Nils Lofgren talks beloved gear, Neil Young and his first guitar

(Image credit: Jo Lopez)

The A-list sideman has scored hits with everyone from Neil Young to Bruce Springsteen. But did Nils Lofgren get nil in the 10 questions we ask everyone...

What was your first guitar and when did you get it?

"My first real official guitar was a Fender Telecaster, probably in '64 or '65. Before that, I had some $15 guitar that my parents got me from Sears and Roebuck, but it almost couldn't be called an instrument. For me, it was either get a Tele, because Jeff Beck played one, or get a Strat, because Hendrix did. I went with the Tele, and eventually moved over to the Strat."

"In Chicago, I found two little gut-string parlour guitars in an alligator case. One was from the 1930s, the other was made in 1897."

The building's burning down - what guitar from your collection would you save?

"That's a rough one, but probably the Martin D-18 that Neil Young loaned me to make After The Gold Rush. Mostly, I was playing piano on that album, but one day, we were gonna do Tell Me Why and Neil wanted it played on two acoustics sat across from each other. I didn't own one - so he handed me this D-18, and gave it to me at the end. It doesn't leave the home."

What's the oldest guitar you have?

"I've got an old, beat-up Gibson L-10 from the '20s. But a number of years back - this was on the Magic Tour with The E Street Band - I went to a great guitar exchange in Chicago and I found two little gut-string parlour guitars in an alligator case. One was from the 1930s, the other was made in 1897."

What aspect of playing guitar would you like to be better at?

[Laughs] "There's no aspect I wouldn't like to be better at! Y'know, there's fingerpicking, but just everything about it. The more I learn, the more I feel like a beginner. But it's not a race anymore for me. I play well enough to get up and sing for people and to have it mean something."

What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you onstage?

"A couple of times, when I did the backflip off the trampoline, I didn't make it around and almost cracked my head open. Sometimes, my feet have gone out from under me and I've slid across the stage on my rear end. A couple of years ago, at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, I fell backwards over a monitor and tore my rotator cuffs."

"Changing strings is something I still do. I changed them last month.""

What song would you play on acoustic around the campfire?

"I'd probably start with Long May You Run by Neil Young. We got to do that on MTV Unplugged, and it was one of the songs on my album The Loner: Nils Sings Neil."

When did you last change your own strings?

"When I'm at home, there's no staff here, nobody on call. It's very grassroots. If I need a guitar fixed, I'll take it down the road, but changing strings is something I still do. I changed them last month."

What are you doing five minutes before you go on stage?

"I'll ask people to leave - except working personnel, and my wife. I'll warm up my voice and try to play a little piece on the lever harp, which is an unusual instrument for me and a challenging thing to do. I'll be still. Breathe. Get my head in the game."

... And five minutes after?

"It's a hectic time. I call it 'the next set'. I come off, and I'm usually soaking wet from sweating. I'll grab a bunch of Sharpies, go out to the merch table, sign CDs and T-shirts for an hour or so - and I encourage the venue to keep the bar open, because people are standing in line."

Is there a guitar or a piece of gear that you regret letting go?

"In the '60s, I had a trade-off with Roy Buchanan. I traded one of my guitars for this double-cut Les Paul from the '50s: wood-finish with an eye painted in the middle.

"It was a treasured guitar. I loaned it to my best friend, and some guys came to his apartment - who knows what kind of deal went bad, but they broke it into a million pieces and destroyed it."

Nils Lofgren's Face The Music is out now. See for details.


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