E Street Band member Nils Lofgren admits that their induction last week into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a bittersweet experience — because it came too late for fellow long-time Bruce Springsteen collaborators Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici.
Springsteen was inducted some 15 years ago — but, in a move some saw as odd, without his legendary backing group. Federici died of cancer in 2008; Clemons passed after a stroke in 2011. Both had been with the E Street Band since its founding in 1973.
“I particularly felt bad for Clarence, who was very upset,” Lofgren tells us, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “And I really got upset with the hall when Danny got ill, because I thought: ‘C’mon, guys. It’s been 7, 8 years. They qualify. There’s no bureaucratic rule that would keep them out. Danny is sick with cancer. You’ve waited years to get the band in the hall, and they didn’t.’ It’s bittersweet, but still a great honor.”
In the meantime, Lofgren notes, E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt — with Springsteen since 1975 — has been working diligently to gain recognition for other seminal influences.
“I temper it with the reality that there is a lot of great musicians that are passionate about what they do, and play as good as me, and nobody even knows about them — let alone, make the hall’s list,” says Lofgren, who joined the E Street Band three decades ago. “My buddy Steve Van Zandt has personally championed a lot of British Invasion bands that belong, and gotten them in there single-handedly, so it’s an imperfect thing. The very principle of putting on a tux, and you stand over there because you don’t belong, is the exact antithesis of what rock ‘n’ roll is about. Nevertheless, to honor people like the more obscure musicians who played with Elvis, and James Jamerson, who didn’t get in for so long — and they should be in — to honor them and their work is a good thing.”
Rewind to 1999, though, and a lot of wrongs could have been righted. For Lofgren, inducting Springsteen with the E Street Band back then makes the most sense — and it would have ensured that Federici and Clemons were recognized in their own time.
“I think that would have been appropriate,” Lofgren says. “I understood why they inducted Bruce on his own. Look, if someone had approached me about it, and I didn’t have a word with anyone in the band or management, I would have said: ‘Why don’t you put Bruce and the band in, and a few years later put Bruce in as a solo artist?’ It’s well deserved. That didn’t happen.”