Nils Lofgren chats with Kevin Cooper about his love of the UK, being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with the E Street Band, the release of his ten cd box set Face The Music, and his solo tour of the UK in January 2015.

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 frontman 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.

Whilst resting at his home in Arizona and preparing for his forthcoming UK tour, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.


Mr Lofgren. How are you?

Yes Sir, I’m good Kevin, how are you?

I have to tell you that I actually feel a little older than I did this morning because I have been trying to work out when it was that I first saw you playing live. I first saw you supporting The Who at Wembley Stadium way back in 1979 (laughter).

(Laughter) what a great tour that was with The Stranglers, The Who and Bon Scott who was still singing with AC/DC if I remember correctly. That was back in my drinking days and no matter what time of night, I would head off down to the lobby, which is a great thing about being in Europe as you could usually drink in the lobby all hours of the night. It seemed that it didn’t matter whether it was 3am or 5am Bon Scott was always there, in blue bell bottoms and no shirt on; shooting pool while drinking some hard liquor (laughter). I never got to know Bon well but he was always friendly and it was always nice not to be the only guy in the lobby drinking at 4am (laughter).

So how is life treating Nils Lofgren?

Beautifully Kevin. I am here with my lovely dog and my beautiful Jersey wife Amy. We have a beautiful quite place in Arizona. The awful summer heat has gone and we are now into a beautiful five months of mild weather and I am just glad to be home. I got home in May after a twenty six month tour with the E Street Band which was exhilarating and beautiful but of course it was exhausting. You get home feeling a little beat up but now I am getting my strength and my sea legs back. I am starting to memorise lyrics and I’ve been practising for the first tour of my solo work that I have done in a few years now.

You appear to enjoy touring here in the UK. Is that the case?

Yes I do Kevin, I really do. I have had some very historic runs in the UK in the past forty years, starting with Tonight’s The Night way back in 1973. I am so excited to be coming back, and playing my own music. We are hoping to do a great show for everybody.

On the subject of your own music, tell me about your latest project, Face The Music; the ten cd box set which is a retrospective look at your past work?

Well Kevin as you say it is a ten cd box set which covers the best of forty five years of recordings, which includes basement tapes and bonus tracks, together with songs that nobody has ever heard. There is a wealth of unheard music to put into my shows that I have been doing for a number of years.

Staying with the box set for a while, how was it going over your entire career?

It was really wonderful Kevin. I rarely listen to my old recordings, so at first I was thinking that it was going to be more work than fun. But once I got into it and realised that the record company had given me complete freedom to assemble 189 tracks in whatever order that I saw fit, and they also made me the promise that they would go out and get the rights to those tracks, which they did, then it was really a great stroll down memory lane.

To be honest I had forgotten about a lot of the work that I had done. I was always thinking about the next job or the next set of songs, and of course I have been in a lot of great bands which I love the most. So it was a really powerful challenge. Also my job was figuratively, never wanting to get off the couch and skip a track (laughter). There are a lot of good tracks that I left off but I just wanted to be able to listen to everything in a new order, and have it still mean something emotionally to me and I was able to do that. So thanks go out to Fantasy Records who went out and got the rights to every track that I picked.

When you were listening to all of the tracks, did there ever come a point where you thought ‘I could have done that better’?

(Laughter) yes Kevin I did, but I accepted a long time ago now that it would be a natural reaction to have. First of all it was like, well it’s now forty five years later and I would hope that I am singing and playing a little better (laughter). Also I would hope that I had a little more knowledge and wisdom to apply. But you know what; something that I very soon realised was that there was real charm and power to a bunch of 19 year olds busting our asses working together on a farm in the dead of winter in Warrington, Virginia, and then rehearsing at 3am in front of a wood fire in the ice house out the back. You are living with your crew; you go and play constantly everywhere, and when you have a guy like David Briggs who produced Grin, to lead us and teach us, so yes I still think that when I sing like I did in Grin that I must be singing better now (laughter).

But there was a charm to that hard work and inspiration and here we were; young kids with a record deal. Also, we grew up in the 60’s so I saw Jimi Hendrix a lot. I saw The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones, and I saw some very powerful performers like, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown. I saw all of the British Invasion; Jeff Beck and The Truth, and in truth I followed that band all over the East Coast of America. So in answer to your question Kevin, I look back and think that I will get to sing it better when I am performing in the UK in January (laughter). I have given up on wishing that I could have sung things differently forty five years ago. I was singing well enough then to get a recording deal and make a record of some powerful songs which we did together, and in honesty there is a charm to that and a power to that, that I wouldn’t want to change.

Is there anything that you have had to leave off which made you wish that you could just squeeze one last track into the set?

Yes Kevin, there were probably twenty or so of those (laughter) but at some point I had to say no as ten discs was the limit (laughter). I did want to have a DVD of some unusual things for the people to see and hear so we filled it up, complete with bonus tracks, and also I wanted to be chronological. One regret would have been having to leave off my version of the Carole King song Going Back, but I didn’t want to put it on a disc that would have represented my work two decades later. So we just filled it up but I will get to sing the ones that I left off at my live shows.

You have mentioned some fantastic artists there, who has inspired you?

When I first started out in the business Kevin I was a classical accordionist having studied from the age of 5 years old until I was 15. God bless my mom and dad for paying for accordion lessons for me for ten years. But then I fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll through The Beatles and then The Rolling Stones. And that then opened the flood gates for The British Invasion, Stax/Volt, Motown, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and everything that I discovered I discovered it through The Beatles and The Stones. I picked up the guitar as a hobby when I was 15 years old having no intention of ever being a guitar player. In Middle-America no one ever thought that you could do what The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix did for a living.

Then when I was 16, I saw The Who performing in Washington DC and after their gig had finished I crossed over town to see The Jim Hendrix Experience play late at night and I saw Pete Townshend in the audience. It was that night that I was possessed with the idea that instead of playing the blues and rock guitar as just a beautiful hobby, I got the idea that night that I wanted to try to be a rock musician.   And sure enough, one year later at 17 years old I hit the road with my band Grin and that was forty six years ago this September.

Talking of being out on the road, you are touring the UK in January 2015. Are you looking forward to being back over here again?

Oh yes, it’s been a three year break as we usually come over every year, and it’s also a place that my wife loves so much so she will be coming with me. The beauty of touring the UK Kevin, is that once we land we don’t have to see another airport again for almost four weeks. We have a great bus with a great crew, to take us all over the country. We have a really great team who I have been working with for fifteen years now. It’s just a great run over there. I can get myself settled in a room in the venue and start planning a set-list, knowing that there are a few hundred people coming to the show who are all expecting something special. I can just prepare and then give it to them. That is my favourite thing to do; perform live. The UK is like a second home for me and I always feel very comfortable when I’m over there.

I hear that you don’t particularly like the process of recording records?

That’s right Kevin, I simply don’t have a natural patience for making records (laughter) so that is a bit of work for me. Even if it is a great song I don’t really want to play it for three hours (laughter). So making records requires a bit of elbow grease and effort, whereas playing live is where I feel most at home. I really relish being on a stage in front of an audience. You never stop and start and you can also take chances. There is also room for some rough edges just as long as you are down in it emotionally and looking for something special, then people get it. They stay with you and keep you in the moment. It really is a beautiful thing.

Do you ever get the chance to see any of the country whilst you are over here?

Not a lot. When you are doing sixteen shows in nineteen days you don’t really get the chance to see much. Usually what I do is wait until the crew are all in the venue and then I like to go for a walk around the streets of the town. I will try to find a coffee to take away (laughter) and just try to get the feel for where I am at. I’ve being doing this now for over forty years and I will continue doing it. I guess that I will have to bundle up a bit in January, but I will have my wife with me to keep me warm. It’s really like a kind of a home coming for us because Amy and I have had many, many great adventures in the UK. We have had some romantic times touring the UK on our bus and we are both very excited to get back over there and to have another run there.

I have to ask, has the trampoline finally been put to rest?

Yes it has Kevin (laughter). Six years ago now to my horror, between the trampoline and jumping off PA stacks and playing basketball of all things, for three hours a day five days a week, in terrible city courts made of cement; I destroyed all of the cartilage in my hips. Both hips were bone on bone for many years and I was in agony. So six years ago I had both hips replaced and I had a great surgeon, Dr. Paul Pellicci, in New York City and he replaced both of my hips at the same time (laughter). It was kind of horrific but he did a great job. He had assured me that if I kept doing the back flips on the trampoline and playing basketball, I would be crippled within one year. So I have put the trampoline into the closet and that is where it will remain.

So do you now set of the alarms at the airports?

Every time Kevin, every time (laughter). So now I have to just sit there and get fondled, and patted down and make sure that I allow an extra fifteen minutes every time that I fly (laughter). It’s a small price to pay to be out of pain and hopping around again.

I can’t speak to you without mentioning the E Street Band.

Of course, I am very proud to be a thirty year member and they have just put us into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame which was both beautiful and bittersweet. I have always thought that they should have figured it out before we buried Clarence (Clemons) and Danny (Federici). Shame on them. Nevertheless, Amy is from Jersey and I met her at The Stone Pony. She is a huge fan of the E Street Band as am I, so it was great to go to the induction in New York and then Brooklyn and have a few days with dear friends, and the band and the crew who were there. It was a beautiful show, and one of our heroes, Peter Gabriel was also inducted. The women that night did a great tribute to Linda Ronstadt which was probably the greatest performance of the night.

But then to get up on stage with Bruce (Springsteen) and the band to play was beautiful and of course we are quite honoured at the award. And of course in classic bureaucratic rock and roll style, on the flight home my wife pointed out to me that the paint had started chipping off my statue (laughter). The madness and the bureaucracy that is in every business including rock and roll (laughter). However at the end of the day the band belong in there and the induction is long overdue especially for my bandmates as they took it a lot harder than me because I have only been there for thirty years (laughter). However it’s a nice honour and I was glad to share it with my wife and friends.

Is it as much fun being in the band as it looks from offstage?

Oh yes, I learned at 18 years old after I had done After The Gold Rush with Neil Young that it is fun to wake up and not have to be the boss every day. It’s nice to be on a team; to be in a great band, and to have someone else be the leader. When you are the lead guy you sing all of the songs and you play all of the solos which is fine and I enjoy that. But you don’t really get to sing harmonies with great singers and you don’t really get to play a lot of rhythm guitar or secondary instruments. I love doing that and it has been a very healthy part of my journey with Neil Young, the Ringo Starr Band, and the E Street Band of course, so I long learned that I really enjoy being in a great group and not being the leader every day of my life.

But now here I am getting back to my own shows. I’ve had a three year break from it so I am very excited and inspired about it. Having said that, I am not really musically rusty because I have had twenty six months on the road, and you get very challenged as a musician when you are in the E Street Band (laughter). For me it is all part of a journey that has served myself very well; going off and being in some really great bands and then coming back to my solo work.

So after the tour together with Face The Music, the box set which is being received very well, what next for Nils Lofgren?

Well Kevin, I am giving myself permission at the moment to concentrate on the touring itself (laughter). My plan is that when I get back home in January after a successful run in the UK, I will start writing and see what comes out. And I hope to get another studio album recorded next year. I hope that if this tour goes well that I will be able to get out and play more and that you will have me back in the UK in the fall next year. I just want to get back to writing and recording another album. I have no idea what it will be but that is my next big recording project. One of the best ways to kick off that next chapter is to do a series of great shows because that is where I am most inspired by the audience.

On that note may I just say thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

You too Kevin and thank you for letting people know what I am up to. All the best Kevin, it was good speaking to you, thank you.