A teenage musical prodigy, Lofgren first came to attention when he played with Neil Young on his “After the Gold Rush” album, aged just 17. This led to his then band, Grin signing a record deal and releasing four largely unsuccessful albums between the years 1971–1973.
Signed to a solo deal with A & M, Nils found the spotlight in both the USA and the UK with his first two solo albums “Nils Lofgren” and “Cry Tough”. Released in 1975 and 1976 respectively, these pre-punk albums and Nils’ young gunslinger guitarist reputation caught the public’s attention with the combination of Nils tough and sweet songs and explosive guitar playing.
Nils Lofgren was at this point poised to become one of the next big US stars and his reputation was enhanced with his incendiary live shows, as captured on the “official” 1975 promo only live album – “Back It Up!” (which only appeared as a general release in 2007). A gymnast in his early school days, his trademark live trick was to do a trampoline flip while playing the guitar on stage.
Here’s Nils on “The Old Grey Whistle Test” from 1975 playing “Back It Up” from his debut album. This was his first mainstream UK TV appearance.
A combination of a change in the musical landscape with the punk rock explosion and the less-well critically received follow –up albums “I Came To Dance” and “Night After Night, saw his commercial appeal start to falter (although both of the albums mentioned made the US Top 50), and none of his subsequent LPs charted in the US Top 50.
Whilst maintaining a steady series of solo releases, Nils next came to mass attention when he replaced Steve Van Zandt in the Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, first appearing with Springsteen on his massive “Born In The USA” worldwide tour. When Van Zandt returned to the E Street line up, Nils was retained with the E Street Band and Nils has continued to record/play with the Boss whenever the E Street Band has been called in to action.
Here’s Nils adding typical full 70s wig-out solos (2 minutes in, and then again at 4minutes 30 seconds) on Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love”
Springsteen has returned the favour on Nils’ own solo albums – here’s the official music video for “Valentine” from the Silver Linings (1991) album with Bruce on backing vocals (Ringo Starr on drums!) and a great fluid melodic guitar part from Nils.
When not playing with Springsteen, Lofgren continues to tour and put out albums as a solo act (he has now over 20 solo albums to his name). Sometimes appearing alone, sometimes with one other instrumentalist, and sometimes in a group format, Lofgren always puts on an exhilarating live show with a mix of newer songs and classics from his early solo albums. He still has a guitar technique which can combine both intricate fast and fluid frills and real rock guitar – whether acoustic or electric. Here’s a fantastic solo acoustic clip of Nils playing “Keith Don’t Go” – a classic from his debut album and still a highlight of his set today:
Nils always comes out post-show to meet the crowd, sign autographs and just chat with his fans. If he plays a solo show anywhere near your town – go see him, you won’t be disappointed. Believe!
Although Nils has a wide range of guitars, he is most closely associated with Fender and the Fender Stratocaster – in particular the 1961 model. See this Nils promo video for Fender for a great close up of his playing:
The Loner – Nils sings Neil