The guitarist Nils Lofgren has toured and recorded with the strong-willed likes of Neil Young, Jerry Lee Lewis and, as a member of the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen. With the band Crazy Horse, of which he has been a recurring member since 1970, Lofgren is currently in the studio “somewhere in the Rockies” with Young. Earlier this year, he had joined Crazy Horse to back Young for the rock troubadour’s two homecoming concerts in Winnipeg. When his schedule permits, however, the veteran sideman releases his own albums, his latest being Blue With Lou, a gospel-infused collection that includes five songs he co-wrote long ago with the late Lou Reed. The 67-year-old guitarist spoke to The Globe and Mail from his home in Arizona.
In his words
It’s exciting to have a new album to share, and to have my own band together for the first time in 15 years. I’m looking forward to hitting the road with them.
For this particular project, Blue With Lou, I’m using five songs I co-wrote with Lou Reed. It was tragic we lost him. Back in the late 1970s, I was making a solo album with Canadian producer Bob Ezrin. I had a lot of demos that Bob and I agreed were great musically, but the lyrics were subpar. Bob suggested I do some co-writing.
Long story short, we went by Lou Reed’s studio in New York. He and Bob had worked together on Lou’s Berlin album in 1973. Lou was very friendly and suggested I come to his apartment the next week and talk about working together. Which was what I did.
The idea we arrived at was for me to send him the tapes of the music I had. I sent him a cassette of 13 songs.
A month went by. I kind of forgot about the co-writing with Lou. One night my home phone rang at about 4:30 in the morning. In the pitch dark, I answered. It was Lou. He’d been up three nights straight, with no sleep, working on the songs. He called me because he had finished 13 sets of complete lyrics he felt great about.
I was stunned. He told me to get a pen and paper and he’d dictate all the lyrics. So, I put on a pot of coffee and sat down for two hours-plus and very meticulously wrote down page after page on a yellow legal pad.
He told me he wanted to use three songs, including City Lights, which he wrote about Charlie Chaplin, for his own album, The Bells. I ended using three of the songs as well [for the 1979 album Nils]. Since then, I put out two more of the songs. I always thought that some day I would put out my own version of City Lights.
We kept in touch over the years. I was so grateful for that chapter in my life, particularly after we lost Lou [to liver disease in 2013]. I realized there were still songs of ours in the basement, unused. For this new album, I knew I had to get those unused songs Lou and I wrote into shape in order to share them.
I haven’t had a record deal in over 25 years. Record companies, in general, aren’t interested in me. It makes you feel like, “What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?”
I will say, though, working with the cast of characters I’ve worked with, from Bruce to Neil to Lou and others, who keep reaching out to me, it does give me musical validation. It’s also a musical reminder that it’s not just about how many records I’ve sold. It’s about creating and sharing music, especially live, whether it’s 200 people in a nightclub or a massive stadium with Bruce or Neil. It’s all just as important.
All you want is to send the fans home with some musical inspiration that you hope will be important in their lives in a meaningful way.