Every musician should have Nils Lofgren’s problem.
The guitarist gigs in three groups: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and his own combo.
Who gets priority? The Boss, of course.
“I always stay in touch with [his] management office and check to see if there are any conflicts,” Lofgren said. “There’s enough notice where you can juggle it all.”
Well, not always. His performance Friday at the Dakota in Minneapolis is actually a make-good after canceling a show there three years ago when Springsteen extended his The River 2016 Tour.
The sold-out concert marks the debut of Lofgren’s latest ensemble and the start of his first solo outing in 15 years.
“I wouldn’t use the word nervous — over-amped a little; too excited, maybe, for opening night,” he said last week from his Arizona home, where the band was about to begin a week’s worth of rehearsal. “It’s such a great band but we’ve never played together as a group.”
The tour coincides with Lofgren’s first solo studio album in eight years, “Blue With Lou,” issued two weeks ago.
Bonding with Lou Reed
The title refers to the late Lou Reed, the rock hero who co-wrote half of the songs.
Theirs was an odd match arranged by producer Bob Ezrin back in 1978 when Lofgren was unhappy with the lyrics for a new project.
He visited Reed’s New York apartment and the two rockers bonded over whiskey and pro football while watching the Washington Redskins (Lofgren’s team; he grew up in D.C.) play their archrival Dallas Cowboys (Reed’s team, for unknown reasons).
In a long postgame conversation, they talked about possibly co-writing. Lofgren mailed Reed a cassette tape of music with tentative titles. Three weeks later, out of the blue, Reed called Lofgren at 4:30 a.m.
Turns out Reed had been up three days straight, penning lyrics to Lofgren’s music, and he wanted the multi-instrumentalist to hear them as soon as possible.
“I put on a pot of coffee, got a pad and pencil and spent a couple of hours taking dictation,” Lofgren recalled. “All of a sudden I wrote 13 songs with the great Lou Reed.”
Three ended up on “Nils,” his 1979 solo album, and three on Reed’s “The Bells” album that same year. One more showed up on each of Lofgren’s albums in 1995 and 2002. And five languished until now.
Lofgren also wrote a tribute to Reed, who died in 2013, during the end of Springsteen’s River tour.
“I started working on a slide bottleneck riff I wrote in Australia. I started singing ‘blue with Lou’ ’cause it fit the rhythm. I wanted a vehicle to speak to what Lou meant to me.”
There are two other tribute songs on the album. “Dear Heartbreaker” is about the late Tom Petty, not a close friend but someone Lofgren admired since Petty opened for him in the late 1970s.
“For months, every day [Lofgren’s wife] Amy and I would wake up and start expressing rage and sadness that we lost Tom. As a note to self and to Tom, I started singing this one verse about you’re not backing down, letting the music live. It was almost like a personal thing I’d sing to Tom in the room where I hang out with the dogs. Then another verse came, and another verse. And I had five verses.”
Lofgren penned the Irish wake-like “Remember You” as a tribute to one of his four beloved dogs, who are pictured in the new CD’s booklet. But the song could be about any loss.
“Our dogs are really the heart and soul of our home,” he said. “We’re just carrying on with the memories. That’s what we all do. It’s part of getting older. Losses mount up.”
Crazy once more
The musicians who play on “Blue With Lou” will accompany Lofgren on tour: drummer Andy Newmark, bassist Kevin McCormick, singer Cindy Mizelle and keyboardist Tom Lofgren, Nils’ brother and bandmate in the band Grin back in the early ’70s.
But before the group could gather to rehearse, the guitarist had another unexpected assignment: Record with his old pal Young in Colorado for several days.
“I think it will be a work in progress over the year, but we had a good start, ”Lofgren said. “There’s more recording to come; I don’t know when. He’s on the road.”
Lofgren, whose association with Young and Crazy Horse goes back to the landmark 1970 album “After the Gold Rush” and 1975’s “Tonight’s the Night,” rehearsed with bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina in South Dakota for four days before heading to Winnipeg. His only practice with Young was during soundcheck at the first concert.
“Just before the show he said, ‘I don’t feel like writing a set list. Let’s just go out and see what comes.’ Which is kind of hilarious and beautiful.
“After ‘Tonight’s the Night,’ nothing surprises me. That was the most raw, seat-of-your-pants, don’t-even-know-the-songs-that-well, live-recording-in-a-rehearsal-hall-in-Hollywood that I’ve ever done. It served me well and imprinted me in a great way.”
It was 50 years ago when Lofgren, then 17, went to a Young performance at the Cellar Door in D.C. and Young took him under his wing. A year later, Lofgren was recording and gigging with Young.
Last September marked 50 years on the road for Lofgren. This year is his 35th anniversary with the E Street Band.
Lofgren has heard Springsteen’s new single, “Hello Sunshine,” from the June solo album, “Western Stars.” He doesn’t know what the Boss’ plans are.
“I know he’s been sitting on this record for a few years. I’m hoping next year he’ll want to fire up the band. There are no plans. That’s my hope. Hopefully, later in the summer or fall, Neil will want to keep recording. But hopes are hopes. And I take it as it comes.”