If David Lindley played just one of the stringed instruments in his arsenal, and concentrated on just one of the styles he has mastered and/or mutated, he would doubtless be considered one of the best and most original practitioners of that one thing.
Instead, over the past five decades he has studied, investigated, incorporated, and become an original, prominent voice in styles spanning the globe, on so many instruments he lost count long ago. In the process, he has expanded the parameters of popular music, stylistically and instrumentally, to a degree that few, if any, can claim.
In hindsight, Kaleidoscope, the band the ex-banjo champion formed in the mid 1960s, was possibly the first “world music” band, decades before the term was coined. But then as now, Lindley & Co. deftly walked the fine line between traditional and iconoclastic. It would not be unusual for an evening with Kaleidoscope’s five multi-instrumentalists to include extended Middle Eastern ragas, bluegrass, ultra-distorted blues guitar, what sounded like an electric guitar being played with a violin bow (because that’s exactly what Lindley was doing), Celtic ballads, Tin Pan Alley, and a bit of flamenco for good measure, complete with a troupe of dancers. It’s no wonder Jimmy Page has been quoted as regarding Kaleidoscope as “my favorite band of all time.”
As the ’60s came to an end, so did the band, after four albums. Lindley soon became an in-demand sideman, first for singer/songwriters Terry Reid and Jackson Browne, and then for – well, everybody. Acts like Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, and Crosby & Nash would literally plan tours around when Lindley would have breaks between dates with Browne, whose sound is indelibly stamped by Lindley’s sensibilities (and especially his fat-toned lap-steel slide) to this day.
All that activity kept Lindley on the road 300-plus days a year, yet he somehow managed to fit in session work with a lengthy and varied list of legends – Rod Stewart, Warren Zevon, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Maria Muldaur, the Youngbloods, Danny O’Keefe, Lonnie Mack, Little Feat, Joe Walsh, Jennifer Warnes, Duane Eddy, Aaron Neville, Taj Mahal, Patti Austin, Carlene Carter, David Bromberg, Holly Cole, John Sebastian, Ziggy Marley, the Blind Boys Of Alabama, Ben Harper, Marshall Crenshaw, the Bangles, and a Go-Go or two, to name a few, to date.
The beginning of the ’80s marked another shift, when he left Browne, who produced Lindley’s first solo album, El Rayo-X. The title became the name of the backup band he formed to take on the road – perfectly suited to his eclectic but rocking repertoire, the pinnacle of which was undoubtedly his pedal-to-metal version of “Mercury Blues,” which later became a countrified hit for Alan Jackson.
By this time known as the King Of Polyester, for his garish outfits and cheapo electric guitars, Lindley pared the instrumentation down to strings (playing guitar, bouzouki, saz, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, Weissenborn Hawaiian steel, and, more recently, oud) and percussion (first Hani Naser, then Wally Ingram – the latter helping earn the pair the nickname “The Beavis & Butthead of World Music”). He also traveled to Madagascar with avant guitarist Henry Kaiser, to record three CDs with local musicians.
Lindley’s songwriting also flourished, often proving that a serious musician needn’t take himself too seriously, with such classics as “Catfood Sandwiches,” “Sport Utility Suck,” and “When A Guy Gets Boobs” sitting comfortably alongside moving renditions of Little Village’s “Do You Want My Job” and Warren Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long” – all sung in a “high lonesome” voice owing to Mr. Dave’s bluegrass roots.
Lindley decided to steer clear of record labels and market his own CDs, which he’s been extremely successful at, on his website and at gigs. His latest release is a two-disc set of the Cooder/Lindley Family Band (with his longtime partner, Ry Cooder, sharing string chores; Ry’s son, Joachim, on percussion; and David’s daughter, Rosanne, on vocals), recorded live in Europe a decade ago.
And these days he has distilled his live shows down to the very essence: one man and one instrument (at a time). Just pure David Lindley – no additives necessary, with all the oomph and nuance intact.
Vintage Guitar: For most rock musicians around now, even a lot of the middle-aged ones, rock and roll was always there; it was something that had already happened by the time they had much musical awareness.
David Lindley: I’m 62. So I remember the advent. I remember Bill Haley & the Comets, and my parents becoming very upset. And the Everly Brothers, who were my favorites. But I’d bring Little Richard records home, and my parents would say, “I don’t know about this music. These hoodlums with their haircuts!” But I had all those 45s, and I’d say, “Hear that band? The way that sounds? I don’t know what that’s called, but I love that.” That’s rock and roll and all that stuff, but it’s some other thing that I just ate up.
Before that, what did you listen to?
There was cowboy music. I loved western music, like Sons Of The Pioneers. Not bluegrass, not hillbilly music; it was Gene Autry, Doye O’Dell, Iron Eyes Cody and Tim McCoy. I loved it. Because all kids, when you’re seven or eight, want to be a cowboy. Then I can remember going up to KXLA, at Cliffie Stone’s “Hometown Jamboree.” I’d go up there and see Speedy West play. His steel guitar just mystified me. And Joe Maphis! He was a killer tenor plectrum banjo player. I played with him on a couple of banjo albums.
Do you remember at what age you either realized that you had an aptitude for music or someone pointed it out to you?
Oh, I felt it when I was three and four. I felt it, and I could hear it. My hands were very little, so I played violin for a while like a cello, when I was small. And like all kids, I banged things out on piano. At one point in fifth grade, I remember they wanted someone to play upright bass; I looked at the instrument, and I knew I could play it. All of a sudden, you’ve got a lot of room in your head. That’s the best way to describe it.
My first-grade teacher played guitar, and I looked at that and said, “It looks like my dad’s ukulele. I can play that, too. The strings are just bigger.”
Sometimes you watch somebody do something, and you know you can do it. I could run hurdles the first time – I knew what I was doing. So they put me in the 120 low hurdles.
It’s hard enough to be able to play a bunch of different instruments, and even to cross-pollinate techniques – and then to cover such a range of styles. But it’s something else to have that all come out as a recognizable voice.
Yeah. I don’t know how that happened. I guess it’s the limitations that make that. I liked different instruments and messed around with them. But I got to watch that when I was starting to play. It was Mike Seeger. He played all different kinds of instruments. With the New Lost City Ramblers was one thing, but when he did a solo show he played all these different kinds of things. Then there was Sandy Bull and before him a guy named Mike McClellaen. He played the Ash Grove and won a lot of banjo contests. Banjo, 12-string, Dobro, Hawaiian guitar, mandolin, autoharp – he was scary. I got to watch this guy play at Cat’s Pajamas in Arcadia. I played in bluegrass bands off and on with Mike, and I learned a lot. I took a couple of banjo lessons from him. He was a huge influence on the stuff that I did and the multi-instrumental aspect of it.
He used to hang out at Charles Chase’s Folk Music Center in Claremont. Charles and Dorothy Chase’s daughter, Ellen, married Leonard Harper, and they’re Ben Harper’s parents. I went to school with Leonard Harper, and Ben went to school with Rosanne.
Taj Mahal used to come out there, too; he’s another multi-instrumentalist. That was part of that whole traditional music scene in Los Angeles. We got to sit down with Mississippi John Hurt, with Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, and his band! Or going to the Renaissance Fair with Mance Lipscomb. I did that! We were sitting up on a hill; I was dressed as a monk; he was blown away. I remember it clear as a bell – him sitting there with his teeth out, having a big cup of wine, saying, “You know, it’s sure nice to see all the young people having such a good time.” I’ll never forget that as long as I live [laughs]; it was really amazing. Back then in L.A. you could hang out with these people.
You came out of a folk scene, which led to Kaleidoscope, which may have been the first “world music” band. Did you have to seek that stuff out, or was it readily available?
Actually, it was. There was a folk dance movement, with music from Bulgaria on the Nonesuch label. That was hugely popular. It was so wonderful, in and of itself, with weird stuff in time signatures like 7 and 9. “Well, there must be more of this.” So it leads you to Turkish stuff and Yugoslavian – or, “Oh, Italian bagpipes! Holy crap, they have two chanters and play in harmony!” The minute the gun goes off, and you get out of the box – that’s the way it worked for me. I was constantly exposed to all kinds of music through my dad’s record collection.
And my first-grade teacher played guitar and sang songs. Then the Kingston Trio came along. Then my brother bought some banjo records. And once you get into the banjo, you’re lost. Eventually, I was playing fiddle and banjo and guitar – and on the edge of flamenco guitar. The first banjo the Kingston Trio played was an S.S. Stewart; that’s what got me going. I got a plectrum banjo and had a Pete Seeger neck put on it.
What’s different about a Seeger neck?
It’s longer, with an extra two frets. He designed it so he could play in different keys, and then use a capo on it. Then Vega started making them – the Vega Tubaphone. I liked that, but I like resonators, and I like bluegrass – like the Gibson Mastertone. It’s one of those things where you want to hear a certain sound – that search. You get obsessed.
People always make fun of the “Folk Boom” and refer to it as the “Folk Scare” –
A Mighty Wind. I love that.
But [filmmaker] Christopher Guest knows that idiom and was part of it. It was a loving satire, but it was accurate.
Very accurate. It was “ethnic folk music,” and then there was “commercial folk music.” Those were the terms used. Ethnic folk music included bluegrass, blues, all non-electric stuff. Electric blues was not tolerated, unless it was Lightnin’ Hopkins with a pickup on it. Then there was the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Limeliters, Bud & Travis. And the New Christy Minstrels, who were very commercial.
That’s almost a pop version. But the other stuff that was commercial because it became popular, like the Kingston Trio –
They were doing all kinds of stuff. And then you had Harry Belafonte, and Theodore Bickel was real important. It was everywhere, if you looked. Another guy who was real important was Josh White – played a Martin. There were so many different facets and camps. People like John Jacob Niles, Jean Ritchie, and the real Appalachian stuff; then you get down to Roscoe Holcomb and Snuffy Jenkins. There are a couple of albums I still have, on Folkways, by Roscoe Holcomb and J.E. Manier’s Mountaineers – and Fiddlin’ John Carson and Gid Tanner & The Skillet Lickers. It’s like O Brother, Where Art Thou?
All through that period I listened to everything. I also listened to Sabicas and Muhammad al-Bakhar, who had these strange ouds and made these belly-dance records. I got to see him play at a club called the Fez, in Hollywood, and that really got to me. And I’d play oud-like stuff on the banjo and the classical guitar. When I met Solomon [Feldthouse, a Kaleidoscope bandmate] and he was playing the oud, I thought, “Uh-oh, that’s all I’ll do.” Same with pedal steel. “This will possess my brain.” I wanted to do a lot of other stuff. Then I started playing with Kaleidoscope first, then Terry Reid and Jackson and El Rayo-X, and all that stuff, and the slide came in. All the way back to Kaleidoscope, when I saw [blues lap steel player] Freddie Roulette with Charlie Musselwhite; I said, “That’s it! I want to do that.”
Then I got into the saz, big-time, and saz-like instruments. A tambur saz has a shorter neck. I’ve got one with nine strings, made by David Dart. This one has three sets of three: Fff/Ccc/Ggg. Each set has a low octave string, and on the outside are the melody strings. It sounds like an entire band. The tuning was Ergun Tamer’s idea. It’s got a koa-wood bowl and sitka spruce top. Koa is an acacia tree, and the Ark of the Covenant was made out of acacia, so it is quite appropriate that Middle Eastern instruments be made out of koa.
In Kaleidoscope, Solomon played saz sometimes.
Yeah, I hadn’t played it, and he let me play his sometimes. The one that he had was like a master’s instrument. Incredible. A monster instrument. Solomon had a DeArmond contact mic held onto it with a rubber band. That’s what we all did back then, before we got into Barcus-Berry. I knew Les Barcus really well. I have the first stick-on Barcus-Berry guitar pickup, #1. That changed everything. And then Dan Armstrong had the Earthquake Sensor, which I still have a bunch of. It was a little brass disc you got at Radio Shack, with a piezo element in the center. We used to put those in bouzoukis. I have one on my divan saz.
There are different sizes of saz: divan, cura, baglama, tambur, and medan, which is the big one. Then there are different kinds of sazes that are big body and short neck, instead of the other way around. Four-course, eight-string sazes are kind of rare. For a while, the bouzouki and the saz were the same instrument.
Are the tuners on your sazes geared?
No, the ones I play now are friction pegs, like violin pegs.
Doesn’t that cause problems?
Yes [laughs]! The two sazes I have that are killers both have violin pegs.
And a saz has irregular fret spacing.
Right, the scale. In Middle Eastern music, there are more tones than in western music, so they’re set up for that, and the frets are moveable. Some sazes I’ve seen with longer necks have everything you need, and all the variations. The spaces are almost nothing. It’s like a forest; you can get lost. In fact, one of the greatest players, who’s the head of Ethnomusicology at U.C.L.A., is Jihad Racy – and he had more frets on that thing than anything I’d seen in my life. He had them color-coded. They’re nylon; he’d get them at the fishing shop. What I use is serving material for a bow string.
You mean as in bow and arrow?
Yeah. And that stuff is black nylon monofilament – the same as all the sazes I’ve seen from Turkey, where archery is huge. I’ve put more frets on, used tied frets on the bouzouki, metal frets – just to get those tones. I got to where the Western scale, the guitar scale, was alien to me for a while.
David Hidalgo said you gave him an oud.
Yeah, a Turkish oud – great-sounding. He’d probably be the best oud player in the world. I saw him do a thing, playing the cuatro, cross-picking with the bent wrist. I said, “There’s the greatest oud player in the world. Doesn’t play oud. He should have one – a Turkish oud.” It’s a shorter scale, and the body is smaller – as opposed to the Egyptian or Syrian or Iraqi.
How is an oud tuned?
The Turkish oud is tuned, from the lowest, E-A-B-E-A-D. And then there’s another version of that that’s a whole-step down. You have a major second between the fifth course and the fourth course, so it’s [sings ascending] I-IV-V. It’s like courses on a lute. And then you have fourths on the top.
There’s another tuning that’s fourths all the way across. That’s called conservatory tuning – a Turkish tuning. It’s great; it’s symmetrical. Allan Holdsworth had a guitar tuned that way, as well as Stanley Jordan. A lot of people have played in all fourths. Munir Bashir, one of the greatest oud players who ever lived, would put a bass string on the first course. “What is that?“
Who made your solidbody oud?
Viken Najarian. Hani Naser told me about him after seeing him at a NAMM show. The original Najarian was a frame, like a practice violin, with a centerpiece with the neck attached to that, and then the outline of the shape. Beautifully designed, made out of mahogany. It has a bridge that’s a cross between a traditional oud and a classical guitar – so you can put a Barcus-Berry on it. I put that through a little loco-distorto amp, like a blackface Bassman top and a Dumble bottom; it was the nastiest sound I ever heard in my life. I brought it to a thing I was doing with Ry. “Oh, there ya just do go! I’ve got to borrow that.” He did a bunch of stuff for a soundtrack; I had to almost call in the SWAT team to go over and get it back from him.
We all talk like Ry now. I don’t know what it is, or where that comes from, but it’s really infectious. He’s on this search for the unknown amp, and all he knows about it is, “It’s Robert Johnson’s amp, there’s six knobs on the top, and it looks like marshmallows, doncha know.” You can say less, be more. “Get the job done, then go back to the box. Doncha know, doncha know.” The best one he ever came up with is, “Play, now stop!” A way to produce one note. I forget who it was, playing bass – maybe Tim Drummond on Bop Till You Drop. “Play, now stop!” I totally lost it. Keltner is convinced that somebody in their right mind should follow him around with a tape recorder. He’s left messages on my answering machine that are literary masterpieces. Very, very short, but as good as anything anybody’s ever written or anything that’s come from any stage. Combinations of words that you wouldn’t hear all the time.
When you perform one of the songs you recorded with El Rayo-X or another artist, whether it’s solo or just you and percussion, it doesn’t sound like anything’s missing, regardless of what the original ensemble consisted of. Richard Thompson is also like that.
I thought the same thing; his stuff holds up, and you really get to hear his guitar playing. And his songs are so good. Same with Jackson, when he does his solo shows. I’ve always told him, “You should go out and do that, just by yourself.” It’s another way to look at the same stuff.
It’s scary when you play stuff by yourself. You either take no chances or you just go crazy and go for it and crash and burn or it all works.
With very few exceptions, most rock guitar playing is an extension of electric blues playing. But some of the people who deviated from that seem to be the electrified folkies, like Jerry Garcia, Barry Melton of Country Joe & The Fish.
Bluegrass people. The roots show up. A lot of the English electric guitar players said that the guys in San Francisco “didn’t listen to the proper records.”
That’s what Clapton said.
I know. It’s just that Garcia came from a bluegrass background – which was kind of alien to England. There were skiffle bands and that stuff, but there wasn’t that bluegrass thing, or Bakersfield. In Berkeley and San Francisco that was intense. Everybody wanted to play in a bluegrass band. Huge scene up there, and then in San Diego, with Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen. And then there was the L.A. scene, with Richard Greene and me and Mike McClellaen, Mayne Smith, Sandy Moseley, and John Lyon, a mandolin player. Al Merian was the first person I saw play clawhammer guitar. Also, Dick Rosmini and Mark Spoelstra at the Ash Grove. But it was mainly Mike McClellaen who was the biggest influence on me.
And then folk-rock; I remember the moment it shifted from acoustic into electric. This group called The Men, who played the Troubadour. They were supposedly the first electrified folk/folk-rock. And I know that McGuinn and Crosby were hanging around at that time, and Harvey Gerst, who did Acoustic amps, and Ted Diltz, the brother of (photographer) Henry Diltz. And when we heard the Beatles – [sings] “I want to hold your hand.” Bluegrass! “It’s bluegrass played electric; it’s okay to do it.” That was a gun going off – and all these guys started running.
Just speaking in terms of your electric lead guitar playing, is the reason your style isn’t the typical pentatonic-based stuff because of influences you already had acoustically?
Yeah. Persian tar music, saz music; I’d heard too much by then. I’d heard Ravi Shankar way back, because of records my dad had by him, and 78s by Uday Shankar, his brother. But it was called Hindu music in our house. I thought, “What is that?” And he had records by Andres Segovia, Carlos Montoya, and Sabicas. I was studying them when I was 14 years old.
Was it through your dad that you heard Django records?
No. I was introduced to Django by Al Merian. He said, “Oh, you haven’t heard Django Reinhardt? Here.” And I couldn’t believe it. Then he said, “And he only had two fingers.” “Nah!” It was one of those things where, once you hear that, it’s over.
The one area where you do play in a more blues-based style is when you play lap steel.
Well, it works well on that. It’s the perfect instrument for that stuff. The oud is perfect for that, too.
But when you’re playing those kinds of bluesy licks on lap steel, are you thinking of –
That’s what I was wondering. It’s not blues guitar players.
No, usually horn players. And then, always in the back of my mind, Freddie Roulette. And also all the people that everyone heard. Clapton was a big influence, and Albert King and B.B. King. I heard B.B. King a long time ago, when I was growing up; it was on the radio.
But that influence is mixed in with Junior Walker.
And Hamza el Din, Ravi Shankar, and all that stuff – and Clarence White and Jesse Ed Davis, who scared me to death, he was so good. And James Burton. The moment I heard Ricky Nelson on TV and heard James Burton, I said, “Why does he sound better than everyone? How do you get that sound?”
I once did a session for [TV cowboy] Randy Boone, and the guitar players were James Burton and Glen Campbell, with me on five-string banjo. James played a Harmony wooden-top Dobro, and he was dressed like he was in the Beatles – sharpest suit I ever saw. I was going, “Oh, God. That’s the guy from Ricky Nelson!” I was really afraid. It was like meeting Hopalong Cassidy.
When you sort of added the lap steel to the vocabulary of rock and roll, other players started gravitating towards that. But, even though people are astounded by the sound you get on saz or oud or bouzouki, you don’t see a lot of bands adding those instruments. Is it because they’re so accustomed to the Western scale?
In Europe you do, and Canada. But, yeah, I just buried myself in that. It’s one of those things I have no explanation for. It’s like, do you like to eat kimchi or tomato sauce? I like to eat those instruments [laughs]. They’re very close to the same thing. Playing something without any mistakes and having it flow from one thing to another on the divan saz is about as close to a warm Krispy Kreme glazed donut as you can get. And I’ve eaten a dozen of those at one sitting, with milk, watching “Star Trek” [laughs].
Another thing people have a hard time getting their head around is the concept of playing instruments that seem completely unrelated. A violinist playing mandolin makes sense. But to go from one instrument to another that has a different scale, a different playing technique, is in a completely different family… how much does the focus of your discipline have to change?
The focus of your discipline? It’s the same discipline. The same approach to each instrument. You want to hear what it sounds like when you play it. You want to make those sounds. You can talk to David Hidalgo, and he’s interested in all kinds of things, just to hear what it sounds like, to play it, to see what it’s all about. You can see it; you can hear it in his playing. Hidalgo doesn’t miss anything. He listens to everything. He’s the same driven kind of thing.
There’s the cross-pollination you get, from oud techniques on the guitar or David’s cuatro playing. He learned the traditional way to play that, and then he’ll play guitar and you go, “Okay, that’s got to be from those techniques.”
But that’s exactly true of you, too.
Yeah, it is. I want to hear what it sounds like; I want to get my hands on it; I want to hear what it sounds like when I play it. I want to play like Sabicas, and then I want to play like Roscoe Holcomb. Those are my heroes; they’re who I looked up to. I want to listen to this record and play exactly like that. Remember when you heard something and wanted to play that? You can’t explain it. It’s very hard to find a parallel to that. It’s like going insane. You have to do it. There’s no choice; things get put off to the side, because you have to do it. I’m always obsessed with that, 24 hours a day, with the saz and the oud.
Do you hole up with it for a few months?
Yeah, you do that, and play it as much as you possibly can. You take it on the road; listen to a lot of records of it and go, “How the hell did they do that?” Then trial and error – “Oh, is that the way it is?” Then, “No, let me do it my way. I’ll do the best that I can.” And that’s your style. It comes out you.
I’d love to play oud exactly like John Bilezekjian, and I can’t. I started too late. And he told me, “There’s a lot of people who play like me. And I studied all the great players like Udi Hrant” – who was the greatest Turkish oud player; he was blind. He said that I should keep playing in my own style, and that it was unusual. “You don’t want to be another one of those. What you want to do is hear the stuff the way you hear it and play the stuff the way you play it. That’s your way of playing. Develop that.” I thought, “Wow, that was a great piece of advice.”
Do you go through a stage where you’re having to think mechanics, think technique, and then do you get past that, where it’s a direct stream from idea to execution regardless of the instrument?
It’s different for different instruments. If you know the instrument well enough, yes.
What was the hardest?
Fiddle. To play it the way I wanted to, that took the longest, to get to where I didn’t make mistakes. I was horrible on it. That and classical guitar – that’s another monster to get it to sound the right way and play it right. Which is probably one of the reasons I stopped playing and didn’t think I could take it any further.
Playing the fiddle with Jackson, it was pretty easy; I could play stuff that wasn’t beyond my reach. Sometimes I would step out, but I always under-played. And when I went into those songs, my way of singing was with the fiddle – playing vocally.
I also looked at is as a horn. You know, playing like a saxophone – they’re not in tune. I heard Jean-Luc Ponty play a saxophone solo on the fiddle, and he played the notes that were out of tune, and it sounded just like a sax. Really genius. He played the stuff out of tune that was supposed to be out of tune. It’s also where you do your vibrato – below the note and above the note. You can go way below and a little above, or come up to the note – all those variations.
Ry analyzed a lot of that stuff when he was learning. I never looked at it that way; I just did what I could. When you go for Blind Willie Johnson, you have to play like he did. You have to parrot that – play exactly like he would. Sometimes he’d play a little flat; sometimes he’d play so spot-on it’d make your teeth ache.
But if you do that, like Ry, you’ve succeeded in playing like Blind Willie Johnson. And even though you draw on different inspirations and influences, your goal always seems to be to play like David Lindley.
[pauses] Not consciously. Not to “play like David Lindley;” to play what I want to.
I’m not talking about “playing the way you always play.” I’m talking about having an identity, and doing the unexpected. You always seem to be coming from some fresh angle and direction that’s not necessarily what you did before, not what anybody would expect.
Yeah, yeah. You can’t form that thought in your brain when you play. It’s a subconscious thing. When you play a solo, you don’t really play it; you kind of watch what’s going on. It’s a split second – it makes itself known. Like peripheral vision. You kind of see it or smell it or whatever it is when you’re playing. It’s kind of the same thing in archery. You can’t think about all the mechanical things and compound bows and the aim – you can’t think about it. You don’t think; the bow goes off, and the arrow goes in the X-ring – if you’ve done it right.
So you play until it’s second-nature. You practice your form until the form is automatic. Like the Korean Olympic team: a thousand arrows a day. It’s proven that any kind of thing, if you do it a lot, and you do it the right way, then you get really good. Thousand arrows a day. It goes right in there, at 90 meters, the size of a grapefruit. Pretty amazing. Practice it until it’s second-nature to you – and then you play.
But it has to be an automatic thing, because you really screw up if you think, “Now I’ll do this, now I’ll do that.” You can’t think that hard. The automatic part of it you have first – the technique and all – and then you put the emotion and other stuff in there.
Not everybody can do that kind of thing and pull if off. I fail a lot. When that happens, that’s when you have to fall back on all the mechanical stuff and technique.
I have people ask, “How did you get that sound?” “It’s the sound it makes.” I get a stack of e-mails all the time saying, “I can’t seem to get the same sound on my Weissenborn that you get on yours.” Well? Mine’s just an ordinary old Weissenborn with a Sunrise pickup. They go kind of mad sometimes, trying to get that sound. And it doesn’t come out right, because, “Well, you’re not hitting the tape hard enough, and it’s not a digital recording to begin with, it’s analog, and an old API board…” all these things.
A lot of it is just 35 years of doing it. And being obsessed with that – going, “Stop! Go back. Turn the knob to 11:30, where it was. Get your hands off that. Take that reverb out of there. Step away from the board!” That’s the way you do it; that’s the way anybody does it. Stop when it sounds good.
“Play, now stop!”
[laughs] Exactly the same thing.
David Lindley: Rick Gould
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.