At what felt more like a family reunion than anything else, friends and neighbors gathered at Claremont, California’s Folk Music Center Sunday afternoon, May 28, 2023 to honor the life of one of their own: multi-instrumentalist and local resident David Lindley, who died March 3.
“It’s so great to hear these stories and these reminiscences of David,” said Lindley’s long-time friend and musical collaborator Jackson Browne. “I’ve rarely seen a room as full of people I know, or whom I’ve met at one time or another, and it’s just so good to be here with you all.”
Some 90-plus guests crowded into the Center, which is part museum and part music store, with instruments from around the world lining the walls, and vintage Martins kept safely behind glass. Pizza, pastries, cheeses and fruits donated from area businesses supporting the event filled tables, while incense wafted throughout the room on an afternoon breeze from the open doorway.
Between performances from musicians—world-famous and otherwise—award-winning singer-songwriter Ben Harper, open pizza box in hand, offered slices to guests in folding chairs who likely never expected to be served lunch out of a cardboard box from a Grammy-winner.
Photo: Kim Hill-Smith
Harper looked like he felt right at home. In fact, he was. He practically grew up at the Folk Music Center, which was created some 65 years ago by his grandparents, Charles and Dorothy Chase. Lindley, who lived a few blocks from the store, was a family friend and frequent visitor.
“David would come into the store, spot a beautiful instrument hanging on the wall, pull it down and begin admiring it,” Harper shared from the small stage, Weissenborn slide guitar in his lap. “My grandpa would wander over and the two of them would strike up a chat, and then haggle back-and-forth over the instrument, sometimes for a whole day, before Lindley would ultimately buy it.”
Introducing the song “Call It a Loan,” Browne explained that, while it may be the only song he and Lindley officially wrote together, Lindley’s influence on his music went well beyond that tune. “Everything we did together was so much him,” he said. “It was his touch and his expression. And that acted on me whenever we were together to a degree that I think just about everything I did with him was pretty much fifty-fifty. I’d play something, and then David would come along and play something brilliant that I couldn’t live without, and then we’d have the take. And that’s the way the song would go.”
Among the performers who knew Lindley the longest was Steve Cahill, who began playing with him in 1962 as part of The Mad Mountain Ramblers. The string band played throughout Southern California, with an extended gig at Disneyland. “There’s something about being in a room full of people who have in common their respect and love for someone who came streaking through their lives,” Cahill remarked about the Sunday gathering. “I was glad to be there, adding my bit to the music performed by some of David’s friends like Terry Reid, John York, Jackson Browne, Ben Harper and David’s El Rayo-X band. I think he was honored in style.”
El Rayo-X closed the evening, joined by Browne and Ben Harper on a few chestnuts. “Playing with [Lindley], as everyone up here will testify to, was amazing,” said El Rayo-X guitarist Ray Woodbury. “There were nights when I would literally stop playing and watch him because he was so good; it was heart-stopping. But, honestly, the only thing that eclipsed his music, for me, was his generosity of spirit.”
El Rayo-X with Jackson and Ben Harper. Photo: Randy Miller
“I can’t say much about Lindley because I’ll just completely lose it,” added El Rayo-X bandmate Bernie Larson. “But I will say that I never heard him say anything negative about anybody. He was a sweet, kind, generous man, and I’m so blessed to have spent that time with him.”
Ironically, the woman who created the event and made sure everything behind the scenes flowed smoothly wasn’t able to catch much of the show.
“There’s so much preparation that went into this event, and I was so consumed with making sure everything happened the way it was supposed to that I missed some of the performances,” said store owner and manager—and Ben’s mother—Ellen Harper. “But I was so glad I got to hear Jackson play that Warren Zevon song, ‘Don’t Let Us Get Sick.’ I love what it says: ‘I’m lucky to be here with someone I like, who maketh my spirit to shine.’ When he played that during the sound check, it was so moving.”
Although the event was scheduled to wind down at 7, it didn’t quite work out that way. “People didn’t want to leave afterward,” Ellen said. “They just hung around and kept talking. We had to start cleaning up, but some people stayed and helped us with that.”
Percussionist Wally Ingram and Lindley toured as a duo for years. “We traveled the world for almost a decade. A lot of it was in a Toyota pickup. But we never listened to music during those years traveling in the truck. David would tell me, ‘Wally, we don’t need any more notes. They’re all right there in your head. Can’t you hear them? It’s like a super ball bouncing around in an empty Motel 6 room. They’re all right there.’”
David Lindley may be gone, but he left us with thousands of notes—bouncing like a super ball in an empty Motel 6 room. And while we may yearn for more, maybe they’re enough.
Crowd photo: Steve Cahill