Nils Lofgren, the rock singer-songwriter and guitarist of E Street Band fame, looks forward to a performance at The Birchmere this weekend as a “homecoming.”
Lofgren grew up in Maryland and began his career with the band Grin, which played across the Washington, D.C. area in the late ‘60s. In his teens, he was touring and recording with the group, and connected with Neil Young and became part of Young’s band.
The early experience launched a decades-long career in rock and roll which would see Lofgren release about 40 solo records, record and tour with acts like Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, and become a longtime member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Now 60, Lofgren is still going strong – he released his latest solo album, Old School, last November and, after an appearance with Bruce and the band on the Grammys last weekend, will be continuing his solo tour dates to promote the album.
Old School is the most recent addition to a solo career that began in 1975 when, after Grin recorded four albums, the critically acclaimed band did not record any commercial hits, and Lofgren became a solo artist in order to continue making music.
“I didn’t want to be a solo artist,” Lofgren said. “I wanted to be in my band, Grin.”
Since then, Lofgren has come to enjoy both sides of the music he makes – running a band, and taking a back seat and performing as part of a group.
“I love being in a great band. I’m very comfortable leading the band, but I’m also very comfortable being a part of a team, and not having to be the leader all the time,” Lofgren said. “It’s all part of the same journey – it’s just making great music with good people.”
Balancing his musical commitments meant time away from recording his self-penned solo work recently, but certainly not away from music – in the five years between the record and Sacred Weapon before it, Lofgren had recorded and toured on two albums with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and in between released a cover album of Neil Young tracks.
When the time to make a solo record presented itself, Lofgren enjoyed a spell at home in Arizona with his family and recorded an album in his home studio. Lofgren said, though, that the touring experience plays a positive role when it’s time to make an album.
“I got off the road from E Street, and we had just done two albums and two tours back to back,” Lofgren said. “So two things are happening – you’re excited and kind of refreshed about your next batch of songs, because it’s been a couple of years since you’ve really made a record, but you’re not musically rusty because you’ve been out playing with great musicians in front of people, which really keeps your skills sharp.”
Lofgren says the album, recorded while he was turning 60, contains songs that are informed by his life experience. His lyrics touch upon the highs and lows he’s seen from the other side of the hill – like in “Ain’t Too Many of Us Left,” when Lofgren recalls recovering from a double hip replacement.
He also discusses on the album the greater losses that come with spending more time on this earth, as in his song “Miss You Ray.” Originally recorded as a reflection on the loss of Ray Charles, a musical icon for Lofgren, the song has taken on a stronger meaning for Lofgren after the death of friend and E Street bandmate Clarence Clemons last summer.
“Clarence was one of my best friends, off the road and on the road,” Lofgren said. “We talked every week. We had a very powerful friendship. It’s a terrible loss.”
In recent performances, he has reworked the lyrics to render the song as “Miss You C.”
He’ll perform the song as such at his Birchmere show, in a performance which will run the gamut of his catalog, from his early Grin days to his most recent release. The two-night engagement, on Saturday and Sunday, will feature guest appearances by his three brothers.
With dates promoting his solo album, and with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band set to start touring again, 2012 marks Lofgren’s 44th year on the road making music.
“It’s been a long, beautiful ride – a lot of ups and downs, a lot of crazy and a lot of beauty – and I’m grateful for the journey,” Lofgren said.
• For more information about Nils Lofgren, visit nilslofgren.com.