Interview with Nils Lofgren


“…nobody, including me, knew if Bruce wanted to even bother with another chapter without Clarence…”

By Dean Pedley


After almost five decades in the business Nils Lofgren is showing no signs of slowing down. Following the completion of the mammoth Wrecking Ball / High Hopes tour with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in May, the virtuoso guitarist is currently preparing for his first solo shows in the UK for some three years in January of next year. It has been a busy few months for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as he has also seen the release of a retrospective ten disc box set via Fantasy Records that encompasses his entire forty-five year recording career. With 169 tracks, Face The Music stretches back to his late 60’s recordings with Grin, a band he formed when still a teenager, and moves from his major-label solo albums and independent self-released music right through to 2011’s contemplative Old School.

Over the years Nils has been a regular visitor to this side of the Atlantic. “I first came over in ’69 and had a great time hanging out with Greg Reeves, the bass player with CSNY, and just to come to a famous rock and roll city like London for the first time was very exciting for me. And then in ’73 I was playing for the first time professionally with Neil Young and the Tonight’s The Night band. It’s been three years and usually I would come over every year but of course I had twenty six months on the road with the E Street Band so I’m not musically rusty but is exciting to be putting together my own show again with my buddy Greg Varlotta. My wife Amy is also slated to come with us so I’m very pleased to be coming back to the UK for my own solo shows after so long.”

The Wrecking Ball / High Hopes tour was the first without the late Clarence Clemons and saw the E Street Band visit more countries than any previous Springsteen tour, including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. “It was so overwhelming to lose Clarence and when we buried him on my sixtieth birthday I was so miserable. Amy dragged about thirty of us out to a birthday dinner that I did not want to go to and it turned out to be really healing experience… we laughed and we cried and it was very powerful. And at that time nobody, including me, knew if Bruce wanted to even bother with another chapter without Clarence and with Danny also lost. And the solution of a five horn section with Jake, Clarence’s nephew, playing some of the big solos and a mini choir of backing singers all worked out great.”


As anyone who has attended a show will confirm, a feature of Springsteen performances is his willingness to mix up the set lists night after night albeit this does keep the band on their toes. “I liked to go over a couple of hours ahead of everybody and then I would get a text from Bruce with seven different songs that I didn’t know how to play. But something that I always admire about Bruce is the improvisation… he has always changed things in the set list but in the last few years it has just got outrageous and there have been some insane arrangements. He would often point to different people for solos and so every gig was really inspiring and challenging. But the bottom line and the beauty of live music is that no matter what, at eight o clock you have to walk out there and you can’t buy your way out of it. The audience keeps you in the moment and it is a great place to take chances. When I’m soloing I call it “Going Fishing”… I trust my instincts and if I stumble on some magic then I may go another three minutes and if I don’t then I pull out and get back to the song. It is a very healthy and freeing environment for me to be in front of an audience with some great songs in any configuration whether I’m part of a great band or if I’m leading the show which I’m happy to do and feel comfortable with.”


Although Nils states he “never had any hit records”, his solo career has bought pleasure to many with songs such as ‘Shine Silently’, ‘Keith Don’t Go’, ‘Cry Tough’ and ‘Secrets in the Street’. After moving via several record labels in the 70’s and 80’s, in recent years he has taken the independent route to releasing his own music and become his own cottage industry. “It’s been about eighteen years now since I parted ways with the record industry and I just realised that without having massive hit records and making the record companies lots of money they weren’t really interested in me. I started in 1968 and by the 80’s and in particular the 90’s it started to become very oppressive and hands on. It took me about a year and a half to get out of my last record deal and at that point I recognised that I needed to be a free agent and maintain my freedom to do whatever I want. So I can share it through the website and take my time to craft records that I am really proud of.”

His most recent release was Old School in 2011, a record of which he is rightly very proud. “That was a very powerful record for me and I wanted to speak about the good and the bad of being around for a long time.” A song on the album originally written for Ray Charles, ‘Miss You Ray’, has become his own tribute to his late friend and bandmate. “I have started singing ‘Miss You C’ instead of ‘Miss You Ray’; I wrote that song a few months before we lost Clarence and as you get older every time the phone rings I cringe. But the point of that song is that you should not forget you have some friends and family left and you should still have some glass half full moments in your life.”

With so much of his music no longer available, the recent release of Face The Music has been a project Nils is delighted to have seen come to fruition. “For decades I would call the old record companies and I said to them; well it’s a buck and quarter to make a CD so let me give you five dollars a CD to get some of my old music out because a lot of it is extinct and they always refused. And then about two years ago Fantasy Records approached us and said they would like to put together a ten disc box set and they let me hand pick every track which in itself was shocking. So it was a lot of work, five decades of music, lost contracts, a number of different record companies but we had a great team that helped us to put it all together. Dave Marsh helped me write the story for the 136 page book and we worked with a great Art Director who used some terrific pictures. There are lost tapes, basement tapes, old Grin masters and I couldn’t be prouder of it. It is very much a grass roots thing but you can get it at and we will ship it over to England for you and it is also our intent to have some with us in January. I’m really amazed that after forty six years on the road someone has let me put together such a comprehensive set.”

“It plays very smooth and my template for picking the songs was that you could just sit back and enjoy it without having to get up off the couch to move the needle and that was no easy feat because I don’t really listen to my old music very much. So to dig back through so much material was a real journey for me and I had kind of forgotten how much I had done because I am so busy with the next chapter or the next gig so it was a real stroll down memory lane and a labour of love.”

Looking back over his long career has also provided some suggestions for the set list on the upcoming tour. “There are some bonus tracks that I had forgotten about and some of the old songs that I don’t usually play I am bringing out again. So I will try to break up the show with some of the old songs that people don’t usually hear me play. Greg will be tap-dancing and he will have his keyboards and guitars and I have got my electrics and acoustics and we are hoping to pick up where we left off. People do make requests and we also try to accommodate some of those where we can.”


As a recent video posted to evidences, Greg is the not the only tap-dancer who will be on stage, with Nils having taken it up as a hobby. “When I was younger I would play basketball and I also played football and soccer – your football – and as I got older I really fell in love with basketball and I would play in city courts probably five days a week. So between that and back flips and jumping off PA stacks to my horror I had bone-on-bone hips with no cartilage for many years and I hobbled around in agony. So six years ago I had them both replaced and the surgeon assured me that the trampoline had to go in the closet and I couldn’t play that type of basketball any more so I became interested in tap-dancing. Greg is a great teacher and he taught me and it is something I also admired in films like Stormy Weather and Bill Robinson from the Shirley Temple movies. And there are some spectacular tap-dancers where it becomes a percussion instrument and it is not just show and tell. So I picked it up as a hobby and I’m enjoying walking around with no pain and I am trying to be smart about it and find ways to express myself that are not dangerous to my body.”

Audiences may not see any back flips or trampolines anymore but the January tour still promises to be a terrific show. “The nice thing about coming to the UK is that there are so many towns that are close together and so once you land you don’t have to see an airport for three weeks you can just go from town to town on a bus. And I just love that… I love just getting off the bus and walking to get a take-away coffee and just getting a feel for the town that I’m in and knowing that there is a few hundred people coming to show that night and expecting great things. All I have to do is prepare and be ready to play a bunch of great songs and my beautiful wife will be coming along with me so that will greatly soften the blow of homesickness. We’ve had some wonderful times in the UK and are both really looking forward to getting back over there in January.”

For information on Face The Music and much more head over to

Visit the Nils Lofgren store here.

Tickets for the upcoming tour are on sale now across all usual ticket outlets.

0844 844 0444 / 0844 888 9991 / 0871 220 0260 –


Thursday 8 Jan Milton Keynes Stables 01908 280 800

Friday 9 Jan Cambridge Corn Exchange 01223 357 851

Saturday 10 Jan Cheltenham Town Hall 0844 576 2210

Sunday 11 Jan Bristol St. George’s Bristol 0845 402 4001

Tuesday 13 Jan Guildford G Live 0844 770 1797

Wednesday 14 Jan London Cadogan Hall 0207 730 4500

Thursday 15 Jan London Union Chapel 0844 844 0444

Friday 16 Jan Liverpool Philharmonic Hall 0151 709 3789

Sunday 18 Jan Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall 01892 530 613

Monday 19 Jan Birmingham Town Hall 0121 345 0600

Tuesday 20 Jan Basingstoke Anvil 01256 844 244

Thursday 22 Jan Leeds City Varieties 0845 644 1881

Friday 23 Jan Gateshead Sage 0191 443 4661

Saturday 24 Jan Glasgow City Halls 0141 353 8000

Sunday 25 Jan Salford Lowry 0843 208 6000

Monday 26 Jan St. Albans Arena 01727 844 488


Nils Lofgren - Copyright Jo Lopez
Nils Lofgren – Copyright Jo Lopez




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