By John Benson
Guitarist Nils Lofgren didn’t join Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band until 1984, but aside from becoming a member of the 2014 Rock Hall Inductee act, this veteran sideman and solo artist has enjoyed quite a star-studded history.
While playing with his Maryland teenage band Grin, Lofgren met Neil Young, who invited the 18-year-old to play piano and guitar on “After the Gold Rush.” From that point on, the multi-instrumentalist would balance a solo career with playing as a touring musician for some of rock music’s biggest names. This includes Young, Ringo Starr and Springsteen. Naturally, it’s the latter that has kept him busy.
Now, more than 35 years after Springsteen and The E Street band released its double-album “The River,” The Boss is turning back the clock and performing the 1980 album in its entirety. The tour comes through Cleveland for a Tuesday show at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Vindicator talked recently to Lofgren.
Q. What kind of memories do you have of the Rock Hall City?
A. Cleveland has been a fabulous rock town and audience, whether I’m with my many solo acts way back even with Grin in the early ’70s, and then of course E Street and the bigger shows. Is Swingos still there? One story comes to mind. It was with Grin. We had a great show and were back at the hotel roaming the halls, thinking we were having a fun time partying. And as things wound down at 4 a.m., we heard this massive racket in the hallway. There was a hockey team, completely drunk, just trashing the hotel. And at one point, the noise was so loud. There were these drunk hockey players dragging an entire Coke machine down the hallway, completely ripping up the carpet, to prop it in front of their roommate’s door so he couldn’t get out. It was some great practical joke. And we just all laughed, thinking, “Man, we thought we were having fun, but those guys beat us by a mile.”
Q. Regarding the current Springsteen and E Street tour in which you’re playing “The River” in its entirety, what is it like revisiting that material?
A. It brought back some memories. Back in 1980 or 1981, I was at the Sunset Marquis Hotel. Bruce was staying there, too. One morning he said, “I’m going over to the studio. I just finished mixing our new double record called ‘The River.’ Would you like to hear it?” So I rode over with him, we sat in a little room – just him and me – and I listened to the double album freshly mixed. I still remember feeling like Bruce and E Street had finally gotten the sizzle and electricity that’s in the air of a live show into the grooves of both these records.
Q. Now that you’ve been a part of that same electricity and magic heard nightly with the E Street Band, can you quantify its origin?
A. It’s just a natural thing that happens when you have a group of musicians that truly love the live arena. At this point, it’s a 10-man, two-woman band that all get that joy performing live. And then you have a leader who challenges himself by doing a lot of improv. He’ll change arrangements, point to different people and call different songs for the night. Never follow the set list. It’s just all like combined the osmosis of that, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s very true of E Street.
Q. Regarding your upcoming Cleveland show, any chance you’ll be reliving your Swingos days and dragging a soda machine in the middle of the night in front of Bruce’s room?
A. [laughs] With two bum hips and torn shoulders, no. I think those days are passed for us. But I’ll speak for myself, anyway.