Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the August 15,

2001 edition

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

Springsteen,

as part of the recently reformed E-Street Band. Despite this

high-profile

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

coming

out this fall at a grass-roots level," he says. Lofgren’s first

focus is his new solo album, titled "Breakaway Angel,"

recorded

with his band. "There’s a lot of stretching out and acoustic

playing

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,

not-so-humble

moment. "Live & Raw" includes footage shot in clubs in

Minneapolis,

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-produced,

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

parents

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

accordion

lessons for 10 years helped me a lot when I later picked up the

guitar,"

he explains.

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,

"which

I didn’t know all that much about."

Last year, Columbia’s Legacy label released a CD

compiled

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

performing

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

ignore,

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

inspiring

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,"

he explains.

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

releases

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

product

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

psychiatrist

with these record companies to convince them to let me do what I want

to do."

"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

audience,"

he adds.

Asked about his 1999-2000 tour with Springsteen’s E-Street Band,

Lofgren

says the whole tour was "a shining example of team work and

maturity

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

different.

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

on tour."

Lofgren says he’s looking forward to his show at the Stone Pony

because

"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

drinking

too much."

On Saturday at the Pony, Lofgren will be accompanied by Timm Biery

on drums, bassist Wade Matthews, and Buck Brown on keyboards and

guitars.

"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

interplay

between the whole band. Everyone contributes."

— Richard J. Skelly

Nils Lofgren Band , The Stone Pony, 913 Ocean Avenue,

Asbury

Park, 732-502-0600. $22 in advance, $25 day of show. Saturday,

August 18, 9 p.m.


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