Monday , June 24 2024
Nils Lofgren - Weathered

Interview with Nils Lofgren (Part Two): On Working with Lou Reed, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen

For fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, there has been no shortage of new music and news of late, even during a pandemic. The Boss jammed (virtually) with the Dropkick Murphys at Fenway Park and contributed vocals on a new Bon Iver song (“AUATC”). He and wife Patti Scialfa appeared on Dion’s new LP, Blues with Friends, and Scialfa has new music for a teen drama (Pearl). Max Weinberg covered The Misfits – that is not a misprint – and Little Steven recently released a box set. And Nils Lofgren is set to release a new 2CD live set August 21 called Weathered (which is available to preorder now).

On Friday, August 7, I talked to Mr. Lofgren about the new release, his work with Lou Reed in the late ’70s, his history and reunion with Neil Young & Crazy Horse, what goes into playing live with Springsteen, and more. Read here for Part One. This is the second part of my interview.

Speaking of Bruce, did you ever hear his uncredited vocals to the title track of Lou Reed’s album Street Hassle while you were writing/recording with him in 1978? Or did you find out later on like the rest of us?

No, that’s news to me. That’s fascinating. I’ll have to check that out. Lou and I, we wound up writing 12 to 13 songs together but we never actually recorded together.

Actually fast-forward to the mid-‘90s on the Damaged Goods record, we did another song called “Life.” Lou happened to be in New York, came down late at night, and we played him the final mix. We had just gotten Branford Marsalis to play a beautiful, haunting sax part on it, one of my favorite co-writes with Lou. I’ll always remember how happy Lou was with the track. And we had a nice talk about the acoustic guitar, an old Gibson L-10 from the ‘20s that I used, and Lou really liked the part. Yeah, that’s a nice piece of information.     

Cool. And you also put out “Driftin’ Man” [co-written with Reed] not too much later on [2001 LP] Breakaway Angel, right?

Yeah, so that takes us up to eight songs that we used out of a dozen or so. I always thought in the back of my mind we’d revisit them, maybe some of them together. And then tragically Lou passed away [in 2013], which is a great loss. At that point, I wasn’t ready to make a record, but I knew the next time I recorded one, I had to share those songs that got left behind that we wrote together.

You also have “City Lights” that you redid for Blue with Lou [Lofgren’s 2019 LP]. But there’s two other songs in addition to “City Lights” you and Lou wrote together that he released on his 1979 LP, The Bells: “Stupid Man” and “With You.” Do you have any recordings of those two in your vault?

You know, I don’t and I regret that too. It was such a whirlwind time. I was so busy putting the [1979] album Nils together with Bob Ezrin. … Since I had a lot of songs written that I didn’t like the lyrics to, Lou said, “Send the tape.” And I just put sketches on an upright piano or an acoustic guitar on a cassette.

To this day of course, I should’ve put that inside of a vault and saved it, which I did not. But they were very primitive sketches with all the lyrics I didn’t want to use. … “City Lights,” which Lou did on The Bells, he did it in a narrative style. And I remember him saying, “I love your chorus. I’m gonna keep [it] but I wrote a story about Charlie Chaplin.” Years later, I’m not a narrator like Lou, but I always wanted to use the original melody [for my version]. So that was the sixth song we did.

Nils Lofgren - Weathered

Yes it is.

And once again, to complete the saga, I asked my friend Branford Marsalis to play another brilliant sax part on that one too [“City Lights”].

I was wondering, does Little Steven or Bruce have plans to bring you on their [SiriusXM] radio shows anytime soon?

Not that I know of. I’m organizing some thoughts to do a guest DJ spot on E Street Radio. I’ve done that a couple of times. I stay in touch with everyone in the band. I feel disembodied here with the pandemic. My wife Amy and I have been isolating here [in Arizona] since March 10. Thank God we have each other and our beautiful dogs, and our son Dylan is fine down the road. But other than staying in touch and encouraging each other to stay healthy and safe, that’s the extent of it right now. I’m always open to interact in any fashion with any of my dear friends.     

Heck I was gonna start April 29 in Chicago on a Neil Young & Crazy Horse tour. I was thrilled to take the last album we made, Colorado, which came out last October, and get back out with Neil and CH, one of my oldest musical families. I met Neil when I was 17 on the first CH tour, and me and the band have been friends ever since. And at age 18 I got to make the After the Gold Rush album.

I was very excited to tour with CH and even hoping to take the Weathered band back out at the end of the year for a brief run and maybe next year get out and play with E Street – it was the hope. But all that’s gone away for the time being or until we get the handle on not just the pandemic but obviously a lot more problems we need to address.

I was so thrilled when I heard you were back with Crazy Horse and on the Colorado album. I’ve been following Neil’s career for a long time too and I still have his Waging Heavy Peace book near me.

Great book.

It is – and a big one too! Back to Little Steven for a second. In January, he told Rolling Stone he was looking forward to touring with Springsteen and the band again because to him it’s like a vacation. Do you feel the same way when you’re touring with the E Street Band?    

I don’t know if I’d call it a vacation. I’d call it as great a gift as you can get as a performer. … It’s a beautiful ride because every morning you know the bandleader and singer [Bruce] is gonna bring his “A” game. It excites you to do what you have to do. And you know it’s different now. I’ve got two metal hips and torn shoulders (laughs) and I’ve just hit [age] 69.

The last 15 to 20 years of touring has a different look in the sense that “Ok, today I need to get to the gym” … and stretch a little bit … and work on these foot pedals at 1:30 in the afternoon and make little notes to myself. And that’s the thing, working with Neil, Bruce or even Ringo and his All-Star Band, they just give you so much freedom to be yourself. And it excites you. You know it’s gonna be a great night. It’s just a question of what’s your contribution going to be.

I’m a big sports junkie. I played sports my whole life. It’s almost like every night feels like a Super Bowl. The difference is you’re playing for a hometown crowd and you’ve been guaranteed a win. And you’re just working on the point spread. That’s how it feels when I’m on the road with the E Street Band.    

Bruce keeps things fresh by always changing the setlists, like say 30 minutes before the show sometimes, or something like that?

Well and you know, we’ve often changed the opening song on the way to the stage.

That’s crazy (laughs).

And we’ve never followed a setlist. You know it’s gonna change. Sometimes it’s useless after three or four songs. … But it just gives you an idea what he’s thinking and you’re always ready for changes. I think it was on the Wrecking Ball Tour we played almost 270 different songs. And we’d pull signs out of the audience, do improv. So you’ve got to be ready for anything.

The band usually pulls in at 4:30, we do a soundcheck and get some surprises from Bruce. But they keep coming, all the way ‘til opening song and on through the night. There’s arrangement surprises, song surprises, improv. Everyone’s free to contribute.    

Amazing. 270 songs? That’s a lot.

That’s a lot.  

Do you guys ever take a peak at the signs in the crowd, maybe during the soundcheck?

Yeah we see them occasionally. But you might see 50 different signs and you don’t know which one Bruce is gonna pick. You’re so involved in the moment really that it’s just a side trip. I’m mostly just focused on the band and Bruce ‘cuz you’ve got to watch him all the time for the cues and changes ‘cuz they’ll be coming every song.

That about does it for my questions. Is there anything else coming up in the pipeline for you, aside from the E Street guest DJ spot?

I’m going to be doing a remote song for the Susan Axelrod CURE Epilepsy charity. Amy and I have been involved the last few years. It’s a beautiful charity coming up at the end of September. They’ll have it online and they make great use of the money for research and help to families so in need. It’s one of the most underfunded diseases that we have. So if people want to check that out and donate, it would be beautiful.

That’s about it. My next step is to get healthier and think about writing some more songs. But since we can’t go out and play live music, I’m thrilled I have a double-live CD [Weathered] for people to get that live hit as best they can through the record release.

Absolutely. Nils, this has been a great honor. My best to you and the family.   

Thanks, Charlie. Good to talk to you. Take care of yourself.

You too.

About Charlie Doherty

Senior Music Editor and Culture & Society (Sports) Editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Prior writing/freelancing ventures: copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. Keep up with me on

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