Posts Tagged ‘Nils Lofgren’

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Just over a year ago year, singer-guitarist Nils Lofgren, who as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, put out the solo album  “Face the Music Live”, an acoustic collection of his songs, and booked some tour dates for 2016. Lofgren himself has selected the 169 tracks which stretch back to 1968 and his early work with his Washington, D.C.-area band Grin. It also includes material from both his major-label solo albums and independent self-released music. Two of the CDs contain 40 previously unreleased tracks and rarities. The DVD features 20 video clips and the 136-page booklet sounds excellent with track-by-track commentary from Lofgren and personal reflections on his work, as well as his tours with the likes of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and Ringo Starr.

He knew that Springsteen needed him for a Saturday Night Live appearance in support of the just-released the  “Ties That Bind: The River” box set. But he didn’t think Springsteen had planned an extensive tour in support of the album. to be titled The River Tour

He thought wrong.“I knew about Saturday Night Live and knew there were no plans past that for us to play,” says Lofgren . “I booked five months of solo work. They had a true change of heart. I’m not involved with the blow-by-blow decision-making. It’s like when me and [my wife] Amy sit around with my four dogs and wonder how much time I’ll spend on the road. I don’t call my band mates and have them weigh in.”

Not that he had any reservations about heading out with the E Street Band — they call Bruce Springsteen “The Boss” for a reason. When he beckons, you best pack your bags.

“It’s always a blessing,” Lofgren says of touring with Springsteen. “I’m coming up on my 32nd year with the band. It’s no fun to cancel or postpone solo shows. I’ll try to reschedule them all. It’s not like I had a huge choice in the matter. These clubs will forgive me, and I hope the fans will come and see me when I make up the dates.”

Even by Springsteen’s standards, 1980’s The River has an epic feel to it. Springsteen originally intended it to be a 10-song single album before scrapping the initial song sequence and extending it into a double album that features 20 songs.

It opens with “The Ties That Band,” a jazzy number punctuated by the late Clarence Clemons’ woozy sax solo. The album goes through a number of musical peaks and valleys: Springsteen sounds somber on mid-tempo ballads such as “Independence Day” and “I Wanna Marry You”; the punchy “Hungry Heart” comes across as a rowdy barroom rocker; and the title track stands as one of Springsteen’s best narratives. The album notes, “Scope, context, sequencing and mood are everything here,” and the review draws comparisons to American authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Theodore Dreiser.

On the current tour, which started in America the Europe and back to America, Bruce is about to perform the most amount of shows ever in Australia for 2017, the band began by playing the album in its entirety.


Nils Lofgren, who says he first met Springsteen in 1970 when his band Grin and Springsteen’s band Steel Mill auditioned for promoter Bill Graham, wasn’t yet in the E Street Band when Springsteen cut The River. He can still remember the first time he heard the album.

“I bumped into [Springsteen] at the [Sunset] Marquis [hotel],” he says. “He mentioned that he had just finished a double album called The River. He asked if I wanted to listen to it. I was very grateful for that. He threw me in the car and went over to the studio. He sat me in front of the old [Yamaha] NS-10 speakers, which were popular playback speakers. I listened to the whole double album, and I still remember being struck by how I felt like they got the sizzle and electricity of the live show into the grooves for the first time. My favorite thing is playing live when there’s that sizzle and energy and crackle in the air. It’s deafening and maddening, and it’s just a muddy mess of musical insanity sometimes. That’s part of the live experience. I felt like they got that into the record. Now, God knows how many decades later to be playing it as a set piece and adding my bit because I wasn’t there is a great honor and I’m embracing it.”

Released during a deep recession, the album reflects the times. In “The River,” Springsteen famously sings, “For my 19th birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat” as he confesses that finding steady employment was a challenge “on account of the economy.”

Lofgren, however, says he thinks the album has more to do with “personal struggle” than politics.

“I love how Bruce writes,” he says. “He’s as great a lyricist as we’ve ever had. That’s his forte if I had to pick one. [In life] either you’re at peace and everything is okay with friends, family and money or there’s something coming apart. Sometimes, it’s all coming apart. He speaks to that more from the common man perspective but doesn’t exclude everybody because it’s more about the internal workings of man and the inherent human nature of greed and satisfying yourself and never having enough of things. It’s the reality of how is your family doing. Maybe your wife is sick. Maybe my parents are getting old and feeble and what do I do?”

He says a variety of emotions run through the tunes.

“You’re sitting there inconsolable with ‘Stolen Car’ and then he starts ‘Ramrod,’ and it’s a wake up call,” he says. “It’s back and forth. I’m that schizophrenic writer myself. I do country, blues, rock, R&B and metal. It all comes from the blues and folk. Bruce has put it together in his own voice as well as anyone in history has ever done. I’m happy to sit there and play these songs that are so dear to me and add my piece to it and know that I have good instincts for it.”

Between touring with Bruce and doing solo shows  Lofgren just played in Northeast Ohio last year — Lofgren is more active than ever. Not bad, given that he’s now 64.

“[Growing up] in middle America, we loved the Beatles and Stones and Hendrix and of course everything that went with it,” he says when asked about his initial aspirations. “But nobody thought you could do that for a living where I lived. One night, I saw the Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the same night at two different venues in D.C. I still remember being uncomfortably possessed with this notion that I needed to try to do it as a living. It seemed so foreign to me.”

One of the highlights came when singer-guitarist Neil Young befriended him and asked him to play in his backing band.

Neil asked me to play on After the Gold Rush at 18 years of age,” he says. “That was an enormous challenge and opportunity for a rookie musician just on the road trying to make his way. That served me well. I remember going to work and thinking, ‘It’s nice going to work and not having to be the boss today.’ I liked being part of a team of people and playing rhythms and singing harmony. That served me to this day. I’m happy to lead any band anywhere. If we’re in a bar jamming and someone says, ‘Sing something,’ I would say, ‘Okay, follow me,’ and off we go. But I do thrive in the band setting as a member of instead of always the leader. That’s served me well all these decades.”

Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band Recalls the First Time He Heard The River

Nils Lofgren’s released a superb career history box set late last year. Some of this year’s crop of presidential hopefuls could learn a thing or two about Lofgren’s finesse and economy in conversation; how stays on point about what he needs to plug, shares the spotlight with others, gets in an anecdote or two about his illustrious associates, and still manages to be a regular Joe throughout. He has been on the road for 48 years come this September, rocking, shaking hands, and who knows, probably kissing babies. For the last 20 years that campaign has been a grassroots one with which he has been able to maintain a thriving solo career without involving a phalanx of people.

And of course there is his 30-plus year association with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Now touring to promote the Boss’ boxed set The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, which celebrates that double album recorded just a few years before Lofgren joined the band in 1984.

On Chasing Amy
“Strangely enough, 35 years ago, I met Amy in Asbury Park [New Jersey] at the Stone Pony. We were both just kids. After a show at the Pony, she didn’t even come to see me. I met her, convinced her to hang out with me, and at 6 a.m. I went to Boston and begged her to come with me. She said no, she had a job and her mom and all this. So I thought I’d see her in a few months. I never saw her again for 15 years. Twenty years ago, we met again. I was passing through Scottsdale at a great club, The Rocking Horse, that burned to the ground not long after. She came up and said ‘Hi, remember me?’ And we were both at the end of divorces, and we’ve been together ever since.”

That’s when Lofgren moved his home and studio base from D.C. to Arizona, a place he hates to leave for long stretches and sounds eager to return to as he is calling in from The River tour in St. Louis.

“This is my 48th year on the road,” he ruminates. “I’ve long tired of leaving home, but that’s a champagne problem, as Amy points out. We were talking about how much I love playing live, it’s kind of like my favorite thing. And the way Amy put it, and it applies to the E Street Band as we started this tour, for musicians that love to perform live, it’s like going to Oz and the audience is Oz and you go there to find you heart, you go there to find your musical brain, you go there to find your courage. And speaking for myself as a 64-year-old and not being very happy about dragging the suitcase out, saying goodbye to Amy, and having my dogs, who I love, giving me dirty looks, and leaving home is rough, it is truly like going to Oz and finding this part of yourself you don’t find anywhere else. There’s a level of heart and courage and your musical brain getting fired up that you don’t get jamming at a local bar, you don’t get in recording in a studio, you don’t get puttering around at home. You only get it in front of an audience.

One of Nils Lofgren's many guitars.

On living in Arizona
Did Lofgren find moving here a tough adjustment after years of living back east? “Well I’ve been traveling the entire country since ’68. I’d been through Phoenix many times. It’s not like you’re playing the Sahara. It’s a town, there are friendly people and great crowds. I always thought the audiences there were really good. I’d go through there regularly, but I never stuck around.

“I got to love the mild climate. Between Chicago and D.C., I’d had decades of winter, ice, slush, freezing — I just tired of that. And even though it’s grown incredibly over the past 20 years, when Amy was there you could ride horses down Scottsdale, and north of Shea there was nothing but desert. When I got there, the 101 wasn’t even open. Even though it’s got a large populace, it’s still a slower pace of life to me than the coasts.”

On The River
Lofgren recalls the first time he heard the album, having bumped into Springsteen while he was out in L.A. mixing the album, the first Springsteen album to incorporate his serious writing style with the kind of pop throwaways he’d previously given to the likes of Southside Johnny, Greg Kihn, or The Pointer Sisters, only to watch the other artists enjoy great chart success.

“Bruce describes the album as a young adult being part of a planet instead of an outsider. I heard it well before it was released, and I was always impressed how they got the sizzle of the live performance into the album so to be out here playing here is a beautiful thing.”

The E Street Band has only played the album in its entirety once in concert, in New York City a few years back. The learning of an entire double album is a drop in the bucket of what a Springsteen sideman has to learn for each tour.

“We’ve been friends since we did an audition night together in 1970 for Bill Graham at the Fillmore West with Steel Mill and Grin. When I first joined I was overwhelmed with just a hundred songs, but on the last tour we played 240 different songs, so you could imagine the scope. You can’t stay on top of the entire catalog so you kind of guess, you communicate, Bruce gives us a heads up and he’ll surprise us with an audible on stage and we use our instincts to make do and make it work. There’s a great boxed set with bonus tracks we’ll probably dig into. We’re starting off with a great bonus track called ‘Meet Me Tonight In the City.'”

“It’s very organic the way the band comes together. I defer to Bruce and Steve all the time. I hear endless parts. I’ll look at what they’re doing and play the third part I hear and it usually always works out. Much more than musicianship, as a band our instincts are spot on because we love Bruce’s songs and that type of music and have an affinity for how to play it.

On Keith Richards
Lofgren classifies himself as an artist with no hits, but he did have a popular radio hit with a song “Keith Don’t Go” that somehow missed the lower regions of the Top 100. Lofgren has told a story about how he finally met his idol, who meant as much to him as Chuck Berry meant to Keith Richards.

I wondered, when he met his idol was it the same experience as when he and Springsteen played in an all-star band backing up Chuck Berry at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show? Chuck reportedly kept changing keys on the band, making all the Hall of Famers with onstage sound like rank amateurs.

“I love Keith Richards, and I’m not speaking about the diabolical nature of Chuck but more the positive nature that inspired Keith and many young guitar players of that generation. I’ve met Keith many times; he’s always been kind and gracious. We never discussed the song I wrote for him, ‘Keith Don’t Go.’ I know he knows I wrote it and I have to believe he understands the spirit with which it was intended, which is ‘You share a gift we all need. It’s a beautiful thing you do. Please stick around and keep doing it and hats off to you on behalf of all us fans.’

“After all these years, Steve Jordan, who plays in The Expensive Winos, brought me into a dressing room, and there is Keith. He said hi, he was very friendly, but he’s there sitting in a corner practicing through this little amp. So I’m visiting with Steve on the other end and all the sudden I hear Keith playing the famous Chuck Berry lick. I have to say I’ve played it a thousand times and I’ve heard it 10,000 times, and I’ve never in my life heard it sound like that and I can’t even explain it to you. It’s just three notes put together in a different way. But there was something going on physiologically and spiritually and musically what was going on inside of him and how he heard that riff of Chuck’s. It was a deeper thing. It meant more to Keith than it meant to Chuck even though Chuck who created it.

“And that’s kind of like what the Stones did for Howling Wolf, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and what it became. ‘Honky Tonk Women,’ ‘Jumping Jack Flash.’ It came from them but they made it their own because they had a deeper affinity for it and it meant deeper for them and it became something else.

“Fast forward to a Willie Nelson and Friends TV Special where he would play with a cast of 20 great singers. I was part of a house band, one of four guitar players. I was with Greg Leisz, one of the great lap steel players and Hutch Hutchinson on bass, all this cast of amazing singers coming through and one of the guests was Keith Richards. There was like 20 people onstage and on the other side of the drummer was this giant piano Jerry Lee Lewis was gonna play and in the bell of this piano was Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Keith Richards.

“Now we’re playing so technically now onstage playing with Keith Richards. Now, I’m an old, grizzled veteran myself so I had a sense of humor about it. ‘Hey Keith, I can barely see you there but we’re making music together.’ So Kid Rock comes out … he’s a great showman. We were doing, I can’t even remember. ‘Whole Lotta Shakin,’ maybe. And he’s up there whipping the crowd into frenzy and I understand with monitors and the frenetic sound onstage. He didn’t notice but just as Kid Rock got a buzz to go jump off the piano and run to the audience, you know Jerry Lee tells the band to bring it down. None of us thought it was an intentional slight but he didn’t hear the cue. So what of you do? Part of you wants to acknowledge the frenzy but that other part of you says wait a minute, Jerry Lee says bring it down.

“So we’re all just treading water. I could see a look on Keith’s face, he was feeling the same thing we were feeling but he’s freakin’ Keith Richards, so out of the blue he just explodes out of the little pack of guitar players he’s in, he goes right to the front of the stage, steps in front of Kid Rock and does one of his twirls when he spins on one leg twirls around. He’s still a showman so he’s not going to try to openly bring the show down, with some kind of scary gift that bums everyone out.

“And even better, as soon as he spun around he turned his back on Kid Rock and walked to the other end of the band and he got down with his guitar between his legs and his legs are spreads and he’s looking right in my face and he just sits there rocking out with his back to in our faces with his back to Kid Rock. I can’t tell you what’s going through Keith’s mind but all I can tell you is instead of Keith rocking out 20 feet away, now he’s just rocking out dirty in front of Greg, Hutch, and me. And all three of us are just in heaven. And Keith went and made a statement and rocked out with the band and I was like ‘Hey, there’s a lot of people here besides you.’ I don’t know if that’s what he was saying to him but that’s what he was saying to me.”

Nils Lofgren

Just over a year ago at this time, Nils Lofgren was touring England, giving his cult of fans a stripped-down survey of a career that stretches back to an extraordinary beginning, as a teenager playing on Neil Young’s iconic “After the Gold Rush.”

In contrast to the many members escorting him onstage with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for the past 30 years, Lofgren was accompanied in Europe only by longtime friend Greg Varlotta, a piano and a quiver of guitars. The result is captured on his recently released live album, “UK 2015 Face the Music Tour” (Cattle Track Road Records), and brings to the forefront qualities obscured in the sphere of Springsteen: the subtle phrasing of his acoustic playing, his personable stage repartee and the delicate warmth of his voice.

It is not surprising that in this more personal setting, Lofgren chose to include “Miss You C,” an ode to his friend, the late E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

“It’s usually very powerful and emotional because a lot of people in my audience are fans of the E Street Band and Clarence, and took his loss hard,” Lofgren says from New York during an off day on Springsteen’s The River Tour 2016.

The original version of the song appeared on Lofgren’s album “Old School,” a 2011 release about the vagaries of getting older. The song had been inspired by the death of Ray Charles, and originally was called “Miss You Ray,” which Lofgren describes as a cautionary tale about how grief can blind you to the joys left in life. The idea to change the orientation of the song came in Palm Beach, near Clemons’ home, on an emotional June 21st in 2011.

The E Street Band’s current shows begin with a track-by-track performance of Springsteen’s 1980 double album, “The River,” an extraordinarily eclectic release that includes the buoyant hit single “Hungry Heart” and haunting ballads such as “Wreck on the Highway,” “Drive All Night,” “Stolen Car” and the title track “The River”. Lofgren was among the first to hear the album, several years before he joined Springsteen’s band.

“I ran into Bruce in L.A., and he had just finished mixing it, and he asked me to tag along and listen, which I was honored to do,” Lofgren says. “I always remember feeling like it was the first album I’d heard that they got the sizzle and electricity of their live performances in all the grooves. Past the great writing and playing, I thought that made it a very special record. … Certainly to play the double album live is a joy.”

Lofgren plays Dobro, lap steel guitar, pedal steel, six-string banjo and a Jazzmaster guitar warmed up with “the heaviest strings you can buy,” all necessary to convey the mix of sounds on the album.

“After ‘Stolen Car’ — talk about a wake-up call — you go into ‘Ramrod.‘ It’s just amazing, the mood changes,” Lofgren says. “It’s really neat presenting it as a piece, and then we’ve got the whole other two hours of the show to play the greatest hits.”

Nils the long time guitarist with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Neil Young, and his own band Grin has been recording and playing music for 45 years. He has a new box set showcasing his unique guitar sound and style. Mostly always playing a Fender Strat with such a distinctive guitar sound and his bandana. he also has his own Tuition site for beginners through to the experienced Player.