed with the oud now, and I’m obsessed with the technique of playing the saz. I have a saz now that is strung up like it is supposed to be with nine strings and it sounds like an entire orchestra.
TQR: That’s the way it’s supposed to go. You got to move along…
Yeah… I’m sure there are people that would like to—to hear Ry do the stuff off the Jazz album again. He’s somewhere else now. But many of my favorite, premiere 5-string banjo players also played other instruments, like pedal steel and guitar. Picasso had different periods (laughing). I started life as a painter— I didn’t start life as a musician. It’s a parallel universe that not a whole lot of people have seen, but I’ve always kept doing it. And to some people I’m known as a painter, first and foremost— not as a musician. “Oh, he does that, too.” It’s a very small world, but still it’s like that.
TQR: And you have core groups of fans that want you to play banjo, another group that dig the oud, and others that want you to go way out there…
(Laughing) Way, way, way out there! And then there are the reggae people. Mash it up, mon!
TQR: Well, you did play reggae with a banjo knowing full well that you weren’t the first to do it…
Oh, no— I wasn’t. That was a Mento instrument… a principle instrument in the early reggae music known as Mento.
TQR: Is it harder to take a band out these days? I’m thinking it is.
Almost impossible. We went out in 2003 with El Rayo-X and did six shows and it was so amazingly difficult. The rhythm guitar player, Ray Woodbury, put it all together, and he is a genius. He’s sitting in the San Francisco airport and he’s got two cell phones going and two wireless laptops— an Apple and a PC— doing four things at once. He’s really, really good at production in addition to being a great guitar player. So he got all these gigs together, we rehearsed, it sounded great and we recorded the shows and got an El Rayo-X Live CD out of it. It was fun to do but you’ve got to make some major, major bucks to make it work, and the logistics… If you don’t have a genius like Ray doing it, then you have to get a management company and they take their percentage off the top. And the booking agent takes their percentage off the top. It may not be that much and these people certainly do their jobs with all the logistics, the hotels, transportation, booking the shows and all of that, but 25% of the money is gone, too, and Ray did all of that for this tour. Otherwise, it would have been very difficult. It’s a lot easier going out by myself, and I also get more out of it because I get to play the stuff I’m into rather than recreating what I used to do.
TQR: And recreating what you used to do gets old?
No, that stuff is never old for me, but you can hear the difference in the guitar solos and the stuff I do on this 2003 El Rayo-X Reunion CD. Really hear the difference.
TQR: How so?
Because of having played the oud for so long. The guitar is so different now— much more so together than it ever was, and the slide stuff is really there. That has evolved too, so while I’m playing solo, practicing and learning how to interpret Turkish notation, I’m getting these other benefits. Also, it’s not as loud. I’ve been playing at 100db for 40 years. I could go out on the road with El Rayo-X for two years, or I can go out on the road for ten more years by myself. It’s not as ‘Animal House ‘or such a party band… El Rayo-X was the best party band ever. It’s not that, but it’s good, and in a lot of ways it’s better. A lot of the people in my audience can’t go to loud concerts anymore.
TQR: We’ve all been on the Gonzo Train…
(Laughing) Another thing that really got to me was that I went into this club in northern California and right next to the cash register was a big jar full of ear plugs. I looked at that and I thought, “Something is wrong here.” The whole thing is based on playing over the level of people who are talking real loud because they are drunk. You know, down south in those juke joints a lot of it was acoustic— they didn’t have a lot of amplification, but people could still have a good time. You could still talk and hear the music. Then it started coming up and up and up and now we have 23 year old kids with the hearing of an 80 year old man. I thought we had blazed the trail in the ‘60s with Canned Heat and Marshall stacks all the way across the stage, and then you’d go see The Charlatans in San Francisco… Jefferson Airplane…
TQR: Blue Cheer…
Blue…Cheer… holy shit. Yes, and when people start sticking their heads in the cabinets you get some nerve damage in there…
TQR: How many hours do you play each day?
About three hours, and now that I’m getting used to the overdubbing setup, I’ve been talking to my daughter about doing some overdubbing and having some guests come in and sing here. I have one of Dean Jensen’s mic preamps— he did the Boulder preamps— and you can plug just about any mic into that and it will sound amazing. Same thing with James Demeter’s mic pre’s.
TQR: What do you want to do in the near future? Is there any unfinished business for you, Dave?
Man makes plans and God laughs. I’m on a course right now and it’s based on learning the real saz. I studied with a teacher at the University of Berlin and I learned some stuff from him that I couldn’t do. I also learned from a guy in Australia that I sat down with when I was there. And then I figured out this one guy… Ali Akbar Çicek. This guy played some stuff that to this day, people can’t play. They all thought he played it with a pick, but he didn’t. He played it with his fingers like a flamenco guitar. And so, I figured out how he did it and that’s what I’ve been working on. It’s the scariest thing I have ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot of stuff! (laughing). You hear this guy play and you think, “Oh, no… what is
that?” There was one thing that tipped me off— I heard four fingers on the top— four fingernails on the recording, and that’s the whole thing. It’s the way the saz was originally played— same thing with the oud. I went on a website and read where the oud was originally played with the fingers using the thumb nail like a pick, and I thought, “Oh…you mean like John Lee Hooker!” So I plugged this thing into an amp and it sounded nasty. What’s the first thing you think of when you get a nasty old sound? John Lee Hooker! So it’s more difficult to play the saz with the fingers— you can’t play these really fast runs like you can with a pick, but it’s all opening up. I’m practicing these compositions and then creating some of my own. It turns out that they’re like banjo tunes— no two 5-string banjo players play “Cripple Creek” or “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” the same. And I hear the same thing among oud players, too. You have to take it in, and certain things must be maintained, otherwise it’s heresy, or it has to be so interesting and so good that it has a life of its own. All you do is substitute scales for chords and you put these very complex running chords together in parts. I guess I started it all about 10 or 15 years ago while doing other things like trying to get the vibrato on my Weissenborn… good. And making sure the 7th string on my Weissenborn comes off sounding like a bass rather than a rubber band. It’s the dilettante thing…
TQR: Live in Europe is your latest CD release…
Yeah, and the Cooder/ Lindley Family Live CD is out and on a lot of college radio play lists. And I have a ton of stuff in the can that may come out some day.
TQR: Let’s finish with your most significant influence in terms of the electric guitar and tone, if we may…
Out of all the people we used to call the “tone guys,” Henry McCullough from The Grease Band. It just sounded right. He had the best guitar tone. Rory Gallagher also got a fabulous sound, but Henry McCullough got this elegant, round, not-too nasty tone. He was the guy that really set me off. And as far as slide goes, it was an Earl Hooker album with Freddy Roulette on it (“Two Bugs and a Roach?”). And of course there is Ry… flying over the tops of the trees… flying over everything. TQ
We are sincerely grateful to David and Joanie Lindley for providing many of the images found herein. Our thanks as well to David Biasotti and former member of Kaleidoscope Steve Cahill for the Kaleidoscope images, and Tim Rayborn for the oud, saz and lauta descriptions borrowed from his web site at www.timrayborn.com
For CD’s, autographed posters and lots of cool Lindley stuff, please troll the website.