David Lindley, a world-class instrumental virtuoso best known for his work with Jackson Browne, died Friday at age 78. His family did not release a cause of death.
A generational guitarist and all-around musical genius, Lindley influenced both classic rock and modern artists in indescribable ways.
“The loss of David Lindley is a huge one,” tweeted Jason Isbell. “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.”
Lindley’s diminishing health was not a secret in the industry — he had been repeatedly hospitalized for kidney issues, pneumonia and influenza, according to his family. “A terrible bout of Long COVID” likely triggered the sharp decline, they also added.
Lindley’s tenure with Browne spanned most of his 1970’s prime; most famously, Lindley played the solos on “Running on Empty” and sang the instantly-recognizable falsetto on “Stay.”
“That final cadenza on that one live version of Jackson Browne’’s ‘Running on Empty’ is the greatest recorded live song ending EVER,” tweeted Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid in response to the somber news.
Lindley also backed Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Rod Stewart in the ’70s and ’80s on multiple albums. He also sat in on session work with Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Leonard Cohen, Dolly Parton, Little Feat, the Bangles, John Prine, Shawn Colvin, Amy Grant, America, Bread, Eddie Money, Bob Dylan, Ben Harper, Aaron Neville, Terry Reid, David Blue and many others.
David Lindley fronted the band Kaleidoscope for many years before deciding to tour as an acoustic solo act
In his later years, Lindley toured heavily as a solo act — mostly as a guitar virtuoso, but also as a multi-instrument musician. One of his favorite lesser-known instruments to play on stage included the ‘oud,’ a 12-string Persian cousin to the lute.
Growing up in San Marino, Calif., Lindley began his musical journey as a banjo player of all things. “My mom and dad were disturbed by their son, the hillbilly musician,” Lindley laughed in an interview. “It was very much a classical music family, so what did I get interested in? Hillbilly music, dammit!” Ultimately, though, “I just had this burning interest in any instrument that had strings on it.”
Jackson Browne recalled first hearing of Lindley while visiting the Topanga Canyon Banjo and Fiddle Contest. His future bandmate had become a judge after winning “about five times in a row.”
Lindley said he loved learning new instruments his entire life, and that the obsession made him very in-demand as a session musician.
“I played everything,” he once recalled. “I can remember having conversations about that with everybody. You want to be in a band? Oh, oh, they already have a five-string player. Well, let’s see… I’ll play the fiddle.”
He is survived by his wife, Joan Darrow, and daughter, Rosanne.