Legendary guitarist Nils Lofgren springs into OKC with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band 

click to enlarge Nils-Lofgren_by-Kevin-Nixon-Classic-Rock-Mag-Provided.jpg

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s The River Tour makes its only Oklahoma stop 7:30 p.m. April 3 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, 100 W. Reno Ave. The band performs the entire 20-song double LP The River (1980) along with Springsteen’s greatest hits; shows on the tour have been lasting three and a half hours.

Guitarist Nils Lofgren is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the E Street Band, which he joined in 1984, when Little Steven Van Zandt left the band to pursue a solo career. When Van Zandt returned in 1999, Springsteen kept both guitarists on board.

Lofgren is also famous for his work with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, having worked on the albums After the Gold Rush (1970), Crazy Horse (1971) and Tonight’s the Night (1975).

In the period between working with Young and Springsteen, Lofgren had his own band, Grin, which received high critical praise but, along with Lofgren’s solo albums, many of which are considered classics, never sold that many records.

While these albums have been out of print for decades, a massive 9-CD/1-DVD retrospective of Lofgren’s career, Face the Music, has just been released and even includes unreleased Grin tracks that were recently found in a basement.

Lofgren told Oklahoma Gazette that he spent two years reviewing everything he had ever recorded to pick the 209 tracks that ended up on the box set.

“For Fantasy Records to go get every single track I picked and help me put this box set together, with a 139-page book of countless photos, posters, ephemera and sleeves, and with a lot of my dear musician friends weighing in with a description or a plug, it was really a beautiful, unexpected journey that makes me feel different now about my past, because it was largely extinct and forgotten,” he said.

Shaky ride

Lofgren started out studying classical music on the accordion, but there was an old guitar in his house that sealed his fate.

“As a teenager, I fell in love with The Beatles; it was their extra harmonies and more sophisticated chordings,” he said. “There was a beat-up guitar in our home, and my brother Tommy started showing me chords, but it was just a hobby that I was crazy about for a couple of years.

“One night, I saw The Who — the original Who — at Constitution Hall. Then we ran across town to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience at The Ambassador Theatre. I walked out that night possessed with this almost uncomfortable notion that I had to get out of school and start being a rock musician. I was like, ‘You can’t do that,’ but then I thought, ‘I have to do it.’ Here it is, 48 years later, I’m looking back and, wow! How lucky was I? I got to get out to LA and Topanga Canyon in 1968 and befriend Neil Young.”

click to enlarge KEITH CURTIS
  • KEITH CURTIS

Lofgren met the members of Crazy Horse when they toured through his hometown, Bethesda, Maryland. Three weeks later, he and Grin moved to Los Angeles and stayed at Young’s house. Young had just released his second solo album (his first with Crazy Horse), Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) after leaving Buffalo Springfield. Lofgren joined Young’s band and played piano and guitar on After the Gold Rush, which also featured Crazy Horse, but the band was fired halfway through the sessions due to the heroin habit of guitarist Danny Whitten, the leader of Crazy Horse.

Young wrote “The Needle and the Damage Done” about Whitten’s addiction during this period.

Lofgren also guested on the eponymously titled first album by Crazy Horse, so he worked closely with one of the more shadowy figures in rock music who is more famous for his death than he is for his music.

“Danny was like a giant,” Lofgren said. “When I saw the first Crazy Horse tour at the Cellar Door, Neil would tell you Danny was his right-hand man. He was singing with that wavery, beautiful vibrato before Neil was, and a lot of people learned from Danny. I met them all at this nightclub, and three weeks later, I was in LA. Danny became a good friend. I joined Crazy Horse to make the first album.

“I always still regret that I never knew how to reach Danny or how to help him, but drugs and alcohol has taken out millions of people and it’s a deadly thing. One of the great musical losses for me was Danny. But making a whole album with him, rehearsing with him, crafting a whole record with him was just an amazing adventure. I still miss Danny, but I’m happy I got to spend some time with him.”

When looking back at his life, Lofgren said he knows he did it all, but it is still a little overwhelming.

“I’m grateful that I was scared enough to throw myself into a lot of situations when I was younger and get stuff like that done,” he said. “I’m still out with E Street. I’m going to make up the shows I had to postpone … I’ve started writing a new album, and of course, my live on the road in the UK CD, UK2015 Face the Music Tour, came out and I’ve got my box set to promote. I’m very grateful. It’s been a great ride.”

Lofgren was a gymnast in high school and was famous for doing backflips during his shows while playing guitar; he even titled one of his albums Flip (1985). In 2008, he had hip replacement surgery. When asked which is harder on the body, gymnastics or rock ’n’ roll, Lofgren laughed and picked rock ’n’ roll.

“Forty-seven years down the road, I’ve been beat up quite a bit,” he said. “It’s mostly leaving home and the travel that gets you as much as anything else, but it is a champagne problem — let’s be clear. I’ve been very blessed to sing for people in great bands and with my own music. God willing, I will do it as long as I live and I have a bit of time ahead of me. I am grateful for every show and every moment.”

For more information about Lofgren, visit nilslofgren.com.

Print headline: Grateful notes, Guitarist Nils Lofgren cruises into town with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

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