TD: Youíve put out some live albums over the years, and I know that there are some requests Ė are you ever going to get the re-issued and available again?
Nils Lofgren: Well one of the problems is that until I parted ways with record companies in the mid-90s, I think 95 or 96 I made my last deal, and I realized I couldnít work with a record company again, Iíve got to be a free agent with a website, I donít own that music. So I told them for years, Iíve called regularly and asked every one of those companies to release my old records and they have said no. And I canít make them. And you know standard stuff, if you donít have hit records, when the records go out of print, they donít make any more. And Iíve pleaded them to let me pay them, you know 5 bucks a record, just get them printed out a couple of thousands, let me buy them and make them available on my website and they just keep saying no. Thereís been a few that have been re-released through American Beat Records, which Iím grateful, I donít know how they got it done. But Iím hoping over time some of that old stuff gets released, itís not through lack of trying on my part Ė they just keep saying no.
CJ: There is some demand, weíve had a couple of people, actually a bunch of people come ask us if that could be available online one day.
Nils Lofgren: Yeah you know what can I do? I could bootleg myself and break the law, but I donít want to break the law. And record companies have always been crazy but now they are just ridiculous. All I can do is ask, and if they say no, to me they have stupid reasons that donít make sense to me, but they own it, unfortunately I signed the rights away when I was a kid and thatís the deal.
CJ: Speaking of the internet, what do you think Ė you know when Bruce and yourself do a show, itís basically on the internet for download the next day. And there are a lot of members on our site who literally have every show from a tour and buy them and listen to them and have their favorites. And even some fans, Nils, will mix two bootlegs together to make a better bootleg. I mean, what do you think about all that that goes on now?
Nils Lofgren: Well I have mixed feelings about it. Certainly anytime anything is turned into something for profit thatís wrong, and Iím against it. When itís somebody just sharing it amongst some friends, as far as editing bootlegs, I donít know, I think if youíre just doing it in your basement with your buddies and it stays that way, I think if youíre doing it and broadcasting it on the internet on the global level thatís wrong too, but I donít want to be a prude about it. I mean hey, if you had some dinky recorder in the audience in the 60s and you managed to, look, I used to take a little cassette in these redneck clubs to record Roy Buchannan with his blessing, he was a real buddy of mine. I just kept it at home, you could barely hear it, it sounded awful, but it was really important to me and really helpful. And on that level, just because the technology is better, I still donít really have a problem with that. You know when you start editing, mixing and matching and sharing it globally through a vehicle like the internet, there is something wrong about that, but itís not some crusade that Iím going to take up Ė Iím just trying to find the time to write a song.
CJ: Yeah. I mean 99% of it these days is fans doing it for fans, who canít go to the shows or go to all the shows.
Nils Lofgren: Yeah and like I said, that I donít have a problem with, the only issue is instead of, look, what are you going to do, instead of 12 fans in your basement enjoying a bootleg tape, if you share it over the internet then suddenly it becomes everyoneís property. And you canít monitor it for everyone, and you can say, ďOh I did it in my basement, weíre honorable, weíre not going to sell it.Ē But when you put it on the internet, you know 3,000 people later, maybe a couple of dozen of them are going to put something together and slap it out there and start charging or say, ďHey, I got this great edit and Iím happy to send you the downloads, just give me ten bucks for my time.Ē I donít know. Sharing music is a beautiful thing. Sharing it to that extent on a global scale on the internet when it falls into the hands of people who start charging for something that the artist has no say in, I think thatís wrong, but we got bigger problems as a planet than that.
TD: Hey Nils, Iíve got a question. The story is that when youíre doing the E Street Band, that somebody gave you a box of bootlegs to learn how to play the songs live. Is that true?
Nils Lofgren: What happened was, Iíd been out visiting Bruce for a week and we went jamming around and this and that. Over the years, Bruce and I have a history as friends. We had conversations about how I realized how much I loved being in a great band, like with Neil Young, specifically. At 18, I figured that out. Itís fun not to be the boss all the time for me. Iím excited being in a band. I like playing rhythm guitar. Honestly, if somebody said you want to go out and play in Giants Stadium and do the two minute Because the Night solo or Youngstown solo, or would you rather just play acoustic rhythm guitar on Prove It All Night and watch Steve and Bruce do their duet thing, Iíd rather play the rhythm guitar. I have more fun. Look, I have been doing my own shows for 43 years. Iíve been the guy. Iíve been the band leader. Iíve been in the spotlight. Iíve sang every lyric. Iíve played every solo. I donít need to do that. Iím happy to do it. Iím good at it. But if I had my choice, Iíd rather just play a nice rhythm guitar and just crawl inside Maxís high hat or Ringoís high hat or Ralphie Molinaís high hat when he was with Neil Young and just stay there and not come up for air and get lost in that hypnotic rhythmic thing.
And so basically what happened was I was jamming with Bruce and he just mixed Born in the USA and we were listening to it all weekend. I recognized it as the brilliant album it was. And, of course, Danciní in the Dark is a big hit single to start it off. Then, you know, months later he called me and said, ďWhy donít you come up again and weíll get the band together and jam a bit?Ē Bruce was very low key so when he said it was the band I just assumed it was some kind of audition. I knew Steve was debating whether he needed to go do his solo stuff because heís a brilliant solo artist. Iíve been getting it out of my system since I was 17 or younger and, you know, at some point you gotta do that. I mean I had no ideaÖ that had to be a very difficult thing for the two of them because they were like brothers. Anyway, when Bruce mentioned the band, I got a local collector, a good friend, Tom Beach (sp?). Like many collectors of Bruce stuff, he had a lot of shows and he was kind enough. I didnít take anything. He just came over Ė and Iíve seen Bruce a lot. I go see the E Street Band in the 70s. I saw Ďem at the Bottom Line, the Roxy in L.A., the sports arenas. I was a fan. So I just took songs, like bootlegs of Promised Land, Badlands, stuff like that. And wrote some chord charts so when I went up to jam I had a map and I didnít have to ask Gary or someone to shout the chords in my ear and we could play and just see how it goes. So we did that for two days and I got the job. So, yeah, I did have a collector help me out to let me hear some tapes so I could write chord charts. But I didnít take any tapes or keep any tapes. I just wrote some charts to songs I knew they had to play. To give us a leg up and the powerful band having to face the challenge of finding a guy. Thereís no Steve Van Zandt 2. Thereís no such thing. Thatís one of the great things about the E Street Band. Everyoneís an individual. And, you know, if you gotta fill that seat, it canít be that guy. You gotta find a way to be yourself and integrate into the job, which is a formidable thing in any of our chairs. And I was grateful for the opportunity and even more grateful when Steve came back in í99. Not just because the personality and the stage presence but that incredible, raw duet voice that him and Bruce have. The only other guys that do that is Mick and Keith. And itís just been great the last 12 years and all the projects and albums have been fabulous to be a part of.
Stone Pony London
The SPL's Nils Lofgren Old School Intervew: Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4