Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the August 15,
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Nils Lofgren: Sideman, Frontman, His Own Man
It’s a sad commentary on today’s record business that
a triple threat talent like singer, songwriter, and guitarist Nils
Lofgren can’t seem to land a record deal. A wave of consolidation
has infiltrated the record business in the last two years, with the
French sewerage monopoly, Vivendi S.A., assuming control of Universal
Music, a company that owns Island, Mercury, PolyGram, and dozens of
other smaller labels. While Lofgren is a most gifted blues and rock
guitarist, he’s not one to be sittin’ around, cryin’ in his beer.
Lofgren spent most of the year 2000 on the road with Bruce
as part of the recently reformed E-Street Band. Despite this
gig with Springsteen’s formidable, highly-hyped band, no record label
seems very much interested in signing him at this point in time.
Born in Chicago, and raised in Bethesda, Maryland since age eight,
Lofgren maintains residences in both Bethesda and Scottsdale, Arizona.
"I’ve found that the industry as it exists today isn’t all that
excited or interested in helping me," Lofgren explains from his
home in Scottsdale.
Yet despite the sorry state of the record business, like any good
bluesman, Lofgren perseveres. "I’ve got a couple of projects
out this fall at a grass-roots level," he says. Lofgren’s first
focus is his new solo album, titled "Breakaway Angel,"
with his band. "There’s a lot of stretching out and acoustic
on it, and we used a kind of live-in-the-studio approach."
Lofgren is also excited about a recent video he and his management
company, based in Bethesda, put together, called "Live & Raw."
"In the last six months, I put together a video of home video
footage from club shows. Then I had a guy do some mastering on it,
so the sound is real good. If you like electric guitar playing, it’s
got some great guitar playing on it," he says, in a rare,
moment. "Live & Raw" includes footage shot in clubs in
during a public TV show in Kentucky, and from club appearances in
Ireland and Germany.
Although he has been without a record company since 1996, Lofgren
is still very much in demand for club performances, like the one he’ll
perform this Saturday, August 18, at the fabled Stone Pony in Asbury
Park. He also has his own website, www.nilslofgren.com, where
fans can point and click to order the video or any of Lofgren’s
self-released CDs from the last five years.
Nils Lofgren was born June 21, 1951, in Chicago. His father relocated
the family of four boys — Nils is the oldest — to Bethesda
when he was eight. Both parents were avid dancers, so they had plenty
of music in the house, including albums by the Duke Ellington and
Count Basie big bands.
"I was lucky to have two of the most healthy and functional
alive," he says. "My dad worked in traffic safety and lobbied
for years to get a seat belt law passed, which finally did happen.
We had a great home."
Lofgren began playing accordion when he was six and took up guitar
at age 15, inspired by the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. "Taking
lessons for 10 years helped me a lot when I later picked up the
At 17, Lofgren met Neil Young, and while his band Grin was recording
its debut album in Los Angeles, Young hired Lofgren to play on his
now legendary album, "After The Gold Rush." In retrospect,
Lofgren now considers that his first big break. "While my band
Grin was making our first album I bumped into Neil in D.C. and that
was the beginning of a great friendship," he recalls. "Neil’s
manager took us under his wing and then Neil asked me to be on his
`After The Gold Rush’ record, which was a really fabulous introduction
to working with people of his caliber. I learned a lot working with
him and I found the whole thing very inspiring," he adds, in spite
of the fact that Young had Lofgren play piano on that album,
I didn’t know all that much about."
Last year, Columbia’s Legacy label released a CD
from Grin’s four albums, "The Very Best of Grin." Lofgren
says he’s most pleased with the results.
Lofgren’s first record deal under his own name came about in 1975,
for A&M Records, mostly through the efforts of A&M co-founder Jerry
Moss, who recognized Lofgren’s gift for songwriting. A self-titled
debut album was released on A&M in 1975, followed by four others in
1976, ’77, ’78 and ’79.
This June Lofgren turned 50. Asked about the relationship between
aging rock ‘n’ rollers and their audiences, Lofgren sounds sure of
himself. "It’s a little overwhelming to be 50, but the saving
grace is I’ve found, thank God, that I’m still passionate about
live. In fact, I’m more passionate about performing now than I was
when I was younger. I like to think I’m getting better at it."
"There are some differences, physically, which I’ve tried to
but now I’ve been forced to acknowledge."
After all, there’s always the example set by groups like the Rolling
Stones, who keep threatening to retire from touring but never do.
The Stones are a shining example of the fact that rock ‘n’ roll need
not be exclusively a young man’s game. "The Stones have been
to me over the years," he says, "and thank God before them
were their heroes, like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf," both of
whom toured well into their 60s. "Basically, if you break down
what I’m doing, it’s essentially a melodic blues type of playing,"
Lofgren’s extraordinary depth as a blues player and songwriter is
showcased on one album in particular, "Every Breath," but
his blues-tinged rock ‘n’ roll playing is also showcased on his
from the 1990s, "Damaged Goods" and "Acoustic Live."
While putting out records on his own doesn’t have the same clout that
a major label deal can bring about — in terms of getting the
into stores — Lofgren says he’s been quite happy putting out his
own records. "We usually end up with a licensing deal with some
record company, but at least this way, the music can be available
and you can continue."
"I’ve been through the whole thing with record companies when
I was younger," says Lofgren. "You don’t have to get hung
up on having a record deal. This is a way to let fans have access
to your music that you want to share, after all."
While Lofgren acknowledges there is something nice about having your
record in the stores, "at least now I don’t have to play
with these record companies to convince them to let me do what I want
"I’m happy to say we’ll have a new show this fall, and the show
we’ll play at the Stone Pony will have one or two new songs, but it’ll
mostly feature songs I’m hoping are familiar songs for the
Asked about his 1999-2000 tour with Springsteen’s E-Street Band,
says the whole tour was "a shining example of team work and
and passion," he says, "Bruce warned us months before that
he was gonna try to put together a series of rehearsals — and
it actually happened. He proved what a master he is at arranging and
structuring a good, exciting show."
"Even at rehearsals, I remember someone said, `The stage is
Is Bruce trying to save money?’ I said, `What do you mean?’ He said,
`Well, there’s nothing there.’ And I said, `I didn’t notice. There’s
Bruce and there’s the E-Street Band.’ It’s like it was Bruce’s way
of saying, there’s no bells or whistles, there’s nothing here but
me and my band and my songs. I think that highlighted just how unusual
and how special he continues to be."
Asked about his dual roles as a "sideman" with Springsteen’s
band — a term he dislikes — and as a "bandleader"
with his own group, Lofgren says he just likes being part of a team.
"I’m a team player and I love to be in the studio with a band
and I love to be on tour with a band," he says, "while I don’t
have to be the band leader all the time, I’m still very comfortable
being the band leader and it’s all good stuff being a part of a team
Lofgren says he’s looking forward to his show at the Stone Pony
"it’s a historic place and I also met my wife there." Back
in 1980 or ’81, he explains, he ran into this woman Amy, who he never
saw again after spending a night out with her following a show there.
Then, 17 years later, Amy showed up in a bar in Scottsdale.
"I bumped into her six years ago here in Scottsdale and she said,
`Hey, remember me?’ Only this time I was smart enough to get her phone
number," he says, laughing. "We’ve been together six years
now. Back then, I was in my late 20s and young and arrogant and
On Saturday at the Pony, Lofgren will be accompanied by Timm Biery
on drums, bassist Wade Matthews, and Buck Brown on keyboards and
"It’s just the four of us and we’ll do a lot of jamming. It’s
all pretty aggressive, exciting rock ‘n’ roll. I play a lot of songs
and I go off on some extended soloing," he says.
"We’ll stretch out and solo quite a bit, and there’s a definite
blues tilt to everything we do. If I had the voice of Muddy Waters,
I’d sing more straight blues, but there is a lot of blues-flavored
guitar playing throughout the show and there’s a lot of great
between the whole band. Everyone contributes."
— Richard J. Skelly
Park, 732-502-0600. $22 in advance, $25 day of show.
August 18, 9 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.