Nils Lofgren, from solo albums to Bruce Springsteen
E. Street Band guitarist talks new music and losing saxophonist Clarence Clemons
Guitarist Nils Lofgren will perform two nights at Rams Head On Stage. In addition to his solo work, Lofgren is a member of the E Street Band and has played with Neil Young. (Mark Hendrickson, Handout photo / October 24, 2011)
His new album, "Old School," which comes out Nov. 1, will be his 37th solo record, according to his website. Not that he's keeping count.
"I can't tell how many of my own records I've made," he says. "The numbers aren't important. For me, what's important is that I had the idea to write another one."
Though he now lives in Arizona with his wife, Amy, Lofgren still has ties to the area. He grew up in Garrett Park, played in the rock band Grin in the early '70s and keeps a home in Gaithersburg. For a musician who's seen the world, Lofgren says it's "a stroll down memory lane every time I get back to Maryland."
Lofgren, who wraps up his fall tour at Rams Head On Stage Saturday and Sunday, says there are perks to performing in the area.
"I'm excited about finishing the tour in Annapolis," he says. "I get a kick out of getting in my own car and driving to Gaithersburg [afterward]."
After finishing Springsteen's "Working On a Dream" tour two years ago, Lofgren slowly began writing new music at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home.
"Usually I let it be a hobby and give myself permission to write songs that won't be on a record because they're not that good," he says.
He put together 15 songs "with potential," he said. The album was almost there, but Lofgren says he needed to hit the road before finishing "Old School."
"There's an inspiration and energy that occurs in front of an audience that I've never been able to create at home," Lofgren says. "It really helped the recording process."
Lofgren's resume reads like a Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame roll call. Besides his own solo work, Lofgren has played on records and toured with Neil Young and Lou Reed.
And of course, there's Bruce. Lofgren was at the Springsteen house a few weeks ago, working on "Play It as It Lays," the next record from Patti Scialfa, The Boss' wife.
"Quite often, Bruce will play bass or keyboards, or just [be] in the nucleus of the band," he says.
Lofgren, who joined the E. Street Band at the same time as Scialfa in 1984, says he hasn't heard any plans for a new Springsteen tour. Lofgren is still dealing with the loss of his close friend, E. Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died in June at age 69 from complications following a stroke.
"I'm very heartbroken about the loss of Clarence," he says. "We were dear friends that spoke every week off the road. I'm allowing myself to grieve and not dwell on future E. Street Band plans right now."
Lofgren had just finished a show in London the night he heard of his friend's death. Two hours after he left the stage, Lofgren was packing his bags, getting ready to visit Clemons in Florida the following morning. That's when he got the call.
"Like everyone I hoped he would pull through," Lofgren says.
"I sing a song called 'Miss You Ray' about Ray Charles, and it's a metaphor for loss as you get older. … I've been changing the words a bit. It's a record dedicated to Clarence."
As the go-to guitarist for some of rock's greatest frontmen, Lofgren has had the good fortune of playing some of the best guitars ever made. Still, it comes as no surprise that his favorite is a classic.
"I'd probably take the '61 Strat that I've been playing since the late '60s," he says, perhaps as a testament to his career. "It's my most used and most liked guitar."
Whether it's his own solo material or his work with legends, Lofgren says it's all equally important to him.
"I don't care if I'm standing there with a tambourine," he says. "It's all being a part of a team."
If you go
Nils Lofgren plays Saturday (sold out) and Sunday at Rams Head On Stage, 33 West St., Annapolis. Doors open at 8 p.m. $49.50. Call 410-268-4545 or go to ramsheadonstage.com.