Nils Lofgren on Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen: ‘They both like ragged rock ‘n’ roll’
For the new album, early Crazy Horse member and recurrent Young collaborator Nils Lofgren is back in the fold, taking over for guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, who . has retired.
For the record:
1:58 p.m. Oct. 21, 2019An earlier version of this post said longtime Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro is not in the band’s current lineup because he is dealing with health issues. Sampedro has retired, according to Neil Young.
With Bruce Springsteen pursuing solo endeavors, Lofgren, 68, is temporarily free from his responsibilities as a longtime member of the E Street Band, allowing him to renew his working relationship with Young. That connection dates to 1970 when, at age 18, he first recorded with Young on the “After the Gold Rush” album.
“The whole idea was not learning songs too well, trusting your instincts,” says Lofgren. “That’s the heart and soul of that band.”
Lofgren also was in the Crazy Horse lineup in 1973, when Young recorded and toured with his “Tonight’s the Night” album, and again teamed with Young for his hotly debated 1982 electronic album and tour, “Trans.”
The guitarist, singer and songwriter told The Times that each stint with Young and Crazy Horse (which also includes bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina) is “like getting on a wild horse that just keeps throwing me. I get back on, the Horse throws me, and I get back on again.”
That process also is on full display in “Mountaintop,” the companion film about the making of the album that Young made with his wife, actress and filmmaker Daryl Hannah. It screens Tuesday for one night only in theaters around the country.
How did your latest return to Crazy Horse come about?
In the last year or so we had done seven shows as Crazy Horse. Frank Sampedro has done an amazing job, but after 37 years he’s done for now, so Neil asked me to jump on board with no rehearsals, and I was the right guy for that job.
How did that go?
On the last night, we felt we were really becoming a band. Neil didn’t want to do a set list; he just wanted us to walk out and play what comes to mind. It’s a reckless way to approach a show. But it was a great, great night.
And that’s what led to you also participating in making the ‘Colorado’ album?
I was just about to release my new album, and out of the blue, Neil called and said, “I’m sending you some new songs I’m writing. Is there any chance you could get to Telluride [Colorado, where Young and his wife, Daryl Hannah, took up residence recently] for a couple of weeks?” We jumped into it and started recording these beautiful new songs.
How is playing with Crazy Horse now different than it was back in the day?
There’s a clarity and confidence now because we’re way weathered. And there’s a gratitude for having the experience with old friends. There’s less chaos in our lives now. Peace brings focus and gratitude.
How does it compareto your years with Bruce in the E Street Band?
There are a great many similarities between Neil and Bruce. The only real differences are the tone in their guitars and their voices. Both want things to be immediate and emotional, not over-rehearsed. They don’t micromanage. They both like ragged, emotional rock ‘n’ roll. I guess when you look at things like “Tonight’s the Night,” Neil might let things get a little more ragged. But in both bands I’m given enormous latitude to play what I feel.
Crazy Horse is known for cranking things to 11. But there are some genuinely tender moments on “Colorado.” The track “Eternity” is a great example.
Ten years ago I had both my hips replaced after way too many years jumping off trampolines, drum risers and playing basketball in city courts for as much as 20 hours a week. After both hips were replaced, I took up tap dancing again, which used to be a hobby of mine. When I got that demo of “Eternity,” I got to the point where Neil sings “clickety-clack, clickety-clack,” like a train-track rumble. I was sitting in my chair and I started tapping my feet on the floor for fun.
When this Crazy Horse reunion began, I got the word, “Here’s where we’re gonna meet — send up your gear.” So I decided I’d also pack my tap board and mic. Neil told the engineer, “Nils is gonna be tap dancing,” so we plugged in my tap board. It was quite extraordinary. I actually get a credit on the album for it. It’s a beautiful, hopeful song.
Neil was originally planning a Crazy Horse tour for this fall, but it was put on hold after the death in June of his longtime manager, Elliot Roberts. That must have been a real shock for all of you.
That was brutal. Losing Elliot was a terrible blow. He was in the room when I walked in on them 50 years ago. He was always there to advise me. I really miss him. Losing David [Briggs, Young’s longtime producer and one of his closest friends, who died in 1995] was also a terrible blow. There’s no other David like there’s no other Elliot. But what can you do to honor them but carry on?
In between performances with Bruce and Neil, you recently engaged in a surreal Twitter feud with former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci, in which you traded insults. How in the world did that happen?
My wife Amy was the architect. She’s quite the Twitter warrior for what’s right — women’s rights, children’s rights, human rights. When Sarah Huckabee Sanders retired, we caught the Mooch singing her praises on Twitter. Amy and I were so incensed, I ask Amy to help me respond and she did. We called him out for that ridiculous notion of Sanders being a beacon of truth and honesty, which she’s anything but. He fired back, calling me a third-rate talent and said I should be grateful for what little fame I might get from his response to me. That led to a real battle that became viral. After some heated back-and-forth, we got to a little bit more of a mutual understanding — I don’t know if the word is forgiveness — but we calmed it down ourselves. He took so much heat from the E Street Nation, it wasn’t something he had planned on. He backtracked a bit. Amy and I would like to think maybe it was a step toward his awakening about the horror that we’re in.
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