David Lindley, Multi-Instrumentalist Who Shaped the Sound of Soft Rock, Dead at 78
Notable session musician David Lindley, a multi-instrumentalist known for his prolific work and collaborations throughout the Seventies and Eighties, died at age 78 on March 3, Rolling Stone confirmed. No cause of death was given.
An active musician since the Sixties, Lindley was a popular session musician whose skillset when it came to playing string instruments like the fiddle and guitar made him a must-have collaborator for artists like Jackson Browne, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Toto, Rod Stewart, and Joe Walsh.
Several days after his death, Browne shared a touching tribute for Lindley, saying he fave his “personality and his inspiration to so many of my songs.”
“We started to play my song ‘These Days,’ and my world changed,” Browne wrote on Instagram on March 17. “His playing was so emotional, and immediate – it cast a spell over me and everyone there. It didn’t matter that he had never heard the song before. What he was playing made it more emotional and more real than it had ever sounded in the years I had played it alone.”
Other musicians shared tributes for the guitarist on social media shortly after his death was announced.
“The loss of David Lindley is a huge one,” singer Jason Isbell wrote on Twitter. “Without his influence, my music would sound completely different. I was genuinely obsessed with his playing from the first time I heard it. The man was a giant.”
“One of the most talented musicians there has ever been,” Graham Nash wrote. “David could play pretty much any instrument you put in front of him with incredible versatility and expression.”
Lindley could often be found in the studio working alongside other members of The Section, a crew of session musicians who shaped the sound of soft rock in the 1970s. “They were some of the most creative musicians around,” David Crosby, who hired Lindley in 1975, told Rolling Stone back in 2013. “You never had to tell them what to play. You sang them a song and got the fuck out of the way.”
“I’d listen to a song and see what worked. The song is the center of everything. If the song was about a friend of Jackson’s who died, you play something appropriate for that,” Lindley told Rolling Stone in 2010. “You don’t play a Chuck berry solo in the middle of ‘Song for Adam.’ A Chuck Berry solo is a great thing, but not that for that moment.”
Lindley stood out among the other session musicians, not only because of his impish demeanor, but also because of his raw talent. Known as one of the legendary rock and roll sidemen of his era, the musician played in Browne’s band for most of the Eighties, making a name for himself beyond the studio. In return, Browne produced Lindley’s 1983 album El Rayo-X.
When remembering his time with Browne, Lindley shared a story of one of there first meetings with Rolling Stone: “Jackson was playing there and I borrowed a fiddle and sat in with him. That was the beginning of it. He liked the way it worked. Then I went to England and played with Terry Reid. Jackson came to London after the first album came out and we did some gigs there. A friend of mine had a club in Cambridge. We played the club and it was fun. Then it was, ‘Let’s do a band thing!’ I thought, ‘That’ll be fun.’”
Lindley and Browne would reunitie for a stretch of live shows: First in 2006, then again in 2010. “Why had I not thought of this before? Take him where he doesn’t speak the language and he will HAVE TO leave the gig and come with you to the restaurant, or to the club,” Browne shared in a statement in 2010, remembering his time with the musician in Spain. “This was an unexpected strategy breakthrough in a pursuit that for a legion of friends, disciples and admirers has become known as ‘stalking the wild Lindley.'”
Lindley also played with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt as well as in his own bands, including Kaleidoscope and the Eighties band El Rayo-X. He toured with Hani Naser and Wally Ingram, and performed on over 50 records, including his own solo releases and appearances on albums from Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Warren Zevon, Jimmy Barnes, and more.
This story was updated on March 17 at 6:15 p.m. ET to include a tribute from Jackson Browne.