Lofgren hits the road again
Famed rock sideman and songwriter Nils Lofgren has a new CD and tour
When I was 15, my then-future brother-in-law introduced to our household an album by a band from Maryland called Grin. The group was fronted by a wiry, black-haired guy named Nils Lofgren who sang, played guitar and wrote all the songs. Absolutely electrifying was a riff-rocking, angry cry of pain called “Moon Tears.” That solo! It taxied out kind of lazy and loose, soared to the upper stratosphere, and then plummeted like a suicide mission B-52 dumping its death cargo all at once. Ah! At 15, sheer bliss!
30 years later, the man who crafted such a cathartic paean to juvenile angst is going to perform in Butte County. Over the phone, I talked with Lofgren about his recent activities, his continuing role with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, his late-'70s flirtation with joining the Rolling Stones, his friendship with Neil Young, and his early days with Grin.
Originally from Chicago, Lofgren’s family relocated to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., when he was 8, subsequently moving to Maryland. Lofgren started out on accordion. However, in his early teens he heard The Beatles and switched to guitar. “They’re still my favorite band,” he admits. Later he found Jimi Hendrix, “and literally within two weeks, I dropped out [of school] to become a professional musician.”
Around this time, he met Neil Young.
“He was playing in Washington, D.C.,” Lofgren remembers, “at a little club called The Cellar Door.” Lofgren managed to sneak back stage, and after Young basically forced Lofgren to play a few of his tunes, “he bought me a cheeseburger and a coke. And we started a friendship that we still have and I’m very grateful for.”
Lofgren’s association with Young led to Grin’s being recorded in L.A. by early Young producer David Briggs. Then, at only 18, Lofgren was asked by Briggs to play on Young’s classic album After the Goldrush.
When questioned about the prevalent late-'70s rumor that he sought to join the Rolling Stones, he admits, “I’m a giant Stones fan. I just wanted, as a fan and a professional, to go on record as saying, ‘Hey, I want to audition! I love your music, and I think I know how to play it.'”
Lofgren was put into contact with Keith Richards through, ironically enough, Ronnie Wood. “He was kind enough to be honest,” he says of Richards. “'We want Ronnie and he won’t do it.’ And soon after that, Ronnie changed his mind. He made the right choice.”
The ’80s saw Lofgren join Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band after “Miami” Steve Van Zandt’s departure. Springsteen called Lofgren, the latter jammed with the band, and the rest, as they say, is history. “Seventeen years into it,” he says, “and I’m still honored to be part of that great group.”
Lofgren says that while it’s been good performing the works of others, it’s been better getting back to his own music. The new CD, Break Away Angel, is without an official record company, so Lofgren has acquired a Web site to sell the recording. He explains that “the climate right now [in the recording industry] is not conducive to the kind of artistic freedom I like.”
Will his new band play, I ask hopefully, any old Grin numbers at the Oroville show?
“Yeah, we do a couple,” Lofgren admits. “'Moon Tears’ and ‘Like Rain’ appear off and on in the shows. We still get some of the Grin stuff in. It stands the test of time.”
Nils Lofgren and his band play Gold Country Casino in Oroville at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22. Tickets are available by phone at (800) 803-1911. Copies of Lofgren’s new CD Break Away Angel can be ordered via Internet at www.nilslofgren.com or www.cdstreet.com, or by phone at (877) 692-7999.