AS HIS TOUR RESUMES in the UK, Bruce Springsteen has been in touch with MOJO to sing the praises of one of his E Street Band’s key stalwarts: guitarist Nils Lofgren.
Lofgren, who is the subject of the MOJO Interview in the edition of MOJO magazine that lands on UK newsstands July 18, and whose latest solo album – Mountains – is released on July 21, joined the E Street band in 1984, filling the hole created by the departure of Steve Van Zandt. Since the latter’s restoration to the group in 1995, the pair have operated in tandem as support to Springsteen on stage and on record.
“Nils is a unique combination of talents: musical and psychological and emotional,” Springsteen told MOJO.
Asked about Lofgren’s ‘special moves’ as a bandmate, Springsteen chuckled: “Well, he plays the guitar pretty well, in a way that a lot of other people can’t. And what’s unusual about him is he’s got a great voice, so he’s actually a fabulous frontman. But he is also egoless. He'll get up and he’ll just play guitar all night.
“Nils is kind of underused in the E Street Band,” Springsteen reflected, “as are many of the other members, you know, because the band is about its balance. He’s very, very generous with his playing and with his time. The kind of time that he puts into working on your work, your vision, your material, is very special.”
Reflecting on Lofgren’s specific strengths as a guitarist, Springsteen noted: “He plays very melodically and he has a lot of technique. Steve [Van Zandt] and I are both rock guitarists – we squeeze the neck until it squeals – but there’s a musicalness to Nils’s playing that is uniquely his.”
Springsteen cast his mind back to the pair’s earliest encounter…
“We auditioned for [legendary promoter] Bill Graham the same night at the Fillmore West in 1970. I played with my band Steel Town and then I hung around the rest of the night. This band Grin came on and played. I noticed this guy playing guitar through a Leslie [rotating speaker cabinet] which was not that usual. And that was Nils. Grin was only a three-piece band, and Nils really caught my attention.
“Later, we met again at Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles. He had just fallen out with his record company. But his first solo record [Nils Lofgren, A&M, 1975] was tremendous. On the cover, there’s a picture of him in front of a carnival [backdrop] and, I mean, the guy just looks like he’s gonna be a superstar, you know?
“Anyway, he told me about what happened and he said, ‘I wouldn't mind just playing guitar in a great band.’ I think he mentioned Bad Company at the time. That would have been late ’70s. But I always remembered it. And so, when Steve left the band, I was thinking, well, Nils is incredible. So I called him up and I said, ‘Do you still want to be a guitarist in a band?’ He came to my house in New Jersey, and woodshedded like I’ve never seen anybody woodshed. [E Street Band drummer] Max Weinberg is maybe the only other guy that rehearses like that – you know, just rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, till he knew everything frontwards and backwards. And I mean, like, a hundred songs! He lived with me for quite a while and that was the beginning of Nils and the E Street Band.”
Asked for a Nils highlight in a typical E Street Band set, Springsteen said, “He plays the hell out of Because The Night. And that’s where he solos, of course. He really stands out there. But his tonal addition to the group is also very strong. You know, everyone in the E Street Band is underplaying according to what they really can do. But he's got a beautiful tone on his guitar, and between Steve and Nils, they blend really, really well.”
And Lofgren as a person?
“He’s also about the nicest guy you've ever met. They don't come any sweeter. They don't come any more thoughtful. Any more generous. He's exactly who he appears to be. And you know, just an incredible guy to be in a band with.”
Bruce Springsteen plays Hyde Park London tonight – Thursday, July 6 – and Saturday July 8. Read MOJO's report from The E Street Band's triumphant return to Edinburgh HERE.
Read the MOJO Interview with Nils Lofgren when it publishes on July 18. The current issue of MOJO magazine, featuring an exclusive Bruce Springsteen interview, is on sale now. More info and to order copy HERE.