March , 2012
By Vinny Cecolini
A Conversation with the Legendary Rock Journeyman
"Welcome to heaven, here's your harp. Welcome to hell, here's your accordion"
-- Gary Larson's Far Side
Ironically, the devilish instrument was the first piece of musical equipment Nils Lofgren ever laid his hands on. He was five-years old. Since then, the renowned multi-instrumentalist has led a surreal melodic existence that would suggest to some that he had indeed sold his soul. During the last 40 years, Lofgren has not only fronted his own bands, including Grin, and maintained a successful solo career, but he has also recorded and toured with two of the greatest songwriters of the rock and roll era - Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. He has also performed and recorded with such musical giants as Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Recently, between rehearsals for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band's tour in support of the Boss's , Lofgren took some time out to speak about his legendary career and his solo record, the introspective Old School, which includes some of his best work in years.
JAM: It is 8:30 a.m., not a time when most music professionals are awake.
Nils Lofgren - And I've been up for hours. When I'm on the road, the shows wind me up and I'm up really late. When I'm off the road, I turn into this old fogy who gets up with the sun and hangs out with his dogs while everyone else sleeps. I put on a pot of coffee then get on with my day. Since Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band are rehearsing and not playing shows, I'm still getting up early in the day. I have long days of rehearsals, so this is the only time I have free to do interviews and talk about my album, Old School. I worked hard on the record, I'm proud of what I accomplished and I want to share it.
JAM: Borrowing from the title of one of Old School's great songs, is 60 the 18?
Yes. Fortunately, I'm not having the rough time the guy in the song is having. He's really struggling. He's abusing everything in front of him, but at the same time, he recognizes he is lost and adrift at the age of 60. It's a frightening thing. I wanted the record to be authentic. I'm still a kid at heart. I'm playing rock and roll and I think I'm singing and playing better than I ever have before. That is a blessing. I also have a great wife, Amy, six dogs and a home. I don't like leaving home, but, unfortunately, you can't do 200 gigs a year in the same city.
I hit the road as a musician for the first time when I was 17. I used to think that anyone who made it to 60 was ancient and would live life in a recliner watching the NFL with his grandkids bringing him his slippers and his soup. As I was making this record - coming up on my 60th birthday - I realized that the milestone comes with wisdom and experience that should lead to some peace of mind, but, surprisingly, there are a lot of fears and anxieties - the economy and the global crisis. Teenagers tend to have tunnel vision and try to hold onto things, whether it's sports, girls or music. Hanging onto those passions as you grow older is fine, but you have to open up and have a more rounded life.
JAM: 40, 50, 60, 70 and even 80 does not seem as old as it once did.
Life is not as weary as it once was. Today we have television and the Internet. No one was winning the lottery in the dark ages.
JAM: Unless winning the lottery meant being stoned to death!
The world beats you down, especially with sickness and disease. It's a rough thing. I walked around with two bone-on-bone hips for years. It was agony and it affected me. It was demoralizing. I got both of my hips replaced three years ago and it's been like a lease on life. The doctors wondered how I got around. They said I had 90-year-old hips. It was the result of hardcore basketball, five days a week on hard cement courts. Add jumping off of drum risers for 40 years to the equation. The impact completely destroyed every bit of cartilage in both hips.
I was shocked. I'm so young at heart and full of my musical self. I thought that one day, the doctors would just stick me with needles and shoot a ball of cartilage into my hips with a bit of blubber on it. They said that may happen in 30 years, but now, my only hope for relief was two full hip replacements. I finally bit the bullet and did it, but it was a hell of an adventure because I don't like hospitals.
JAM: You passion for basketball is well documented. Did you have to give it up?
These days, I'm just shooting around and playing H.O.R.S.E. The hips love motion, but they don't like impact. The way the surgeons describe it, it's a quality of life issue. They told me to imagine I'm a lean, in-shape athlete. If I was to jog three miles a day around the streets of York, I would destroy the hips in five years. But, if I take care of them, they'll last 20 years. I'm jumping around and having a ball on stage. I'm avoiding jumping off of drum risers and the doctors have insisted that my trampoline get put in the closet.
Last week, I did two acoustic shows in the place where I grew up. just outside Washington, D.C. I performed with Greg Varlotta, who is on the record and has been playing with me for the last five years. My brothers were in attendance. To play in front of my family was amazing. And it was not lost on me just how lucky I am as a musician to get on a plane the next morning and walk into an E Street Band rehearsal.
JAM: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band shows are cardio workouts.
Yes. But when you sing, that's a whole other story. When I'm with Bruce, I sing backup. I start and stop. When I do my own shows, I sing all night. That's also a workout. All of the performing I've done during the last two years - between E Street Band tours - has kept me in shape. The members of the E Street Band joke about it during rehearsals. There is no preparing for getting out in front of 20,000 people and performing Bruce's catalogue for over three hours. But we're doing our best to get ready.
When I leave my wife and our dogs, I struggle with a little bit of darkness. So, when I walk out on stage, I want to make the most of it. I want to take the band and my parts as far as I can. I want it to linger, not just for the audience - which is my primary concern - but I also want it to linger in me, ‘cause when I go back to the hotel after the show, I'm alone in a room missing my family. I was just over at the rehearsal site. I'm taking 50 guitars on the road. I have guitar pedals coming out of my ears. And I have to set every one of them. It's a massive undertaking, but it's a beautiful puzzle. Once you get out there to play for the people, you want to just kill it. You want to take advantage of it and take everyone as high as you can.
JAM: People have asked me if I'm going to review rock records and interview musicians when I'm in my 60s, 70s and 80s. I tell them, "I certainly hope so." It's ground. It's also ground for rock musicians who've become modern day blues musicians like BB King, who continues to perform well into his 80s.
Either consciously or subconsciously, people are projecting their own fears about growing older onto you. It is as if they're saying, "I've grown too old to play football on the weekends, why don't you stop reviewing those rock record and get with the program." Yes, of course, we're getting older, but we have to hang onto those things. The human condition wants to drag everyone down to the same misery. It's not intentional or vicious. You and I can say, "Hey, wait a minute. Forget the labels, this is about the music. It's a powerful tool and it should be able to heal until death." However you want to label it, don't be deceived. It's still music and, my take on it is, look, I always practice hard, but I'm still just playing "Louie Louie." I just happen to play it a little differently and it's led to a professional job. I was born with the ability to hear things differently enough to translate it into a career in music.
JAM: You touched on this subject with your album.
The Old School track "Miss You Ray" is about losing one of my musical heroes, Ray Charles. The song is a metaphor for getting older and having to bury family and friends. You better spend a little more time focusing on the gifts and the people around you, because grief can take you out. Of course, a few months after recording the song, my buddy Clarence [Clemons] died and that was brutal. During the last six months I've been singing "Miss You C" at all of my shows.
JAM: What have rehearsals been like without Clarence?
There is no Clarence 2. We all know that. We know that we can't be the band that we were. We're all seasoned professionals that love performing live the hundreds of great songs in our catalogue. There is a reverence and a grief for the loss of Clarence and also an appreciation. I k Clarence on and off stage. We spent a lot of time together talking about a lot of stuff and it wasn't just music. I know he's up there and his spirit is saying, "Come on man, go play. Don't make it worse. Get out there and share the music."
Of course we miss Clarence, but we're also engaged with a beautiful history of hundreds of songs that we know work and, for the first time in the band's history, we have three and a half albums of music. Because, in addition to Wrecking Ball, we have 23 previously unreleased tracks from the Darkness on the Edge of Town package. We have our hands full, but it's a beautiful musical jigsaw puzzle and we're up to it. I expect it to be great, even as we mourn the loss of our dear sax player Clarence
JAM: Will the upcoming tour be a celebration of sorts?
The songs are still there and audience is still there. My wife is 10 years younger than me. What The Beatles, Hendrix and The Stones did for me - give me the courage to leave home and strike out on my own - Springsteen and the Born to Run record did for her. She ended up leaving Jersey and travelled the country, becoming a professional cook and settling in Arizona. She's been saying for a couple of years now that "The planet is screwed. We could all benefit from some Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band shows."
JAM: I had the pleasure of meeting Clarence Clemmons. He was a complete gentleman.
He was powerful. Forget about how physically big he was. Standing next to me - I'm 5'3 - I made him look even bigger. As Bruce recently announced, there is no replacing Clarence, so we now have a five-piece horn section with a couple of sax players sharing duties. I will no longer have someone standing next to me blowing the sax, which is appropriate, but we're still going to play the songs. And when we need a part that Clarence was famous for playing, Bruce will decide how best to present it. We're doing the best that we can do, ‘cause we can't bring Clarence back.
JAM: Another great track from Old School is "Ain't Too Many of Us Left."
I was about 48 hours passed double hip replacement - totally out of my gourd on pain medication - when the phone rang. It was Neil Young. He gave me a pep talk. He wished me well and said, "You have to heal up, ‘cause there ain't too many of us left." I thought "Wow, that's going to be a good song one day." The song's second verse alludes to the phone call. And who better than Sam Moore, one of the greats, to and sing it?
JAM: Did you first meet Sam Moore when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played with him at the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert?
I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona 17 years ago to be with Amy. I met her while passing through, fell in love and got married. That's my stepson Dylan's home, so for custody-sake she lives there. Sam lives in the area, so about 15 years ago I started bumping into him at local charity events. He'd come out every once in a while and sing with us at a Bruce show. And I'd occasionally help him with a demo. He came into the studio while I was working on Old School, sat in front of me and sang in my face. It was daunting. He's very old school. To have him well and singing well is a real blessing for all of us. It was an honor that he wanted to participate and help me out.
JAM: You had two other great singers appear on Old School - Paul Rodgers from Bad Company and Foreigner's Lou Gramm.
I befriended Paul during the early ‘80s. I've been a guest guitarist at some of his shows. Free was one of the greatest bands in rock history. The band should certainly be in the rock and roll hall of fame. Paul is a great singer and a great man. I called him, said "Hey, would you listen to something and see how you would feel about singing it?" He did and said he'd help me out. What he did on the record was very powerful.
JAM: Out of the spotlight, Paul Rodgers is a very unassuming person.
He is a very humble, kind spirit. He cares about the environment and the people around him. He and his wife do a lot of charity work. Just a few months ago, I was on the road doing my acoustic duo thing with Greg Varlotta and we had the night off while in Atlantic City, Jersey. Greg heard that Paul was playing across town, so, I took my whole band and crew over to see his show. You meet him and he is so kind and considerate, then he heads out on stage and he is a banshee from hell; a beautiful angelic spirit with this demonic voice. It's startling how good he is, especially for someone who's been around for more than 40 years. A lot of people who've been around as long - you give them room, you allow them to kick back. But with people like Paul, and even Bruce, there is no let down. There is a ramp up. The voice is gruffer and deeper, but with the same power and control. It's because they have invested the time, and taken care of themselves, so that they can benefit from the experience without any physical loss of the natural tool.
JAM: Lou Gramm?
During the mid-‘80s, Lou called me to played on his first two solo albums ('87's Ready or Not and ‘89's Long Hard Look). We're kindred spirits and he's a wonderful guy. We did the Arsenio Hall Show and I was in this really cramped little television studio dressing room. Lou walked in and said, "I just can't find any privacy, do you mind if I warm up in here?" I was just messing around with a guitar, remembering the parts I was going to play and he starts singing a cappella. I almost went through the wall. It was just gorgeous. I thought to myself, "Wow! How lucky am I to be doing this?" I ended up going over to do the Montreux Jazz Festival to perform with him. I asked Lou if he would listen to a track. He did and said he'd help me out. Lou sang his ass off. I gave him some rough ideas, but I told him to please put anything you hear down and he did. He came up with some stuff that I would never have thought of and it really benefitted the song.
JAM: Your last solo record was The Loner - Nils Sings Neil. What was Neil Young's reaction?
It was my manager, Anson Smith's idea, because my Live Acoustic DVD  is among the most popular things I've done. At first, I didn't like the idea. I said, "Why would I do that? Neil Young has already done it." But, out of respect to his songs, I assembled about 30 of my favorites - there are hundreds - and I sang them to my dogs. I woke up, put on coffee and I just sang. I didn't record and I didn't arrange, I just sang. For about two weeks, everything sounded like karaoke, but then something started to change. There were about a dozen songs that felt like there was something going on with me as the vocalist. I had no heart for producing a covers record. But I had this old Martin D18 acoustic guitar that used to belong to Neil. He wrote on it and I used it during the recording of After the Gold Rush. Then I had this old funky piano that belonged to my wife's father, who left four girls behind when he was young and had a tragic life. After he passed, we found an aunt who gave my wife all of this good information about her dad: that he wasn't just a sick guy trying to get well, but there was also fun side to him that he was a musician who sang. And the aunt happened to have his old piano. She gave it to us as a wedding gift. So, I had two storied instruments that I thought that if I played live would help to create a live snapshot of these beautiful songs. Once I started recording it went quickly.
When I had most of it done, I called Neil and let him know what I was doing. I talked to him and said that I felt a little like David Briggs (the late legendary producer behind many of Young's classic recordings) was on my shoulder coaching me through the whole thing from heaven. I wanted to give him production credit. I was explaining this to Neil, who is one of the few people who would understand and he said, "If anyone has a right to do that it's you." David took me under his wing when I was 17 and both he and Neil were powerful mentors. I finished the record and sent it to Neil, but I haven't spoken to him about it since. Neil's wife Peggi called and said she loved it and was very surprised I was able to pull off "Don't Be Denied," which I fell in love with during the Tonight's the Night tour in 1975. The song reminds me of my journey as a young kid who didn't know what the hell he was doing, but was determined to be a musician.
JAM: Let's turn legend and rumor into fact. Is it true that you had not played piano before playing the instrument during the After the Gold Rush sessions?
I was a classically trained accordion player. I'd see a piano and dabble, but I hadn't done any professional piano work for anyone. When David and Neil asked me to play piano in addition to singing and playing guitar, I felt terrible and said, "You guys, I'm not a piano player." I was in Neil's home in Topanga Canyon and they said, "You've been playing accordion since you were five. You've won contests. We just need some simple parts. You can figure it out." And they were right. I was trying to tell them that I was not their guy, out of respect to Neil and his musicianship, and they said, "No, you're the guy. We don't want a virtuoso." Knowing how much I loved Neil's music. With me and Ralphie (Molina) doing that simple piano and drum thing in the middle of "Southern Man", you had Neil on top and Greg Reeves, who is a very colorful, but deep pocket bass player. And it worked.
JAM: You were also part of Neil Young's Trans album and tour. As controversial as the record was, it was ahead of its time.
Neil wrote this beautiful batch of songs about giving souls and personalities to machines that were helping handicapped kids. It was so far ahead of its time. Then the company has the balls to say it was too un-Neil Young like and that they were not going to release it.
JAM: Being that imaginative and experimental is very Neil Young like.
Exactly! What can you say? Shame on Geffen! We went to Hawaii and recorded an entire album of this island-type music. Neil put four songs from those sessions on the record to make Trans a little more palatable for the record company. Let me tell you something. Neil is amazing. He had a band and wanted to tour, so he found a compromise that worked for him. He got the record out and there are still six or seven unreleased songs that will probably see the light of day when Decade III or IV is released.
JAM: I've been waiting for Decade II since the mid ‘80s. I'm ecstatic that Neil Young has finally gone through his archives and begun releasing box sets of live shows and previously unreleased music.
There is a song called "If You've Got Love" (from the Hawaiian recording sessions), which is extraordinary. Neil is another master songwriter musician that is still out there doing it. Long may he run! Long may we all run! It is a crazy planet, these are rough times and having people like Bruce and Neil doing their things is a blessing to all of us.
JAM: Arguably the three greatest songwriters of the rock era are Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. You've had the chance to record and tour with two of them.
I've played with Bob a bit too. He lets me come out and jam with him at his concerts whenever I want. My wife named her son Dylan after Bob. Years ago, as Bob was stepping on stage for a show in Phoenix, I said hello. He asked if I had a guitar, I said "No." He asked if I had an amp and I said "No." He said, get them from my roadie and come out and play with us at the end of the night. And I did. Fast forward to the E Street Band's tour in support of The Rising and I had a night off. I went to see him and ended up playing with him for an hour and a half. He was only playing keyboards. He didn't touch a guitar that night and he just let me go. We'd get into it and he'd jam on the piano. You're right. Those are the big three, but I couldn't put them in order, ‘cause to me they're all number ones.
JAM: You've also had the opportunity to play with Ringo Starr, Jerry Lee Lewis and Willie Nelson.
I was in a part of the first two Ringo Starr All-Starr Band tours. That was extraordinary. Of course, Clarence was in the first with me. I met Ringo during Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's '85 tour after our show at Wembley Arena. I got to jam with him at his house. Afterwards, he'd come see me play in England and we maintained a phone friendship. In '89, he called and said he was putting a band together and asked me if I wanted to go out and play. He said he was going to be a front man occasionally and play drums too. It was going to be a round robin with everyone in the band singing two or three of their songs.
I was blown away. I was playing Beatles' medleys on my accordion at ninth grade variety shows. I fell in love with rock and roll because of The Beatles and through them and The Stones I discovered everything else - Stax / Volt, Motown, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis. To be able to go out and help Ringo was great. I was so out of my mind that I was levitating. I said, "I'm going to get off of the phone now and just soak in this magical band I was going to be in with Ringo Starr." He said, "Wait a minute. Don't you want to know who else is in the band?" I didn't care, because Ringo was in the band. We both laughed. He said, "You should know anyway." He said, "You have Dr. John, Billy Preston, Joe Walsh, Levon Helm and Jim Keltner on drums, Rick Danko on bass and Clarence Clemons on sax." I was like, "You have to be kidding me. And now I get to pick a few of my own songs for these guys to play?" I don't think there has ever been a greater assembly of talent.
JAM: That must have been some experience to be on the road with that much talent.
Ringo is smart. Just because he's rich doesn't mean he stops being a musician. Being able to go out there and perform is keeping him alive and healthy. Yes, you have to leave home to do it, but if you love playing in front of people - which musicians love to do - you can't stop or a sort of darkness will begin to creep in. You have to find the balance between staying at home and getting out there and sharing the gift that you have. The gift doesn't go away, and if you stop sharing it, it starts to hurt you a little bit.
I'm going to rush home Saturday for a day and a night to see my wonderful wife who's holding down the fort, so that I can share this gift. One of our first dates was a long-distance phone call during which we started talking about the Amnesty International tour and Peter Gabriel and, out of the blue, she recited the entire lyric to "In Your Eyes." She was beautiful, but right then and there I k I had a special soul who not only understood the power of music, but why I need to leave home and perform.
JAM: I wish Peter Gabriel would release more music.
He is a master. I never missed his set during the Amnesty International tour. The fact that I could climb up behind the PA stack on these cardboard platforms and sit there and watch Peter Gabriel perform every night was mind blowing.
JAM: Let's turn another rumor into fact. Did you audition for The Rolling Stones?
No, but that is a great story. I was living in Maryland and I was driving around town running errands when I heard on the radio that Mick Taylor had left the band. I screeched over, made a U-turn, ran over a median and headed back home to make calls. Half-way home, a light bulb went off in my head - Ronnie Wood. So I turned around and headed back to running my errands. I k Ronnie from The Faces. I was a groupie guitarist who followed Jeff Beck around during The Truth tour. I got to know Ronnie and Rod Stewart. They were really kind and let me hang out backstage. I k he was the guy for the Stones gig, and I was right. But at the time, no announcement was made for three weeks and I wondered "What the heck is going on." So, I was back out in Los Angeles working again and I kept calling for an audition and striking out. No one could get me near anyone of importance in The Stones camp. So, I thought I'd call Ronnie. I tracked him down, got him on the phone and he was so sweet. He remembered me. He said, "They asked me to join and I said, ‘No. I'm going to stay with The Faces.'" I didn't know Ronnie well enough to question that or to have a dialogue about it - that was a radical decision - but the next thing I k, he said, "Keith is at my house playing with people. He's kind of frustrated. Why don't you give him a call?" He gave me a number, I called and Keith Richards picked up the phone.
After three weeks where no one would let me speak to even a road manager, I'm now talking to Keith Richards. What it was was me saying, "I'm a number one fan and I'm one of three million guitar players who want the gig, but I had to say it to you on the phone." And I couldn't believe how open he was. He said, "Ronnie told me about you. We want Ronnie and he's not doing it. I've been trying to do it on my own and it's not working out, so the band is going to get together and we're going to have open auditions in Geneva or somewhere colorful like that; herd dozens of guitarists through and then we'll make a decision. And you're welcome to come down." I was blown away. I let him know how much I loved his music and how grateful I was. A week or so later, Rod Stewart and some of Ronnie's close friends ganged up on him. They told him he was making a mistake. Ronnie changed his mind and took the gig that was his all along.
JAM: Speaking of career changes, during the early ‘80s, when you joined the E Street Band, I was shocked. At the time, your solo career was starting to take off.
I have always released my own music. I don't write two albums a year. So it made sense to me to spend a month in a band with Neil Young and make a great record. Then the opportunity to work on Tonight's The Night with him happened. I said let me make a great record with him and then go on the road with him. My band Grin got to open shows for him in the States. In between, Crazy Horse made a record without Neil - when Danny Whitten was still alive - and I was a part of that. No, I wasn't quitting Grin. No, I wasn't going out on the road with Crazy Horse, unless they were able to work it out with my band. It's a natural thing. I just love being in great bands. If you need me to go up front and sing the song, I will be happy to do that. If you need me to lead the band, I'll be happy to do that. This is my 44th year on the road and that is what I've mostly done. As a band leader you're involved in every part. So, as a member of The E Street Band, to get to focus on your parts without having to sing every song, or having to play every solo, has been a great musical journey.
I did get some grief from the record companies. They would say, "Hey man, what about your solo career? What are you doing? You can't do that." I would respond, "What do you mean I can't do that? Ringo Starr asked me to play in a band with Dr. John, Levon Helm and Joe Walsh, and you're telling me I can't do it. What am I going to do, shoot myself after I say no to Ringo?" I'm a musician. I love the life. If you get the chance to play in a band with Neil Young, you do it. If you get the chance to play in a band with Ringo Starr, you do it. If you get a chance to play in The E Street Band, you do it. It's spiritual and musical food for my soul and it always will be. And after the tours are over, I'm even more excited about my next batch of solo stuff. It has always made sense to me regardless of how it appeared to others on the outside looking in.
JAM: How does this album, Wrecking Ball, fit in among the legacy of recordings of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band?
It's a great record. And it's already sounding better live to me, ‘cause I'm prejudice. There are great, great songs and lyrics on it by as great a songwriter as there has ever been. Together with the recently released Darkness on the Edge of Town package, we have three and a half hours of music to put into the show. It's an exciting thing. It's the biggest toolbox in rock and roll and it is growing. We had a few hundred songs and we've thrown in another 34 or 35 and, as hard as it is going to be to pull off, it's going to be beautiful. As somber as it is going to be missing Clarence standing next to me, you cannot ignore the power of those songs and the history of the band.
I'm excited to be walking around with a solo record to hand to you. To be out with the E Street Band and to keep promoting my own record while I do that job and not have to write my next record is amazing. Despite all of the loss and heartbreak of being 60, I'm blessed to have hope and this opportunity.
JAM: You embraced the Internet sooner than many other veteran musicians.
From 1968 to the mid ‘90s, the climate of the music industry changed to the point where it became too oppressive for artists to operate in. At the time, I k nothing about technology or computers. I did, however, recognize it was time to get a Web site, get some great people to run it and to become a free agent for the rest of my solo career. At www.nilslofgren.com,] I have guitar school lessons, a lot of free music and I just posted a video from the album, "Dream Big". Seventeen years ago, my manager found Dick and Linda Bang (of Rip Bang Pictures, Inc.) and I've never looked back.
JAM: You were a pioneer.
My wife said I was ahead of my time, but I was just desperate for a little creative freedom. I got tired of playing a psychiatrist to get the records made that I wanted to get made. I get it, the sales figures are smaller, but I have freedom. I'm too set in my ways. I'm excited about exploring ideas with a producer. I'm working with the musicians I want to play with. I don't want to hear ideas from an accountant who happens to be a record company A&R guy. When legendary producer Bob Ezrin suggests I write with Lou Reed, that excites me. I don't need to answer to some kid who tells me I don't know what I'm doing anymore; that it's the record company's money and I should play ball. No, I'm getting out of there and doing what I need to do.
JAM: After all you've achieved during your 40-plus year career, what else is there for you to accomplish?
I want to grow and keep learning. I want to stay humble and value my family, my friends and my musical opportunities. I became the swing man in The E Street Band when Steve Van Zandt came back, because we didn't need four guitar players. So I learned some lap steel, pedal steel, bottleneck, dobro and banjo. When we got off of the last tour, my buddy Steve Bing called and said, "I'm executive producing the next Jerry Lee Lewis record. It's a country record. Jim Keltner is producing it and we want you to come in and play some lap steel." I'm a beginner, so I bit my tongue and, instead of naming ten lap steel players that are better than me, I just shut up and said, "Yes." I went into the session and I'm playing with Jerry Lee Lewis who, for the first time, is playing guitar on a record. I'm out of my mind happy and really trying to focus - ‘cause Jerry is as old school as it gets - and in the middle of the song, "Blues at Midnight," he sings a couple of verses, plays this funky guitar and then says, "Play that steel, Killer." I'm waiting around for the steel player, when I realize, "Damn, that's me." I go off and do this solo. That's a magical moment you would have never guessed would happen.
Of course, when I decided to learn some other instruments to throw in The E Street Band toolbox, I didn't think ahead to that. But that's the beauty of trying to learn and grow. You can't predict what is going to happen, but you know it's going to be something special if you keep challenging yourself. It's not a race anymore for me. I'll never be a virtuoso on the pedal steel or the lap steel. But our band is about presenting songs. Bruce will use these tools correctly and it's great to be a part of a journey like that.