April 19, 2006
Nils Lofgren, Lead guitarist
How's this for a résumé: Lead Guitar, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band; Neil Young and Crazy Horse; The Ringo Starr Band.
|Nils Lofgren. (click for larger version)|
That's not to mention over a dozen solo albums, his own bands, and tons of studio work spanning 37 years.
He's Nils Lofgren, who will be at The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on April 27 to support his latest project, Sacred Weapon, his 15th solo album.
Lofgren, who is of Swedish and Sicilian heritage, was born in Chicago but grew up in the D.C. area. It was in Washington where his career was launched and it was there he received his first big break when he was only 17.
"In those days I realized I knew nothing about the business, so I would slip backstage and try to get advice," Lofgren recalled. "That's how I met Neil. He was very generous with his time. Next thing I knew, I spent a whole afternoon with him. He told me to look him up when we got to L.A."
Lofgren did just that, and he found himself in the middle of what was to become a seminal album in the history of American music, Young's After The Gold Rush. "It was a spectacular break for me." He contributed guitar, piano, and vocals, though he hadn't really learned how to play piano at that point. "He's a passionate musician," Lofgren said of Young.
Simultaneously, his own band, Grin, released its first album and garnered critical success and a loyal following. Lofgren hasn't looked back since.
"I long ago fell in love with live performance. I expect to be in front of an audience. I get lost in the music."
The music kept coming. Lofgren toured extensively with Young and Crazy Horse (He can be heard on the group's Tonight's The Night album) and released two solo albums, including Cry Tough in 1976.
Though the dark lyrics of some of the Tonight album are about a drug overdose, Lofgren said he avoided the pitfalls of the drug use prevalent in that era. "We were ensconced in the music," he remembered. "It was tunnel vision. We had our
share of tequila and a little weed once in a while but the partying was a backdrop to the music."
Lofgren released three more albums in the early 1980s before joining Springsteen for his mammoth Born In The U.S.A. Tour, playing 150 shows in the biggest arenas all over the world.
"I've been tired of traveling for 25 years. It got old a long time ago," he said of the time between shows. "But my job is the same whether it's 300 or 100,000 people. Springsteen took some of the pressure off him, he recalled. "It's nice not to be The Boss, just to be part of a great band you love."
Lofgren, who stands five-foot three inches, proved he can do more than play guitar and sing when he got into a feud with Howard Stern, the six-foot, six-inch Shock Jock.
"We had some words. We challenged each other [to a basketball game]. In the first half, I was a little off, but in the second half, my shots starting dropping," Lofgren remembered modestly. He won, 34 to 4. "I told him he was a shameful example for tall people."
Lofgren toured with former Beatle Ringo Starr twice. "It was great. I'd get to step up and do two or three of my songs. It was great because a lot of people didn't know I sing and write my own songs." Bandmates included Billy Preston, Dr. John, Joe Walsh, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko from the Band, and many others. "The best part was we had six or seven people who were really great singers harmonizing." Lofgren has led the quiet life for the past decade or so, mellowing with his wife Amy and stepson, Dylan. In fact, he wanted to do this interview at 6 a.m. "That's my rock star off-the-road school day," he said. "If I'm on the road I'm up until dawn trying to unwind from the show."
The guitarist called on his celebrity friends to sit in on Sacred Weapon. A duet with Willie Nelson on the blue-grassed tinged "In Your Hands." Graham Nash and David Crosby sing on "Frankie Hang On." Martin Sexton also appears.
The album is a mixture of styles, some folk-tinged ballads, some blues, and some electric rockers that feature Lofgren's trademark fiery guitar licks. "I'm schizophrenic," he laughed. "My acoustic shows were well received, and I didn't want to [hit the listeners] over the head right away. I have my acoustic and my bottleneck. The last half takes off — a funky, bluesy feel with a lot of jamming."
Lofgren said although he will perform some of his ballads at The Talkhouse, his four-piece band is "roaring," and the tiny venue is a great place to listen to the band explode.
"Bring earplugs," he cautioned with a laugh.Visit www.nilslofgren.com for all the skinny.