Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Nils Lofgren: Road to Recovery

Nils Lofgren, seen here in an updated photo, got his start as a teenager, playing guitar with Neil Young. Last year he recorded an album of Young cover songs.

Photo credit: JAN LUNDAHL

The following story was posted on the Orange County Register Web site on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009.

Nils Lofgren is one of the most celebrated guitar players in rock, having played on Neil Young's seminal 1970 album "After the Gold Rush" while he was still in his teens.
Then after a brief stint with Young's hard-rocking Crazy Horse, Lofgren fronted Grin, which released four critically-acclaimed albums in the early 1970s.


This year marks Lofgren's 25th year as a full-time member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. While that famous outfit was on hiatus in the early 1990s, Lofgren toured with Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band (a troupe that also included the Eagles' Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh, as well as Todd Rundgren).
Since his 1975 self-titled debut, Lofgren has issued a number of strong solo works, the most recent being "The Loner – Nils Sings Neil," a 2008 release where Lofgren revisited 15 classic cuts by his long-time friend Young.


"I would have never thought of it; it was my manager Anson Smith," Lofgren said in a Friday, Jan. 23, 2009 phone interview. "He suggested I sing my favorite Neil Young songs acoustically.
"I wasn't sure I liked the idea, but we assembled about 30 songs and I spent a couple weeks just singing them in the mornings mostly, to my dogs and cats – not recording, not arranging, not producing, just singing.
"And I noticed after a couple weeks a handful stopped sounding like decent karaoke (versions) and started feeling something special that was more my own, and it was at that point I decided to do it," Lofgren said.


It took a combination of hard work and creativity for Lofgren to complete the CD during the E Street Band tour last year.
"I'm also such a fan of Neil's that I really felt there was no chance of it being a special record unless each performance was completely live with no (additional) production or overdubbing; just one instrument, one voice," Lofgren said.
"And so with that as the guidelines I went into the studio and in a very short period of time – I was looking for 10 or 12 songs and I got 15 that felt right. Billy Wolf (of Wolf Productions), a great engineer friend of mine, mixed them up with me while I was on the Springsteen tour.
"I flew in on days off and worked into the late hours with him and got it done and felt great about it," he said. "It was all live in the home and a very special project for me, a stroll down memory lane. I used an old piano that belonged to my wife's father, who she never knew – (it) had a lot of history to it
"And the D-18 guitar was what I used on the 'After the Gold Rush' project when I did not own an acoustic guitar," Lofgren said. "Neil Young lent his Martin to me, and gave it to me as a gift at the end of the sessions, which of course is my most treasured guitar and certainly the only one appropriate for this project."


Both the 2008 tour and recording of "The Loner" came while Lofgren was in a tremendous amount of pain. On Sept. 30, 2008, he flew to New York and had double hip replacement surgery. His appearance during the Super Bowl halftime show in Tampa on Sunday will be his first public performance since that procedure.
"Forty years on the road, a lot of them doing the back flip with the trampoline and jumping off drum risers; an enormous amount of basketball on city cement courts, I just tore my hips apart," Lofgren explained.
"The last 15 years they went bad, and finally over the last few years they were bone on bone and the doctors said there is nothing we can do for you except a complete replacement," he said. "I put it off a long time. Finally, it got so bad that I found a great surgeon in New York who was willing to do both at the same time and it was very successful.
"Now it's my job to rehab. I hope if I just keep doing my rehab right for the next 8 to 10 months, I'll be back to normal – well as normal as you can be with fake hips – I'm walking around and doing okay."


On Super Bowl Sunday, Lofgren and the rest of the E Street Band will likely be performing a mix of classic cuts, as well as material off Springsteen's newly-released "Working on a Dream." Lofgren said the final set list is something that will be decided by the Boss right before the highly-anticipated appearance.
The highly-publicized concert at the Super Bowl also provided Lofgren the perfect opportunity to reissue his 2001 effort, "Tuff Stuff! The Best of the All-Madden Team Band," which features Lofgren performing a number of blistering instrumental tracks.
Lofgren was born in Chicago in 1951, but it was a move to the Washington, D.C. area as a teenager that ultimately provided him with the inspiration that has served him over the past four decades.
"Actually, I fell in love with the sound of harmonics," said Lofgren, who has lived in Arizona since the mid-1990s. "Roy Buchanan, was a hero of mine in D.C. growing up, and I got to know Roy and went to see him play a lot and got to play with him a bit. He was the first person I heard who made harmonics sound like bells.
"He showed me how to do it with a flat pick and I don't play with a flat pick," he said. "So I figured out my own style with the thumb pick, and created something called bouncing harmonics where they kind of shimmer and bounce.
"And that's really where I was inspired and fell in love with that sound…way back in the mid '60s."


Because I have posted this story on my blog after the Super Bowl performance, I can note here that Nils did a great job and looked in fine form despite his surgery in late 2008. I'm sure he will be firing on all sonic cylinders when the E Street Band is out on tour beginning in April 2009.

3 comments:

Arby said...

You wrote "Nils Lofgren is one of the most celebrated guitar players in rock, having played on Neil Young's seminal 1970 album 'After the Gold Rush'..."

For the record, while it's true that Nils played guitar on this album, I think he's better known for his outstanding piano work on it, yes?

Mike Morrow said...

He played both guitar and piano but the interesting thing is he had hardly played the piano at all before those sessions. Young wanted him to play it because in typical Neil Young fashion he was looking for a raw, unpolished sound.

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