‘It was such a powerful day’: Nils Lofgren discusses his new box set’s major Neil Young find

A young Nils Lofgren, just making his way into the music world as a sideman with Neil Young, kept hearing early-1970s horror stories about the general health of Keith Richards. He was moved to write “Keith Don’t Go,” this deep-cut treasure from Lofgren’s eponymous 1975 debut.

The initial demo, however, actually featured Young — with whom Lofgren had already collaborated on 1970′s After the Gold Rush, a stint that helped the guitarist get an initial contract for his band Grin. Lofgren subsequently appeared on 1975′s Tonight the Night and on 1982′s Trans with Young, before establishing yet another career as part of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Somewhere along the way, that original take (featuring Young on piano, no less) got lost in the shuffle.

That is, until Lofgren started digging around for material to include as part of a forthcoming 9CD/1DVD box set called Face the Music. Due on August 5, 2014 via Fantasy Records, it features an astonishing 169 original songs from across his career. This newly uncovered nugget promises to be a highlight among many.

“We got this great live track of ‘Keith, Don’t Go,’ which I knew we did a primitive mix on a cassette,” Lofgren tells us, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “So, I’ve been digging for the cassette, thousands of cassettes — from Arizona to Maryland — trying to find this thing. I knew, if I found it, it would probably have to be baked, and worked on and treated, if there was any chance. But looking for some other lost Grin gems, Bob Dawson [who owned the studio where 'Keith Don't Go' was cut] met me in my Maryland basement and we started rummaging through a closet full of old tapes. Lo and behold, we found some old Grin 16 tracks that weren’y labeled that well, but we dug through it, and we found the actual master. It was just a joy to go back into the same studio that we recorded it in, with same engineer, and make a more proper mix of it — and to share that great version of ‘Keith, Don’t Go’ with Grin and Neil Young as pianist, which he doesn’t do a lot of piano sessions for anybody else. And that great haunting voice, singing the harmonies with me. It was beautiful.”

Ultimately, Lofgren tells us that he learned a little bit about himself, through this exploration. Memories of that studio sessions came flooding back in.

“It was such a powerful day,” Lofgren adds. “We were working with Grin, and I think we were between record deals — between Sony and A&M. We were working at Bob Dawson’s Virginia studio, and [late producer] David Briggs said: ‘Let’s do a version of that ‘Keith, Don’t Go,” something I’d written on the Tonight’s the Night tour in ’73 with Neil. We were working it up, and the next thing I know, Neil Young is passing through town on one of his tours — might have been CSNY, might have been Stephen Stills, we don’t know. David got him on the phone, and convinced him to come down and hang out with us, and he did. We started a relationship in 1968, and David and Neil were great mentors and friends — and continue to be, even though we’ve lost David. Next thing you know, Neil’s singing at the piano.”

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Larry “Law” Johnson

    I have the album with “Keith Don’t Go”. We called it the Fat Lady album because of the cover. It was my least favorite song on that great record. Can’t wait to hear the version with Neil, though. I loved Nils’ work on Tonight’s the Night. Nils and Neil were a perfect match, switching back and forth on piano and guitar (although I still cringe when I see videos of the Trans tour). It’s really hard to believe that he’s been with the E-Streeters for 27 years. I’m really happy that he’s got such a great job, but I think he’s wasted in that band. There’s already like 50 guitar players. They’ve even got Tom Morello now,