Oh, please stay just a little bit more

There’s an important truth about the famous singer-songwriters whose names have appeared on the charts and theater marquises over the years: By and large, their music was made much more interesting and dynamic because of the contributions of incredibly talented session musicians and touring sidemen.

To the public at large, even to many music lovers, these superb instrumentalists are mostly anonymous. Their peers in the music business know who they are — these unsung heroes who play guitars, fiddles, saxes, keyboards and percussion to fill out the arrangements of songs written by the main recording artist — but the majority of the listening audience doesn’t have a clue and probably doesn’t much care.

So the passing of the extraordinarily gifted David Lindley earlier this month most likely went unnoticed by casual music fans, even those who have enjoyed his playing without knowing who he was.

Take my word for it: If you loved the music of the acts coming out of Laurel Canyon and greater Los Angeles in the 1970s, you most definitely have heard Lindley’s work. Best known for his many appearances on records and on tour with Jackson Browne, Lindley was also an important collaborator with Graham Nash, David Crosby, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon and a few dozen other major and minor artists in the 1970s, 1980s and beyond.

Because I’m an aficionado (read: music trivia nerd) who absorbs all sorts of information about the albums I’ve bought and the artists I’ve seen in concert, I’m one of the exceptions to the rule. I’ve been aware of Lindley’s name since at least 1972 when it appeared on the credits of Browne’s debut LP, and I’ve made note of his musical contributions ever since. He was a master of so many stringed instruments, most notably lap steel guitar, fiddle and mandolin, and the accompaniment he provided was essential to countless classic tracks.

Take a moment and peruse this list:

Nine Browne LPs: “Saturate Before Using” (1972), “For Everyman” (1973), “Late For the Sky” (1974), “The Pretender (1976), “Running on Empty” (1977), “Hold Out” (1980), “Lives in the Balance (1986), “World in Motion” (1989), “I’m Alive” (1993) and “Looking East” (1996)

Five Zevon albums: “Warren Zevon” (1976), “Sentimental Hygiene” (1987), “Transverse City” (1989), “Mutineer” (1994) and “The Wind” (2003)

Ronstadt’s “Heart Like A Wheel” (1974), “Prisoner in Disguise” (1975) and “Simple Dreams” (1977)

Three Nash solo LPs: “Songs For Beginners” (1971), “Wild Tales” (1973) and “Earth and Sky” (1980)

Ry Cooder’s “Jazz” (1978) and “Bop ‘Til You Drop” (1979)

Crosby & Nash’s “Wind On the Water” (1975) and “Whistling Down the Wire” (1976)

Shawn Colvin’s “Fat City” (1992)

James Taylor’s “In the Pocket” (1976)

Maria Muldaur’s 1973 debut

Karla Bonoff’s “Restless Nights” (1979)

Various LPs by America, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, John Prine, Marshall Crenshaw, Emmylou Harris, Joe Walsh and Leo Sayer

The guy seemed to be everywhere, largely in a subtle, understated way, providing sweet lap steel guitar passages, lovely fiddle phrasings and distinctive slide guitar solos. That’s the important characteristic of the very best session musicians: They play TO the song and the arrangement, bringing just the right amount of finesse that the track required, no more and no less.

One reason certain musicians are in such high demand for recording sessions is they have shown time and time again that they are reliably proficient at their instrument and how to provide just the right atmosphere and the combination of notes, sustains and rests. In L.A. in the ’70s, if you wanted fiddle in the mix, your first call was to Lindley. Mandolin? Lindley again. Slide guitar? Lap steel guitar? Plain ol’ acoustic guitar? You just never went wrong when Lindley was in your studio.

Perhaps his most recognizable bit was the slide guitar that was prominently featured on Browne’s 1977 Top Ten tune “Running on Empty” and made it such an enduring hit, capturing both the exhilaration and exhaustion of life on the road. Lindley also had his moment of comic relief on that album and tour when he sang the exaggerated falsetto in the middle of Browne’s cover of the 1962 chestnut “Stay.”

My favorite Lindley contribution came in “For a Dancer,” Browne’s heartbreaking 1974 tearjerker about a friend who had died. Lindley’s fiddle part throughout tugs at the listener’s heartstrings in such an integral way that it’s near impossible to imagine the song without it. Go back five years earlier to The Youngbloods’ intense “Darkness, Darkness” and you’ll hear a young Lindley’s fiddle adding just the right mystical touch to that song, later re-recorded by its composer, Jesse Colin Young.

Even Bruce Springsteen made use of Lindley’s talents, although it took a long time for us to hear it. That’s his fiddle gracing the alternate take of “Racing in the Streets,” found on the 2010 package “The Promise,” a track originally from Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” LP.

So where did this instrumental wunderkind come from? Lindley was born and raised in San Marino, an LA suburb near Pasadena, the son of a music enthusiast who exposed him to a broad range of musical genres and instruments through an extensive record collection. Korean folk music, Indian sitar albums, West Virginia bluegrass, Greek bouzouki, Bakersfield country music — all of it and more made an impact on Lindley from a young age. He was only four when he started playing violin, then ukulele by six, guitar at eight and banjo at 11.

He was a voracious student of the musical styles and techniques he was hearing and sought to emulate them on a wide array of stringed instruments. “I even opened up the upright piano in the playhouse out in back of my parents’ house to get at the strings and see how they worked,” he recalled in a 2008 interview. He said he had no idea how many different instruments he could play, but a photo taken for Acoustic Guitar magazine in 2000 (see below) gives a pretty good indication. From dulcimer to autoharp, from the Middle Eastern our to the Turkish saz, Lindley could coax amazing sounds from them all.

David Lindley and his collection of instruments

As a teen, he won the Topanga Canyon Banjo/Fiddle Contest five straight years, and often frequented the Ash Grove and Troubadour clubs to hear some of the more eclectic genres not necessarily in vogue on the radio. It was there that he formed a bond with Ry Cooder, who shared his love for folk and roots music.

Lindley soon partnered with Chris Darrow and others to form a band called Kaleidoscope that offered “psychedelic folk,” and although their albums barely charted, they were favorites of such major influencers as Jimmy Page (who called them “my ideal band, absolutely brilliant”) and San Francisco DJ Tom Donahue. At the bottom of this piece, I’ve included a handful of Kaleidoscope tracks in a diverse Spotify playlist that chronicles Lindley’s recorded legacy.

Following that project, Lindley spent a couple of years in England playing with guitarist/singer Terry Reid before returning to L.A., where he became fast friends with Browne just as his star was beginning to rise. His work on Browne’s records (check out the slide guitar on “The Fuse” from 1976’s “The Pretender”) attracted the attention of Nash, Crosby, Ronstadt, Taylor and others.

Lindley left Browne’s band after the 1980 “Hold Out” tour, largely because Browne encouraged him to branch out. “I thought he should be appreciated in his own right,” said Browne in 2010, “but there were times when I thought it was the craziest and stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

Lindley’s 1981 LP “El Rayo-X”

In 1981, Lindley’s one brush with commercial success came with his solo debut, “El Rayo-X,” one of the most eccentric and wildly disparate albums of its time. With the help of seasoned players like Bill Payne, Garth Hudson and Bob Glaub, and Browne adding some vocals, Lindley offered up funk, snarling blues, vintage rock & roll, Cajun, Zydeco, reggae and Middle Eastern rhythms, and it reached a modest #81 on the US album charts.

For a guy who found himself in the vortex of Southern California hedonistic excess, Lindley kept all of that at arm’s length. On tour, when most of the band and entourage were partying hard at after-show gatherings, Lindley tended to retreat to his hotel room with an instrument or two, always looking for new ways to inject life into a song. “There are all sorts of variations,” he once said. “Some fans don’t get it. They say, ‘What you do is so good — why don’t you guys just keep playing like that?’ But when I see that exotic cheesecake in the glass case, I think, ‘I want to try that. It looks really good.’ I’m always looking to experiment with new sounds, new ways of playing things.”

In the wake of Lindley’s passing March 3rd at age 78, a number of his compatriots emerged with words of praise. “One of the most talented musicians I’ve ever known,” Graham Nash wrote. “David could play pretty much any instrument you put in front of him with incredible versatility and expression. He was truly a musician’s musician.”

“Lindley’s unique sound and style,” said guitarist Peter Frampton, “gave him away in one note.”

Warren Haynes, who played guitar for The Allman Brothers Band from 1989 to 2014, had this to say: “His lap steel playing in particular was a big influence on me. Often times when I’m approaching a song or solo in a major key, Lindley’s influence will appear automatically. His style was so vocalesque, and his sense of melody was a deep well. His solos became part of the song to the point where even non-musicians could hum along.”

R.I.P., Mr. Lindley. Your contributions have not gone unnoticed by your peers (nor by me and those who read this blog)…


Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart

Upon hearing of Burt Bacharach’s death last week at age 93, and then immersing myself in his many dozens of songs recorded by numerous artists, I was overcome by an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia.

I often get nostalgic — defined as “having a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past” — when I look through old photo albums, watch old movies or, most notably, hear music from my childhood. Music from the 1960s, when I was between ages five and fifteen, can really trigger vivid memories and warm remembrances.

I can’t truthfully say I was an enormous fan of Bacharach and the songs he created with longtime lyrics-writing partner Hal David. They seemed pleasant enough, but they seemed decidedly unhip to me. Songs like “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” or “Make It Easy On Yourself” may have been easy on the ears, but that’s because they were undeniably part of the “easy listening” genre my parents enjoyed. I was a Beatles devotée, and early rock and roll, and Motown, and electric blues. Bacharach’s music was pretty far removed from those musical styles.

So it was very interesting for me to discover how nostalgic I felt when I assembled the Spotify playlist you’ll find at the end of this essay. Song after song after song transported me to a simpler time when my hours were filled with riding bikes, playing catch, watching mindless TV shows or playing with HO racing cars.

Take Dionne Warwick’s treatment of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” a US Top Ten hit in the spring of 1968. Listening to it again this past week made me realize how deceptively simple it is when, in fact, it’s quite a sophisticated piece of pop music. Bacharach used unpredictable chord progressions, syncopated rhythm patterns and irregular phrasing, influenced by jazz harmonics, while David’s lyrics told a marvelously poignant tale of a guy who moves to L.A. to become a big singer, finds no luck and must return home to San Jose. Anyone who has ever had to give up on a dream can relate.

Hal David, Dionne Warwick and Bacharach in 1965

In the many obituaries and tributes published in the past week, the Bacharach-David song that has been referenced most often is “What the World Needs Now is Love,” made famous in 1965 by Jackie DeShannon. It starts off kind of corny but settles into a dramatic melody with moving lyrics that have stood the test of time and are just as relevant in today’s divisive world as they were nearly 60 years ago when Vietnam, civil rights and assassinations were tearing the country apart.

And then there’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” which reached the Top Ten twice in versions by Warwick in 1967 and Aretha Franklin in 1968. David said he wrote the words from the perspective of a woman at home worrying about her soldier boyfriend in Vietnam, but he wanted to keep the lyrics more general to avoid any controversy.

These songs and many other Bacharach compositions are, without a doubt, “earworms” — irresistible little tunes that, once in your head, seem to be permanently lodged there. I found myself singing/humming “There’s Always Something There to Remind Me” and “Alfie” all damn day…and I didn’t mind in the least. I marinated in them.

My research into the Bacharach-David catalog revealed a number of things I hadn’t known:

I didn’t know they wrote “Baby It’s You,” the 1962 hit by The Shirelles that was covered by The Beatles on their debut LP.

It was news to me that they wrote “One Less Bell to Answer,” the #2 hit by The 5th Dimension in 1970.

Were you aware they wrote the title song to the 1965 Woody Allen film “What’s New Pussycat?” by Tom Jones? I wasn’t.

They wrote two hits that qualify as quasi-western, both for Gene Pitney — “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance” in 1962 and “24 Hours From Tulsa” in 1963.

Written by Bacharach-David and first recorded in 1963, “(They Long to Be) Close to You” became the breakthrough #1 hit that launched the careers of Karen & Richard Carpenter in 1970.

Bacharach helped co-write “Heartlight,” Neil Diamond’s last Top Ten hit, with Diamond and Carole Bayer Sager in 1982.

Between 1962 and 1970, the names of Bacharach and David appeared on the US Top 40 nearly as often as Lennon and McCartney.

Bacharach was nominated FIVE Times for the Best Song Oscar, winning twice, for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Arthur’s Theme” from the 1981 comedy “Arthur.”

Bacharach’s music was recorded by many top artists of the era and more recent decades as well. You can hear loads of diverse covers of Bacharach songs by the likes of James Taylor, The Chambers Brothers, Patti Labelle, Naked Eyes, Tony Bennett, Idina Menzel, Christopher Cross, Cilla Black, Seal, Herb Alpert, Bobbie Gentry, Michael McDonald, Stan Getz, The White Stripes, Rod Stewart, B.J. Thomas, James Brown, Paul Carrack, Jeffrey Osborne, Diana Krall, Bobby Vinton, Greg Kihn, Stevie Wonder, Cher and Elvis Costello, among many others.


Born in 1928 in Kansas City, Bacharach grew up in Queens, where he learned cello, drums and piano at the encouragement of his mother, an amateur singer and pianist. While still a teen, Bacharach often sneaked into Manhattan jazz clubs to hear Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who proved influential to his later musical stylings.

While serving in the Army, he met singer Vic Damone and ended up spending three years as a pianist and conductor for him.  Said Damone in 1997, “Burt was clearly bound to go out on his own.  He was an exceptionally talented, classically trained pianist, with very clear ideas on the musicality of songs, how they should be played, and what they should sound like.  I appreciated his musical gifts.”  Bacharach later served for five years as arranger, conductor and music director for the legendary Marlene Dietrich, accompanying her on tours until he decided he wanted to concentrate on songwriting.

He met Hal David at the famous Brill Building, the Manhattan songwriting hub where teams like Carole King and Gerry Goffin churned out hits for the teenage market, but Bacharach and David wrote more sophisticated stuff in the Cole Porter vein.  By the early ’60s, they had scored hits for Marty Robbins (“The Story of My Life”) and Perry Como (“Magic Moments”).  In 1963, singer Jerry Butler asked Bacharach to produce the session for his song “Make It Easy On Yourself,” and with that, his career as a producer was off and running.

In his obituary in The New York Times last week, writer Stephen Holden succinctly captured Bacharach’s niche:  “He was a pop composer, arranger, conductor, record producer and occasional singer whose hit songs in the 1960s distilled that decade’s mood of romantic optimism.  Because of the high gloss and apolitical stance of the songs he wrote (with David) during an era of confrontation and social upheaval, they were often dismissed as little more than background music by listeners who preferred the hard edge of rock or the intimacy of the singer-songwriter genre. But in hindsight, the Bacharach-David team ranks high in the pantheon of pop songwriting.”

Bacharach and Angie Dickinson in the 1970s

Bacharach seemed to be the epitome of sophisticated cool when he was paired to his vivacious second wife, actress Angie Dickinson, to whom he was married from 1965-1981. They were among Hollywood’s elite couples as both enjoyed star turns on the charts and on television.

The Bacharach-David team’s uncanny good fortune seemed to run out when they signed on to write the songs for the 1973 musical version of the classic film “Lost Horizon,” an unmitigated disaster with critics and at the box office. Bacharach let his ego get the better of him, blaming David for not supporting his attempts to wrest control from the film’s music people, effectively ending their partnership virtually overnight. He compounded his problems by reneging on a promised to produce Warwick’s next solo project, which caused estrangement between him and the most successful interpreter of his songs.

“Look, there’s no point in going over all the gory details,” Bacharach said in 1993, as he recalled the estrangement period. “It’s all behind us now. If I had to do it over again, I never, never would do it the same way.”  It took more than ten years, but they ended up mending their differences in 1986 when they combined forces on the hugely popular hit “That’s What Friends Are For,” Warwick’s collaborative effort with Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder that reached #1 and won multiple Grammy awards.

Bacharach, Dionne Warwick and Hal David in 1987

In a 1995 interview, Bacharach offered his thoughts on his songwriting process. “I didn’t want to make the songs the same way as they’d been done, so I’d split vocals and instrumentals and try to make it interesting. For me, it’s about the peaks and valleys of where a record can take you. You can tell a story and be able to be explosive one minute, then get quiet as kind of a satisfying resolution… It may be easy on the ears, but it’s anything but easy. The precise arrangements, the on-a-dime shifts in meter, and the mouthfuls of lyrics required to service all those notes have, over the years, proven challenging to singers and musicians.”

Bacharach added, “As a songwriter, I’ve been luckier than most. Many composers sit in a room by themselves and nobody knows what they look like. People may have heard some of their songs, but they never get to see them onstage or on television. Because I’ve also been a performer, I got to make a direct connection with people, and I’ve been very grateful about that.”

In 1997, he had enough self-deprecating humor to appear as himself singing “What the World Needs Now is Love” in the hit comedy “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” spoofing the ’60s James Bond cool vibe.

Rest in peace, Burt Bacharach. The world still needs “love sweet love” and will continue to sing along to your songs like the lovable, nostalgic earworms they are.


It was a challenge trying to decide which versions of Burt Bacharach’s classic songs to include on this playlist. In some cases, I’ve include two or even three different renditions to show the range of styles and arrangements out there.