‘Crazy, beautiful, challenging stuff’: Nils Lofgren stood ready to fill in with Crazy Horse

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When Frank “Poncho” Sampedro’s hand injury threatened to derail Crazy Horse’s 2013 European tour with Neil Young, the guitarist suggested that they continue forward with Nils Lofgren.

Lofgren had, of course, worked with Young as far back as 1970’s After the Gold Rush. He was part of Crazy Horse’s self-titled 1971 project, appeared on 1975’s Tonight’s the Night, returned for 1982’s Trans and sat in on Young’s 1993 Unplugged release, as well.

But his involvement in Tonight’s the Night, in particular, seemed to set a template for returning in this new age. After all, Lofgren joined that raw, determinedly unpolished 1973 tour after the sad loss of another guitarist from Crazy Horse, Danny Whitten. Back then, Lofgren had a chance to gain valuable experience on the road — the live show would eventually be released as is on vinyl — and, as he tells us in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown, picked up immeasurable career momentum along the way.

“It was like,” Lofgren says, “‘Look, you belong here. We’re doing a live album. You’re not even going to get to learn the songs very well. You’re going to have to sing live parts. We’re looking for a visceral, powerful, anti-production statement. When the singer gets a performance, we’re done. So keep your head in the game.’ And it was just kind of exciting. They invited you, because they think you belong and you can contribute, so you go with it. It turns into a great learning experience.”

With all of that in mind, it’s perhaps of little surprise that Lofgren made a suggestion similar to Sampedro’s. Lofgren was even unexpectedly available to sub in his place with Crazy Horse, since Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band — with whom Lofgren has worked since 1984 — was then on a tour break. Lofgren figured Sampedro continue to sing harmonies on stage during his convalescence, while Lofgren played his guitar parts.

Young, however, had other ideas. He did indeed shut down the tour, refusing to play his initial Crazy Horse dates without Sampedro in four decades. Lofgren, meanwhile, went back to work completing work on a massive retrospective devoted to his solo career — though he still looks back with fondness on his seminal time with Young.

That, by the way, includes the oft-criticized Trans. “Neil Young had this great concept of any album with his favorite players from over the years, where old school meets new school,” Lofgren tells us. “I’ve got the Gold Rush upright, playing ‘Old Man’ and ‘Southern Man’ and the next thing I know, I’ve got a vocoder headset up with the first two fully loaded synclavers and I’m singing through the PA and Neil Young’s voice is coming out synthesized. Just crazy, beautiful, challenging stuff.”

The new Lofgren box set, called Face the Music, includes a never-before-heard collaboration with Young. Meanwhile, Crazy Horse got back on the road after Sampedro took a few months to heal.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, 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 U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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