David Lindley — four parts imp and five parts virtuoso — is a certified monster on every stringed instrument you’ve never heard of. But recently, he said, he’s been playing a whole lot of oud. Well known for his deafeningly loud polyester fashion statements and even better known for his wizardry on the various permutations of the slide guitar, Lindley will be back in Santa Barbara this Friday night at the Lobero Theatre, where he’ll be performing solo.
“I got new stuff so I can entertain myself,” he said in a recent phone interview. “And I’ve been practicing a lot.” A few seconds later, he added, “and I’ve been playing the oud a lot.” Lindley explained he first got turned on to the oud — a 12-string Persian cousin of the lute — when he was about 11 years old, while rummaging through his father’s extensive record collection. For some reason, the album cover of a voluptuous belly dancer caught his attention. And held it. “She was wearing patsies,” he explained. The album was by Mohammed El-Bakkar, who made Middle Eastern nightclub music. Lindley felt obligated to listen. Shortly thereafter, he was hooked. “It was really wonderful,” he said. Fast-forward to the 1960s when Lindley was leading a band called Kaleidoscope, and he stumbled onto the oud via a musician friend. “It was the sound,” he said, “and the technique. There are no frets, so you can play all these microtonal scales that you find in Persian Turkish and Middle Eastern music.” When his friend reclaimed the oud, Lindley found himself forced to make do with a 12-stringed variant of the banjo that was distinguished by its Formica fingerboard.
Lindley also enjoys his longstanding relationship with Santa Barbara. His brother Patrick — a master of the harpsichord — happens to teach at UCSB. Between 1971 and 1981, Lindley worked regularly with Jackson Browne, who then owned a spot at Hollister Ranch and played countless benefits for area environmental causes. It was Lindley’s signature pedal-steel guitar work that helped keep Brown’s sometimes-sodden tendencies afloat during the heyday of clock-radio music. Later, Lindley and his reggae-infused, kitsch-friendly rock ’n’ roll band El Rayo-X were regulars of the Santa Barbara scene. With the passing of El Rayo-X, Lindley took up with Twango Bango, a two-person smorgasbord of world music. But whomever Lindley plays with, certain elements are certain. Namely, a fat and hairy slide sound, loony stories, goofier lyrics (cat food sandwiches, anyone?), and stomping John Lee Hooker–esque blues grooves, all served up with an ornate improvisational inventiveness sufficient to induce both whiplash and laughter.
Conspicuously absent from Lindley’s bag of instrumental tricks, however, is the ukulele, now on its umpteenth wave of resurgent popularity. Given that every musician with a union card now makes a point of trotting out their uke — Eddie Vedder devoted a whole CD to it — this omission seems all the more glaring. Is David Lindley anti-uke? Nothing could be further from the truth, Lindley insists. In fact, his very first instrument was the soprano ukulele his father got in Hawai’i during his stint in the armed services. His father — whose record collection included the complete set of 78 recordings made by Ravi Shankar’s uncle — would allow Lindley to play his uke, but only if he was in the room to watch. David was 3 at the time.
Though the instrument won’t likely make an appearance this weekend at the Lobero, it’s no matter. With or without the ukes, Lindley live is not to be missed.
David Lindley plays the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Friday, January 16, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.