Twenty-five years ago, after the release of Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen's venerable E Street Band got a little smaller - but a whole lot better. That's when the wee but mighty Nils Lofgren, a longtime member of Neil Young's band, jumped rock icons and joined the Jersey fray. These days, the guitarist, whose spinning solos are the stuff of live-show legend, is as beloved as drummer Max Weinberg and "the Big Man," Clarence Clemons.
With the Boss & Co. traveling to Tampa's Ford Amphitheatre on Saturday, the 58-year-old Lofgren called in to the Stuck in the '80s studios to talk about the never-ending Working on a Dream tour, his new album and his online guitar school (go to nilslofgren.com). And, yes, Backstreeters, we asked if this is indeed the last go-round for the E Street Band. Here are a few excerpts from Lofgren's chat:
The Working on a Dreamtour started in April 2009. But you guys also toured last year, plus the Super Bowl. Good lord, man, how are you holding up?
This month is 41 years on the road for me. It's a little scary. When I hit the road when I was 17 in 1968 (with Neil Young and Crazy Horse), I never would have been this greedy to think 41 years later I'd be on the road with a band like this.
You've worked with two iconic frontmen: Neil and Bruce. Do they go about their business in vastly different ways? The Boss seems tough.
The obvious difference is the sound of their voices. Past that, I think the commonality is that they're the two greatest writers we have on the planet. They're still inspired performers. They both like to do loose, reckless shows. But in general, they're really hands-off. If they pick you to play with them, it's because they trust your instincts. That's the point of having a great band.
Springsteen is famous for calling out "audibles," songs you haven't rehearsed, in the middle of a set. Has that gotten any easier after 25 years?
This year we're doing songs we don't even know how to play. I didn't realize a band could do that! There was one night Bruce grabbed (a request from a fan for the Ramones') I Wanna Be Sedated. Bruce throws a sign at the TelePrompTer crew. They're frantically trying to find the lyrics on the Internet, while we're working out an arrangement to a song we don't know. And this all happens in front of an audience.
This is the 25th anniversary of Born in the U.S.A.Are you dusting off any deep cuts?
Actually, for the first time in years, we started doing Born in the U.S.A. a couple times, which is an incredible piece. What does that say about your body of work when you get away with doing two years on the road and never playing Born in the U.S.A.? That says volumes about the song list Bruce has to choose from.
The tour ends in November. But not really, right?
Listen, we've hit it hard for two years. I really don't think we can keep at it in the near future. I think we need a break, but I'm not going to speak for Bruce.
Okay, last question, Nils, and you know we have to ask it: Is this the last go-round for the E Street Band? There are whispers that Max and Clarence could be done.
I have no way to tell you that. Life is not a guarantee. I will say we're in the best stage of our lives musically. Offstage, it's like a fricking MASH unit with heating pads, ice packs. But onstage, we're really kicking it hard. Rather than worry about the future, I'd buy a ticket for one of these remaining shows because we're really on fire.
To hear the full interview with Nils Lofgren, go to blogs.tampabay.com/80s.
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IF YOU GO
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Springsteen brings his Working on a Dream tour to the Ford Amphitheatre, Interstate 4 at U.S. 301 N, Tampa. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. $36-$98. (813) 740-2446. livenation.com.