Despite cameo appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and other name players, guitarist Nils Lofgren's new Silver Lining album is one very earthbound cloud. At first, album-rock radio took kindly to the disc's first single, Valentine, which features Springsteen on background vocals. Then, interest began to wane a few months ago and Lofgren took to the road.
The guitarist still considers himself a member of Springsteen's E Street Band, even though Springsteen effectively disbanded the group when he told them he was using other musicians for his forthcoming album, due in the fall, and subsequent tour. In fact, the group hasn't played together since the 1988 Amnesty International benefit tour. So these days Lofgren is plugging away on his own tour, hoping radio gives his melodic rock a second chance.
"What I love about touring is I get to just play from the heart and soul," Lofgren said in a recent interview. "I like to have fun with it."
The guitarist didn't always just stand and deliver, however. For 16 years, including three with the Boss, Lofgren was famous for a peculiar gymnastic stunt that he learned as an antidote to "just standing on stage playing with my eyes closed."
During particularly climactic moments during solos, Lofgren would leap onto a small portable trampoline, jump into the air, perform a back flip and land on his feet, all while playing the guitar.
The stunt finally came to an end after about 70 shows with Springsteen during the 1985 Born in the U.S.A. tour. "Bruce came up to me and said he wanted to drop the song (where I do the stunt) and asked if it would bother me if I stopped doing the back flip," Lofgren explained.
"I said, "That's fine with me.' I had been doing it for a long time and was tired of it."
A superb guitarist with an uncanny ability to wrench harmonics out of any note on the fret board, Lofgren was one of the most sought-after rock guitarists in the 1970s. After earning a reputation with his critically acclaimed, commercially overlooked first band, Grin, the New Jersey native was a finalist to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones (Ron Wood got the job), and he added extensive instrumental work to such Neil Young classics as After the Gold Rush and Tonight's the Night.
The latter album, written in response to the drug overdose deaths of two of Young's friends, was recorded in first takes to accent the emotionalism of the material. It is among Lofgren's and Young's best works.
"It's really from the heart. The songs were about the pain and anger of losing someone."
More recently, Lofgren played on Starr's All-Starr revue of a couple of summers ago.
Although Springsteen is using other musicians for his current project, Lofgren disputes the popular conception that the E Street Band is purely a thing of the past. According to Lofgren, Springsteen "would never shut the door on working with the band. Musicians just don't rule out working with great musicians."
In the meantime, Lofgren, 39, is touring North America by bus before traveling overseas for dates in Japan and Europe. Among his backup musicians is his brother Tommy, who played in Grin.
Grin mixed tough rock 'n' roll with a strong melodic streak. Lack of radio support drove the group to disband after several albums. That's when Lofgren turned to session work.
With typical modesty, Lofgren downplays Grin's strengths. "I thought we were a good band for the time, but Buffalo Springfield had already done a lot of what we were doing."
AT A GLANCE
Nils Lofgren in concert at the State Theater, tonight at 8, tickets $15, 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 821-9584.