Interview: Nils Lofgren (solo, E Street Band, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Grin)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: October 2011. We had the great honour to talk with a really great musician and a fine person: Nils Lofgren. Nils has an amazing solo career, he is a member in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band since 1984, he was only 17-year-old the first time he played with Neil Young, he was a member of Grin and Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. Also, he has recorded and played live with greats like Roy Buchanan and Jerry Lee Lewis. He just released his new solo album “Old School”. Listen to it! Read below the very interesting things he told us:


How close is the release of your new solo album “Old School”?The instrumental part I heard in your site was great!

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The album is actually now available on i-Tunes, but I ‘d prefer people get the CD, just like the old days where there is the artwork, the lyrics, the explanation, the credits. You can pre-order the CDs right now but we’ll have them in about 10 days. Until the end of October we will have them shipped. And you can go in, the place where actually you can pre-order now. We hope we will have them in a week, so we would ship them very soon.


Can you give us a hint for its sound?

Well, there are a lot of different sounds but it is an electric record. There is pretty much of almost everything, there is drums and bass, there is some gentle acoustic songs, there is some of brush, plain fields, some very electric, ballad ‘n’ blues songs, there are pretty rough vocals, pretty rough guitar songs. There is also a pretty much of a lot of things: sitar, piano and a version of one of my favourite ballads: “Irish Angel”  by Bruce McCabe, it’s a kind of gentle ,beautiful ballad. So, it’s like my classic records of the old days where there were a lot of different types of songs and fields, but it’s basically an electric record with a lot of acoustic fields.


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Will you do a Europe tour for “Old School” album or only an U.S tour?

Well, we might, we are not sure yet. Right now, I ‘m focused in a tour I’ll do for the next couple of weeks here in America, an acoustic duo. Actually, I’m on the recorded album and next year we will try get over Europe. Right now, we haven’t booked anything.


Are you satisfied from the feedback you got by  fans and press for “The Loner-Nils Sings Neil” album?

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Sure, that was a very interesting project and a great strolled-down memory lane for me. Just re-living these great songs  and some of them I played in originally, and some of them are on the record but I haven’t done a studio album of my old songs for quite a while ,for a year and a half, on and off my home in Arizona. Finally came together and I’m very proud and really excited of these songs, to get the record out and so people can listen to it.


Looking back, how much important factor do you think was luck in your career? You were very young when you first met Neil Young..

Of course luck is a factor and luck is as you cross the street and  being hit by a bus. A lot a luck in life, but also you have to be prepared and try to seek out opportunities and I could say I’ve been very lucky to play with some very great people like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr. My last studio record which is called “Sacred Weapon” and I wrote a song called “In Your Hands” .It’s the first song on “Sacred Weapon”, which is a business song for my wife that Willie Nelson sings duet and that’s a great piece of lucky field that I’ve been in.


Have you  now accepted Clarence Clemons’ loss? I think it was a shock of your.

Oh, I’m still heart-broken. I was very sad and I believed it happened. I was very sad about it.


Do you think Bruce Springsteen is the person you have the most “spiritual” musical  partnership on stage? You’re very tight together.

Yes, I believe Bruce is one of the greatest performers of any time and certainly I’m very honoured to be in that band for 27 years. I’ve been in a handful of great performers and through the years, I think Bruce is as special as everyone, he’s everything.


Did you feel terrified the first time you played with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band?

I was able to meet him up in 1985 after  the “Born in the U.S.A” show at Wembley Stadium in London. And then we went to Ringo’s house for a birthday party. And I get to play with him that night in jam for an informal home setting. And ofcourse I was very excited, I wan’t terrified. I was already a professional musician for a long time. I was excited to jam with him at home but also very honoured  to be in his first All Starr Band in 1989.A great, great experience.


Are you satisfied from the result of “Sgt Pepper’s” film you participated in?

Yes, that was fun. We had to fly in and  spending a couple of days with some fine musicians and singers. And we did a big sing-along in a bandstand with George Martin (ed: The Beatles legendary producer). He conducted us. I’m a giant The Beatles fan and a George Martin fan, so it was a wonderful experience to participate in. I think The Beatles have the greatest recorded music.


 I think George Martin helped a lot. He was a revolutionary producer.



How difficult is being an online guitar teacher?

It’s actually pretty easy because I have so many ideas how to teach. I started playing classical accordion when I was only 6 years old and I studied classical accordion for almost 10 years. So, I have a lot of ideas and information how to teach. I’m trying to make people have fun when I teach music. And making music means getting excited about learning.


Did you enjoy playing with Jerry Lee Lewis and the other great musicians in “Last Man Standing-Live”?

Yes. I only played one song with Ringo and Jerry Lee Lewis. I think “Sweet Sixteen”. We also did another track “Roll Over Beethoven”. For his last record “Mean Old Man” ,the country record, a beautiful record, I was in Los Angeles and played lap-steel and that was a beautiful day. To sit around and have Jerry sing. That was wonderful.


What do you clear memories from 1971 when you played with the  great Roy Buchanan in a PBS special?

Yes, that was very exciting and I was very nervous.


You were very young then.

Very young and certainly I didn’t play as well as I wanted to but it was a honour to be invited by the great Roy Buchanan.


Yes, but he never was popular in United States.

Not really anywhere in the world, as great as he is, and I think Roy is right up there with the greatest guitarists in history. I think Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck..


(Ed: I interrupted him) Jeff Beck mentioned Roy in his “Blow By Blow” album (in “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” ).

Jeff Beck is my favourite living guitarist. And Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Roy Buchanan are the three guitarists that inspired me the most growing me up as a kid.


Which song you play is the most challenging onstage?

Ah, that’s interesting. I’ve played many, many songs and some are challenging. Some times, the long solos I’ ve created in themes are technically difficult  in “Youngstown” and “Because the Night” solos. It’s difficult but fun. It’s a nice challenge. I usually improve, I do a lot of improvisation, where I make up the songs as I go, but I’ve crafted in some themes, that I can use to built the song in long solos like “Youngstown” and “Because the Night”. There are a couple of challenging songs to play, but I’ve welcomed.


Who could you say influenced you the most in your life?

Well, talking about just as a human being, it was my father and my mother, great, great people that encouraged me to play music and they paid for lessons when I wanted to play music and they were very inspiring as people. As far as musicians, I think The Beatles and The Stones turned me on rock’n’roll as a kid and they made some of the greatest music in history. But as a guitar player, I ‘ve played the guitar for about two years, for age 15 to 17 and in the middle of 1960s, none of us thought to be a rock’n’roll musician because for a living, we just liked to play. And I saw Jimi Hendrix Experience live, I was in the front row, just staring at Jimi and that night I was inspired to try being a professional musician, so I owe that inspiration to Jimi Hendrix. And I followed him a lot, I tried to play a lot and I was 19, on my 19th birthday my band Grin got to be the opening act for Jimi Hendrix Experience in California. And we opened three shows for him, in San Valentino, Ventura and Sacramento. We got to play before Jimi and I went backstage and said him a “hello” and it was a great honour for me to meet him. He was the main reason I decided to be an electric guitar player for a living.


Do you wish Grin gained more popularity in United States.

I loved Grin, I loved being in the band, especially after my brother, Tommy joined and we didn’t want to break up. Yes, we would like to have more popularity and make more success for the record company, so to stay together and keep playing. We made four albums and we didn’t have any hit records, so the record companies didn’t want us to continue. But of course, you make music to share, so I’d like to be more people know about Grin.


Is there anyone you’d like to play with and hasn’t happened yet? It’s hard to think one.

Sure! Let me think one.. A lot of them unfortunately aren’t now with us, like Ray Charles, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf . A  lot of people that aren’t here now. But I guess the Amnesty International Tour (1988), I got to play then with Sting. That was one of the favourite tours and we were on the road with some of my favourite bands. I got to see them playing every night, I got to get know them and it was a great honour to go early every day and watch all that great music and especially the  Peter Gabriel show and especially Branford Marsalis (ed: great American saxophonist). We became friends and we played basketball all over the world. Whenever we play, we never lost. And we had great time playing basketball and he asked me to play as back up in funk records, when got off the road, which was a great experience for me and Branford is one of my favourite musicians.


You played in Athens, Greece in 1988 with Bruce at Olympic Stadium for Amnesty International with Sting and Peter Gabriel. Do you have any memories from that concert?

Yes, all the shows were great but Greek audience were passionate, beautiful. That was a great day and night. I loved walking around in Athens, it’s very historic city ofcourse. It was very beautiful to be there to play. I  also, nobody knows that as they couldn’t hear me, when Peter Gabriel played “In Your Eyes”, which is one of my favourite songs in history, I used to stick in Roy Bittan’ s piano, I plugged the earphones and I played alone in the back of the stage. Of course nobody heard me but I got to play along Peter one of the greatest songs ever written.


You ‘re for more than forty years in rock’n’roll..

Forty-three years.


I’d like to ask that: Do you think Jim Morrison was right that rock’ n’ roll is dead with all these managers, percentages, contracts etc..

Certainly, it isn’t dead for me. You certainly are in a position that rock’n’roll is overrun by business but I haven’t done what has happened. I have my record company in 15 years, I have my website and I get to make music that I’m proud of, I don’t need anyone’s permission and I put it out. So, for me it’s very much alive and powerful and I maintain my freedom by not really that involved in music business. I have my website being run by some great people like Linda and Dick. There is a lot of free music there and information and there will continue to be, there is a guitar school there for beginners and intermediate. There is a teacher  line called “Blind Date Jam”, where people jam and they don’t know what they gonna play. The first one is on my website now and that came out great. So, for me music is still my secret weapon, my lifeblood doing what I like the most and also my hobby and now I make a living.


Where do you think the future is heading for bands? I mean bands have to focus more doing gigs as people don’t buy CDs?

Oh, that’s up to individual, what’s your best. Some people prefer to make records at home and not go to play. I prefer to sing and play live more than anything. I don’t like to leave home, I’ve got six dogs, a beautiful wife, Amy; when I leave I get homesick but I do love to sing and play and I’ll continue to do that as long as my health permits.  I’m very grateful that I have a new record coming out soon, so it means that I’m busy. I’d love to get back in Greece next year and play for the people there.


Is there anyone producer you’d like to work with? There are some good producers outside like Steve Albini..

You know, I’m not that knowledgeable about current producers. Obviously, my favourite producer David Briggs died years ago. He was Neil Young producer, my band Grin  and to my early solo records. Certainly, Bob Ezrin (ed: Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Kiss producer) it’s a great producer. I saw Bob at a Jeff Beck show earlier this year. He produced my album “Nils” and I had the chance to work with. I worked a lot with Brendan O’Brien. Fabulous, great producer. I ‘d like him to work in one of my solo records, that would be fun but I’m not very involved with younger current producers and I know there are a lot of great ones out there.


For “Old School” you did the production on your own. Am I right?

I was working in a song before I started the recordings and one friend, Brian Christian, came up. He was Bob Ezrin’s engineer. He engineered Peter Gabriel, “The Wall”, Alice Cooper. Brian Christian was an old dear friend of mine. He came up in town and we recorded the first song of the album “Why Me”. We tracked the song well, good vibes were coming and going, he visited my home. That was jumpstarted the project and inspired me keep recording. He lives in Los Angeles, so he came back home and basically I produced myself. But I took my time and all the vocals were recorded pretty much live, I sang the songs live as I played them. So, there is a pretty raw field in that album, a lot of different instruments all over the place and I’m very happy about it.


Do you think living in Washington D.C influenced you as a person and as a musician?

I left Chicago when I was 8 years old. I was born in Chicago, I grew up in Washington and in 1968, me and my band Grin went to Los Angeles. So back then, thanks to records and albums we paid a lot of attention to the music scene, pretty much globally: Europe, all over the world and I was able to meet musicians all over the worlds due to communication. But now it’s much, much easier to access the music anywhere, thanks to technology and the Internet, but I feel lucky being a teenager in 60s, when I got to see really inspired shows: Ray Charles, The Who, Beatles, Stones. I got to see many, I saw Muddy Waters. A lot of artists that inspired me: I saw Jimi Hendrix Experience a lot. Still young ofcourse in early 70s I got to see Bruce Springsteen that I found him inspiring. I was lucky to come up at the time when there were so many great artists on the road, and I was there when they were playing and it was a very inspiring experience.


Do you like today  Neil Young’s “Trans” album? For many fans that was very “techno” for Neil Young’s standards…

For me I love that record because of the songwriting. People, I think don’t really understand the songs but then we had to go on tour. We were on the road for six weeks in Europe and I don’t know if you came to Greece but you played in Rome, Italy, all over Europe but what I love about that record is Neil taking chances, breaking new ground and I don’t think people understand that, maybe they do, but the character in these songs in “Trans” are the machines with personalities, songs and voices that help children. These special machines that help kids do things and help control their very heart and I think that was a beautiful, fantastic, modern, futuristic songwriting with such songs and I don’t know how much people understood what he was doing. I hope they do, but I understood it enough to love it and I was honoured to play on that record and tour.


Many people think that “Jersey Girl” is a Bruce Springsteen song, not a Tom Waits one.

Yes, Tom wrote that beautiful song. And as Jersey fan (ed: see below) I think Bruce did the greatest version of that song. I can say when you stand on stage in front of 60.000 people in New Jersey is very powerful and beautiful. And you know, I married a Jersey girl, I’m grateful to that beautiful song.


I don’t have any other questions. It was great talking with such a living legend! Hope to see you playing in Greece soon as a solo artist or with Bruce.

Hope to meet you very soon, if I come play in Greece next year.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Nils Lofgren for his time and his great answers.

Also, I’d like to thank Mr Anson Smith and Jill for their valuable help. Without them, this interview wouldn’t have existed.

Learn everything about Nils Lofgren on

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