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February 14-21, 2007

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All hail Mr. Puffy: Self-deprecating though he may be, there's musical genius behind all that hair.

Mr. Lindley Is Here to Stay

Jack-of-all-strings (and master of many) David Lindley holds forth on turning 60, making history and bopping till you drop

By Bill Forman

David Lindley recently looked himself up on YouTube and found what he wryly describes as a "veritable empire of recordings." Among them were performance by his early '80s band El Rayo-X, shows with Jackson Browne (whom Lindley worked with throughout the '70s) and plenty of cell phone footage from a recent concert at the Garberville Theater. "It's kind of like hoarding," says Lindley of the fans who disseminate his live performances. "And it's also about control. It's like, 'This guy hasn't put out a CD for a long time--I'll make my own!' Well, thanks so much ..."

Lindley, who's played with the likes of Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt and Warren Zevon, has been a bit slow when it comes to releasing his own recordings of late. Which is not to say he hasn't been busy, thanks to regular touring (he'll be at the Kuumbwa on Monday, Feb. 19), a variety of collaborations (he and Leo Kottke are making plans to tour as a duo) and a determination to master the oud, the Middle Eastern instrument he first encountered while playing with his band Kaleidoscope back in the '60s.

And while there is a new album nearing completion, Lindley insists, revealing the title or any other information about it would be "bad juju." One track that'll likely make the cut, though, is a new song called "Mr. Puffy Is Here to Stay," a follow-up to Lindley's classic "When a Guy Gets Boobs." Lindley, whose nickname in Japan is bakemono (which he translates as "feared ghost"), attribute such painfully biographical songs to those golden moments when the person looking back at you in the mirror turns out to be someone you don't recognize.

"It's all about nonrecognition; you look in the mirror and you go, 'Who the fuck is that? That's not me!'" says a wistful Lindley. "Yeah, my dad had boobs, so I got them too. It's like a genetic thing. They're smaller than they used to be. Eating late at night, just before you got to bed, that's a huge part of it. You look at the Sumo wrestlers--what the Sumo wrestlers do is they eat a lot and drink a lot and then go to sleep, and then it has a chance to kind of fill in. You get your boobs, you got your fatback--fatback takes in love handles and all that--and then there's a variation on fatback which is called looseback. Looseback only happens with age. After 50, you get that. And then you have visitations from Mr. Puffy."

Long before he became Mr. Puffy, Lindley was a Pasadena area kid whose parents both played piano at home ("the last of the Victorians," he laughs) and whose fluency on banjo brought him a first glimpse of the fabulous lifestyle awaiting him as a professional musician. "I actually got to experience that when I was playing bluegrass music," he recalls. "I got to play Disneyland in front of the Mine Train, which is now Thunder Mountain Railroad."

By age 21, he'd formed Kaleidoscope, a psych-rock band whose world music inclinations were well ahead of their time. The group was signed to Epic in the late '60s and, as Lindley tells it, deliberately evaded attempts to make them more marketable. "There was a management organization that wanted to put a whole lot of money behind the Kaleidoscope and they asked us if we would wear suits or whatever else they wanted us to wear--they wanted total control--and we decided right then and there to tell them to fuck off," he laughs. "A lot of the people I hung out with in the bluegrass days, like Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal and those guys, they played what they liked. So I wasn't striking out on my own. Everybody was playing what they liked, and that was what it was all about."

Yet for all his efforts, Lindley was unable to completely circumvent fame. He collaborated with Jackson Browne throughout the singer/songwriter's most fruitful decade and played on Ry Cooder's 1979 masterpiece, Bop Til You Drop, which is regarded as the first album outside the jazz and classical fields to be recorded digitally.

"That was a 3M machine, a big one," recalls Lindley, "and back then, they didn't put the gates on things, you know, they didn't stop it at 20,000 and they didn't stop it at 20. Now, most digital machines don't go above 20k, because they think no one can hear up there, but we can. I went for hearing tests earlier on, and I could hear 27k. I went to the hospital in L.A. and they said, no one can hear up there, let's test it again. Of course, I lost that over the years. Forty years at 100 decibels, you tend to lose things."

But enthusiasm for music hasn't been one of them. "I practice a lot now on the oud," says Lindley, who finds the fretless, nylon-stringed instrument perfect for playing slide guitar without the slide. "When you're over 60, you supposedly don't get better and it all goes downhill, but that's not true. I'm learning stuff that's way above my head and it works out real well.

So when fans email him asking him what tuning he's using in some YouTube clip, Lindley may occasionally hand them a line like, "I'm not gonna cheat you out of the thrill of discovery." But just as often, he says, "I'm telling them the tuning and the D'Addario string gauges."

And while many musicians stop listening to other players, Lindley is still avid about buying and listening to CDs. "The thing I figured out is, if you're always a student, that's the way to do it," he says. "Always a fan, always a student."

David Lindley plays Monday, Feb. 19, at 7 and 9pm at Kuumbwa, 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets $20/$23, available online, at Logos Books or by calling 866.777-TWEB.

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