Scottsdale's Nils Lofgren Became Famous as a Member of the E Street Band; Now He Gets the Spotlight with New Box Set
Andrew Pielage A new box set offers a retrospective of Nils Lofgren's work. Slideshow here.
Nils Lofgren's ranch in Scottsdale almost feels hidden.
It's not far from the city, from the clubs of Old Town and the shops at Scottsdale Fashion Square, but his large plot shares none of the bustle. It's secluded and quiet, with mesquite trees rustling in a soft breeze.
Lofgren's spread is impressive. He and his wife share a beautiful 1935 adobe home, built by Arizona architect George Ellis, with their four dogs. A gorgeous '51 Chevy pickup sits on the lot, along with a 1968 Cadillac DeVille with a cow skull affixed to the grill. There's a full basketball court, though 63-year‑old Lofgren doesn't play as much as he used to -- he's going easy on his titanium hips, replaced just a few years ago after a life of pick-up basketball games and onstage stunts. Lofgren's short; his low center of gravity encouraged an aggressively physical performing style, incorporating dramatic back flips and guitar acrobatics.
Lofgren's career as a sideman is one of the most illustrious in rock 'n' roll history. Playing alongside Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Ringo Starr, he's toured the world and performed for massive crowds. But, along the way, he's always recorded his own music, building a massive discography. Like Lofgren's Scottsdale ranch, a spacious plot hidden in the midst of a busy metro area, his solo catalog is vast but obscured by the bright lights that surround it. Now, fulfilling a dream Lofgren long had abandoned, the musicians's solo work is set to get its due with the August 5 release of Face the Music, a comprehensive look at the music Lofgren created when he wasn't contributing to artists with huge name recognition.
Face the Music, a sprawling 10-disc retrospective from Fantasy Records, spotlights 45 years of Lofgren's songs. The collection spans his expansive but predominantly out-of-print back catalog, including songs from his early-'70s melodic rock band Grin, his major label solo albums from the '70s and '80s, tracks culled from his self-released albums from the '90s and 2000s, and outtakes, covers, and rarities.
The set features a 136-page book edited by noted rock writer David Marsh, as well as notes by Lofgren, photos, and quotes by his many admirers, including Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Bono, and Sam Moore of R&B duo Sam and Dave. The personnel list reads like something an enthusiastic rock critic might conjure in a fever dream, listing Neil Young, members of Crazy Horse, Paul Rodgers of Bad Company, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Nicky Hopkins of the Rolling Stones, rock pioneer Del Shannon, Merry Clayton, Edgar Winter, novelist Clive Cussler, and the late Rick James (yes, that Rick James) as contributors.
Weeks before the box set is to be released, Lofgren is dressed casually in black jeans and sneakers as he leads the way into his eight-car garage. The structure is adorned with a desert scene painted by local street artist Danny Campa. He's converted the garage into a rec room and studio. There are guitars and amps in every corner. The walls are lined with gig posters and photos: a Danny Clinch shot of late saxophonist Clarence "The Big Man" Clemons, Lofgren's longtime close friend and bandmate in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, and a photo of Lofgren hanging out on a boat with Springsteen -- "The Boss" in a literal sense for Lofgren.
Past the control room, where Lofgren records much of his solo work, is his guitar room. When he performs solo, he brings seven or eight guitars with him to clubs. When he heads out with the E Street Band, he loads up about 50. He's just returned from 34 dates with Springsteen on the High Hopes tour.
Since joining in 1984, Lofgren has been part of every incarnation of the E Street Band.
His tenure is the capstone of his career as a sideman. His big break came at the tender age of 17 when he began playing with Neil Young. Since then, in addition to the E Street Band, he's served as a member of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band and contributed guitar to albums and live performances by the likes of Stephen Stills, Foreigner, Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Seger, and Carl Perkins.
Lofgren is pictured on the cover of Face the Music in stark black and white, sunglasses and chop sideburns obscuring most of his face. He holds the box set in his hands, smiling. "It's all in here," he says, tapping it rhythmically.