Nils Lofgren, American rock musician, recording artist, songwriter and member of the E Street Band chats with Kevin Cooper about celebrating 50 years in the music business, how Bruce Springsteen revived his career, why the UK is so special to him and his forthcoming tour of the UK.

Nils Lofgren is an American rock musician, recording artist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Along with his work as a solo artist, he has been a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band since 1984, a former member of Crazy Horse, and founder and front man of the band Grin. Lofgren was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as a member of the E Street Band in 2014.

He joined Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as the replacement for Steven Van Zandt on guitar and vocals, in time for Springsteen’s massive Born In The U.S.A. Tour. The E Street Band toured again with Springsteen in 1988 on the Tunnel Of Love Express And Human Rights Now! In 1989 Springsteen broke up the E Street Band, but Lofgren and Van Zandt rejoined when Springsteen revived the band in 1999 for their Reunion Tour.

Lofgren continues to record and to tour as a solo act, with Patti Scialfa, Neil Young, and as a two-time member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. Many of the people he worked with on those tours appeared on his 1991 album, Silver Lining. In 2006 Lofgren released Sacred Weapon, featuring guest appearances by David Crosby, Graham Nash, Willie Nelson and Martin Sexton. In 2006 he recorded a live DVD, Nils Lofgren & Friends: Acoustic Live at the Legendary Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia.

In September 2008, Lofgren had hip replacement surgery for both of his hips as a result of years of performing flips on a trampoline whilst on stage.

In August 2014, a box set, Face The Music, was released on the Fantasy label. The career-spanning retrospective contains nine CD’s and a DVD covering 45 years.

Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour of the UK, he took some time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Nils how are you?

I’m good Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s absolutely my pleasure and thank you for helping to spread the word about my forthcoming UK tour. I’m hoping that together we can get some people there who will enjoy it.

And I have to ask you, how is life treating you at this moment in time?

You know life is treating me great. Having said that I certainly had my fair share of bumps and bruises the same as anyone who is sixty-six years old plus I have recently been working through my fiftieth year on the rock road. However, here I am in beautiful mild Arizona with my lovely wife Amy of twenty-two years, my dog Pack, and I have actually spent the last week putting together my UK tour. I am actually getting excited at the thought of getting on a bus and moving from town to town and hopefully we will make some great music for everybody over there in the UK.

You and I last spoke prior to the release of Face The Music, the ten CD box set retrospective look at your career. Were you happy with the fans reaction to the release?

(Laughter) that’s right we did and yes I was; the fans seem to love the box set. I have to tell you that the box set was a labour of love which I got involved with for Fantasy Records. I didn’t think that they did box sets for people who hadn’t had a hit record but they let me handpick every song. Amy produced the art packaging, so we are all very proud of it, and yes it was very well received. I spent two and a half years working on it, handpicking the very best of every record, every basement tape bonus track demo, and as you know the tenth disc is a DVD. My buddy Dave Marsh who I asked to write the foreword actually insisted that I write a hundred and thirty-eight page story, track by track, of my experiences, which was a job that I didn’t want but we tried it and I have to admit it really did read well with Dave’s editing help and it was a much more authentic story coming from me (laughter).

You also released UK2015 Face The Music Tour which was the live album of your 2015 UK Tour. Whose idea was that?

Being honest with you I have to tell you that it was actually my wife Amy’s idea to release the live album. She just thought that me and Gregg (Varlotta) were playing some really good shows and that it would be a fabulous time for us to share them with the fans. We had been over there in the UK playing for the last ten years so it was nice to finally share those experiences with the fans. So I really do feel great about all of it; the live album, the box set and the tour.

On the subject of the box set you should take a look at Amazon here in the UK.

Really, why is that?

They are currently selling it for four hundred pounds.

You have got to be kidding me? That really is ridiculous. Please let the people know that they can go to and I will ship it to you for a hundred and thirty-nine US Dollars. What’s that, about ninety pounds or something like that? Obviously I would say to anyone who wants a copy of the box set please don’t do that, please go to and we have it in the store for a quarter of that price. Please let people know that we are selling the box set and it is the best deal on the planet. That’s awful news but hey, it’s like making bootleg tickets legal. There are just far too many freedoms running around inappropriately causing problems like that.

Swiftly moving on, are there currently any thoughts on a new studio album and if there are, what can you tell me about it?

I am happy to say that yes there are. I have just started working on a new album, and I am very excited about the batch of songs that I have. I am hoping that by the end of the year it will be all done, and then I can get a brand new solo record out early next year. And maybe, just maybe I will see if I can get a band together to come over to the UK and play some of the new songs for you. We will just have to wait and see. Once again I have cut more songs than I am going to use so I can’t speak about specifics as yet because some things that you think are great simply don’t work out and something that you thought was maybe a B Side actually turns into something special.

But Andy Newmark, who is a great American session drummer and who now lives over there in the UK, flew in. Andy is a dear friend who has made five or six records with me. Plus Kevin McCormick, an amazing bass player from Ventura, California who has produced a few of my records came over. Andy, Kevin and I did the Wonderland album together back in the early 80s and we have been working together on and off ever since. Andy and I go back to 1977 when I made the We Came To Dance album. And those guys were really great, they gave me a great foundation of a record and now my job is to turn it into a finished album and that’s what I will be doing for the rest of the year other than some work out on the road.

Of course getting home after a three week run in England just gets your voice and your instincts sharpened and so that will be a great time for me to jump in and make a record this summer. Basically it will be an electric record; there are a couple of tracks that I wrote on the piano together with a couple I wrote on acoustic guitars, but it is a little more than an aggressive electric, there is a little Blues tint to it. But then again that’s not the rule; it’s just the overall direction that this record is going.

I have to say that I actually feel that both your playing and singing are sounding better than ever. Would you agree?

I actually do really feel that way. I started out when I was really young and I was immature but I had a love for what I did. I managed to get myself into the professional game early on at seventeen years old, but yes, I feel like over the years slowly I have improved. Hey, look I had to put the trampoline into the closet, but as far as singing and playing, I do think in general that my sensibilities of what’s good and what’s not together with my timing have improved. The place where I learn the most is being in front of a live audience. As you know I have done an enormous amount of live work over the last fifty years professionally and years before that just as an amateur guitarist so it is what I love to do the most, and it is where I learn the most. I think that slowly but surely, maybe at a snail’s pace, but I do feel like I am improving still

If music hadn’t taken off for you, did you have a plan B?

No I didn’t. You have to remember that I was a classical accordion player for almost a decade; plan B was to probably get myself a residency at The Holiday Inn lounge playing the hits of the day on my Cordovox and make a living doing that. If I couldn’t have even done that then I have no idea what I would have done. I always liked mechanical drawing and thought a little about becoming an architect but I don’t have the discipline for that. Fortunately I fell in love with music and thanks for some gifts from my parents; it led to this beautiful fifty years on the road. So yes, I think that I would have wound up doing something in music.

If it hadn’t have been for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and that whole British Invasion back in the 60s I would most probably be in a Ramada Inn lounge playing the pop hits of the day on my Cordovox and probably not being too happy about it (laughter). I would have always liked to have done something musical.

Tell me a little about Blind Jam Date?

I am so pleased that you have asked me that question. If the people out there go to my website there is a new eighty minute DVD called Blind Date Jam. There are clips there where the people can check it out and see what it looks like. The thing about Blind Date Jam is that this happens when musicians don’t have charts, don’t have tapes, and more to the point they don’t know what they are going to play. They just get together with their instruments, someone will throw out an idea, count to four and they go and react, exploring the idea on the spot that they have never heard before, and they will never play again. It came out great and it is something that I have done my whole life.

I realised that people never get to see that side of musicians together. It’s primitive and raw but it’s a different slice of what musicians do when they are on the spot; they don’t have the chance to do any homework or refine any of the parts. It was like that when I recorded the Tonight’s The Night album. I told the guys that I didn’t want them to learn the songs too much; I wanted them to play live, I wanted it to be raw and rough, so we did it live in the studio. We were not too familiar with the songs before we recorded them. Sometimes I would take that to the extreme where the guys never heard anything at all. It’s just a jam idea; there is some singing and there are a few instrumentals, and I would like to encourage the people to check out the clips, see what they think and give it a shot if they like it.

It sounds like a Nils Lofgren show.

(Laughter) that’s right because as you know I improvise a lot at my shows, and that is one of the reasons why it is good to have Gregg (Varlotta) there with me. He can hold down a rhythm and I can just start finger picking all of the parts and go off and play lead guitar for a while and have some fun with it.

The last time that you were here I popped down to The Stables in Milton Keynes to see the show and, as usual, you didn’t fail to satisfy or entertain.

Thank you, that’s always nice to hear. When we got to the venue we found that they had changed the room and I have to say that it was a very unusual room but The Stables is a place that we get to on almost every trip. Look, we have had a great time over the past decade coming there to play and I will go as far as to say that it is an extra charming event for me because Amy likes to come along with me as she loves England but she doesn’t get to come with me that often. We always have a show after the show where we encourage the venue to keep the bar keeper on so that people can buy a pint. I will sign anything and everything and I will sell you a T-shit or two together with a few CD’s if that’s what you want (laughter). It’s nice for me to get an immediate personal review from the people who were actually in the building listening.

Having said that, this year you have changed venues and instead of The Stables you will be playing at The Town Hall in Birmingham.

Yes, and to be honest, I didn’t realise that until recently (laughter). I have never played there but hey, we hope that there is enough ticket demand to warrant us moving up to the new venue. It is still quite an intimate place, but I did notice that it was a new venue on the tour list. Look, my goal is to put on a great show, no matter what room I’m in, and hopefully that will bear out for the people that show up wherever it is that we are playing.

What can we expect to hear on the forthcoming UK Tour?

Well for a start we are going to be playing some different songs, a few different arrangements, change up the show a bit, so that is plenty for me to be working on right now (laughter). I am just so happy to jump on my bus and drive from town to town, playing my music, trying to inspire a few people along the way. As always I hope that the audience will take away a few good memories of the evening with them as they leave the venue. I want the show to be a great experience for them. I don’t want to be any greedier than that at the moment (laughter).

Can you believe that you have spent fifty years on the road?

After seeing all of the friends and heroes that I have recently had to say goodbye to, well at the end of the day I have to feel extremely grateful to still be working even though it is a bit daunting. Fortunately I am still not using a teleprompter and I can remember most of my own songs (laughter).

As we have already mentioned, you are coming back to the UK in May to celebrate your fifty years on the road. What is it about the UK that is so special to you?

Well I started out as a classical accordion player, and it was really The Beatles who were the very first band to get my attention both emotionally and musically. At that time I was too young and everything was too square in rock and roll. And then all of a sudden the floodgates opened through The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, together with The British Invasion. It was at that time that I also discovered Motown, Stax, Volt, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Richard. And to this day I owe a big debt of gratitude to those guys. Way back, even before I came over to tour the UK I came over on what you would now call a field trip.

Whilst I was there I did some acoustic guitar playing with Greg Reeves, the great bass player on the After The Gold Rush album. Graham Nash was kind enough to let me hang out with him at the recording studio and it also meant that I had a friend in London who I could hang out with occasionally. I just loved walking the streets and being in this mythical place where all of this music happened. Of course it happened all over the UK but London in particular was a famous town, and it still is. Fast forward to after the After The Gold Rush album I ended up back in the UK in 1973 on tour with Neil (Young).

Of course I loved it and that was the tour that I was on when I wrote Please Don’t Go and so I started looking for a promoter. I was then asked if I wanted to tour the UK and I said “no you will have to ask Neil” and the promoter said “no I am talking about you touring with your music”. At that time no one over there in the UK knew about me, but that was the start of things for me in the UK. I started to come over in 1975 and I have been coming back ever since. And I truly couldn’t be more grateful. It is just a mythical and special place. And now even past the history of me being inspired off the classical accordion and changing my life for good on this musical journey that started really with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Now there are hundreds of people who, if I get to their small town, will come out to see me on a Tuesday evening and expect me to do something good. I meet them afterwards, they tell me that I have done a good job and I will be back. The UK has become a very powerful place for me to tour and play, and also I have got to admit that it means that I do not have to go to airports every day. I just have to jump on a bus and have my wife along. It is all very grass roots and back to the basics. I have certainly grown up to be a musician who by far enjoys the live performance aspect of my job far more than any other part of it although I am grateful to be a musician for fifty years professionally.

For me to be able to get on a bus and not have to see another airport for three and a half weeks is fantastic. I just go from town to town, sing and play; every night is a new night, a whole new adventure, a new challenge, and to know that people are coming is very inspiring and exciting.

Having said all of that, you have never settled here or even thought about it. Why is that?

Well I was born in Chicago, and when I was eight years old we moved to the Maryland area just outside of Washington DC. I have spent so many years living in both Los Angeles and San Francisco and now twenty-two years in Scottsdale, Arizona. I love visiting the UK; I have spent quite a lot of my life visiting and touring the UK, probably for a few years of my life I have actually lived in England. But I still consider America to be my home despite all of our massive problems. They whole world has got problems, in particular political ones. But as far as a place to live, I have grown up here, I am very comfortable and at home here, despite all of the issues.

I do try to get over to the UK every year whenever time allows. Of course now with the new album which will hopefully be released sometime next year I may well see if I can get a band over there for the first time in a very long time and do a run with the band. But I intend to take things one step at a time.

What was it like for you playing the first gig after Clarence (Clemons) had passed away because for thirty-nine years he had been an integral part of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band?

To be honest with you it was very strange. We had put the tour together very quickly and so we hadn’t had a lot of rehearsal time. On this specific tour our leader Bruce (Springsteen) was debating whether or not we should even play. We spent two and a half months on the road and he went through a hell of a lot of saxophone players and then Clarence’s nephew Jake stepped in and did an enormously great job. But of course Jake and everyone else knows that there was only one Clarence and we took the time to put a show together that we all felt that we could be proud of but still, it was strange to go out there without the big man but I personally feel that he is still with me.

Clarence and I became very close friends and we liked to gab so we would talk every week for hours just about everything and anything. I still miss him, and there is a song on my box set called Miss You C which I wrote about him. But hey man, life happens. I had twenty-seven good years with him standing next to me and I honestly do feel that he is still with me in spirit. Jake is doing a great job covering for his uncle and I don’t know what else to do. I am grateful that Bruce made that momentous decision to carry on without him because I couldn’t have faulted him if he wasn’t comfortable with that.

Now of course hundreds of shows down the road, I take him with me on stage every night, but I am grateful that the band is still playing. Of course there are no plans right now but as a massive fan I certainly do hope that sometime down the road there might be another run of shows.

After being on the road for fifty years, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

(Laughter) oh my, if I had to pick just one, I don’t know man. That’s really is a rough question to ask me (laughter). There are probably a couple of dozen highlights and that would take hours with me getting analytical about them. However, just to throw something at you, well, you know what, just recently, my dad lives in Sweden and my mom is Italian, and I was with Bruce playing The River Tour and we found ourselves playing three nights in a stadium in Gothenburg. I had my lovely wife Amy with me, and I was awarded the Swedish American Of The Year Award. I had all of my plaques and medals on my amplifiers at Bruce’s request. He made a little nod towards me during the show and the cameras panned to my bounty there (laughter).

After the show we had a great dinner with the entire band, crew and friends. A lot of my cousins and my family who are based all over Sweden came in on our day off between two stadium shows. For me, working is always a good thing but there is no better work than that plus the reward for being in a band like that. For me to be there with Amy and my son Dylan and his girlfriend Elaina, and to have my family there with me to see me collect the Swedish America Award, well if I had to pick a recent highlight then that would be it.

We can’t mention the highs without mentioning the lows, what has been the worst time of your career?

I have personally faced so many ups and downs which I really don’t want to delve way into but professionally during the early 80s; remember that I hit the road back in 1968, and although we struggled on and off it was under the wings of the likes of Neil Young, who I always thought of as being my mentor. So that really was a fabled time for me. I was so young and I had come from nothing so any step forward was a positive thing. But in the early 80s I got let go by MCA Records after I had recorded the Wonderland album which I personally thought was one of my best records. And all of a sudden I couldn’t get a record deal.

That was a bit daunting, and I always refer to that as being a professional low point. At that time everyone was saying “hey you’re really great, however you have not made us any money so there are no more record deals for you, you’re a dinosaur”. That was back in 1982 and I actually got quite down for a while. Eventually I realised ‘well look man, I can play, I can sing so I have got to sort something out’ but back then there was no Internet so I couldn’t simply get myself a website and put out my music on there. Back in 1982 that simply wasn’t an option. It was funny because all of this was happening during that period when I was quite down about my career and questioning what I was going to do with myself.

One of my friends who I just happened to be chatting to on the phone could sense that I was feeling a little down so he said to me “why don’t you come over for the weekend, bring your guitar and we will go and jam in the nightclubs and have us some fun” and that friend just happened to be Bruce (Springsteen). That was one of many visits that I made over to Bruce’s place and within the next year I went over and we listened to the Born In The USA album which had just been recorded and then a few months after that whilst I was still putting my career back together, I was still without a record company and really not that sure what to do about it, I got the call to go over a jam with the E Street Band which led to the Born In The USA Tour.

Of course, because it is show business, all of a sudden some record companies wanted to give me a record deal and of course being the naive person that I was despite being in the game for fifteen years, I said “well you know I have got all of these demos of songs that I am proud of, tell me when it is okay and I will come into the studio, we will play them, we can listen to them, and you can tell me what you think”. A president of one of the companies classic line was ‘don’t you worry about that stuff, we can take care of all of that later, just sign the deal’ (laughter). I thought that was the most hilarious line that I had ever heard, ‘yes, that music stuff, we will worry about that later, you just sign the deal’ (laughter).

It was funny because all of a sudden arguably one of the greats of all time, Bruce Springsteen said “hey this guy belongs in my band” which suddenly made me a far better bet and my songs suddenly became far more important (laughter). But hey, that’s show business, and thanks to the Internet for the most part since the mid-90s I have parted company with the record industry. I have got a great website which my friends run back in Maryland; Amy helps me with all of the products and is constantly designing stuff, which means that I am a free agent. If I have something that I like I can simply put it on my website and share it.

And that is what I continue to do. I have the new album that I am currently working on and I have got the tour coming up which I am currently putting the show together for as we speak. So despite all of the aches and pains and bumps and bruises, things are looking pretty good.

How did you feel when we lost Tom Petty in October last year?

I have to say that losing Tom was a massive shock, in fact Amy and I are still upset and getting very angry about losing Tom. We went to see him at Red Rocks last year thank god, because they didn’t have a show in Phoenix planned. So we treated ourselves and went up to Red Rocks where we saw a magnificent band at their best. The show was simply amazing and I never realised that it was going to be the last time that I would see them as a group together with Tom. Again, losing someone like Tom makes you even more grateful to just humbly and appreciatively thank god for the inspiration that still exists thanks to music. And because of that inspiration I am putting the show together, I will be heading off to England, I will be getting on a bus and I will be trying to make a great run of it.

I first saw you playing here in the UK back in August 1979.

Was that on The Who tour?

Yes it was.

That was a great tour. We had AC/DC with the late Bon Scott, The Stranglers and I just loved that, travelling around the country opening for The Who. They are one of the great bands who inspired me as a kid.

And you did bring the trampoline with you.

Yes I did, I did bring the trampoline with me and I used it every night too (laughter). Fortunately there were pictures and whenever I see them a part of me thinks ‘did I really do that’ (laughter). Then I look a little closer and think ‘okay, that’s me’. However, nowadays the trampoline is kept locked in a cupboard back home but hey, it had a good run and it was a good part of the show, people got a kick out of it. However, for me it was always a little nerve-wracking and scary, and every night that I landed and didn’t break my neck, I was truly grateful (laughter).

Who is your go to artist or band whenever you have some down time?

It’s a massive hodge-podge of the acts that I have already mentioned. People like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Richard, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The British Invasion, Motown, Stax, Volt, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles who is one of the artists who I listen to a lot. Sometimes when I am in a funk and I just want to put on something on to pull me out of the funk thing and stop me feeling sorry for myself, I will simply put on a collection of The Rolling Stones.

What was the first record that you bought?

The first record that I bought was, let me see, I think that it was The Lonely Bull (El Toro Solitario) by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

Who did you first see performing live?

Oh man, I think that it was when I was a kid, I didn’t even know what it was that I was seeing. But as far as popular music goes I went to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City with my parents during the summer holidays and we went to see The Supremes. They really were amazing.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh man, well just recently one of what I think are one of the great anthems that speaks to the troubles of our planet right now, which always brings a tear to me eye, and I play if fairly regularly for inspiration, is What About Us by Pink.

On that note Nils, let me just thank you once again for taking the time to speak to me today; it’s been fantastic as usual. You take care and I will see you in Birmingham.

It’s always great talking with you Kevin. I am very excited to be putting the show together as we speak, I can’t wait to come back to the UK and celebrate my fiftieth year out on the road and we intend to do something very special for everyone. You make sure that you come and say hi after the show.