Nils Lofgren on Reuniting With Crazy Horse & Neil Young: ‘It Can Be Challenging’


With new albums and movies, it's an auspicious week for Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young — and, by extension, for Nils Lofgren.

The veteran multi-instrumentalist is part of both artists' worlds, on wax and on film. He's a significant part of Young's Mountaintop, which chronicles the making of the just released Colorado, Lofgren's return to Crazy Horse for the first time since the early '70s. Meanwhile, he's one of the only E Street Band members to appear, photograph, in Springsteen's new Western Stars film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens wide Oct. 25 after two nights of Fathom Events screenings.

And the best news on the latter front for Lofgren is that with Western Stars behind him, Springsteen has been talking about making music and possibly hitting the road again with the E Street Band.

"Yeah, we were glad Bruce is publicly saying he finally wrote some songs for us," says Lofgren, who released his own Blue With Lou album earlier this year featuring songs he wrote with the late Lou Reed. "There's nothing booked, but I'm hoping that at some point we start looking at recording. That's up to Bruce, of course. But I certainly feel with the planet falling apart it would be high time and useful for the entire world to have a Bruce record and tour."

Meanwhile, Lofgren is basking in his return to Crazy Horse with Colorado, also out Oct. 25. With longtime guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro sitting out, Young invited Lofgren, with no rehearsal, to take part in some May 2018 shows on the West Coast around the release of the archival Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live. That was followed by two shows during February in Winnipeg, after which Young began to send Lofgren demos for new songs he wanted to record with Crazy Horse.

"It wasn't necessarily a surprise after those seven shows, but it was exciting when he said he was writing a lot of Crazy Horse songs," Lofgren recalls. "Almost every other day I'd get a primitive home demo of one, two, three songs, and he just kept sending them…and once we got to 11, we kind of locked down a recording scheduled." The sessions took place in in the Rocky Mountains — hence Colorado's title — and were characteristically loose and inspired.

"We all showed up with just a rudimentary understanding of the (chord) changes, not any grand specific ideas, and as soon as we started playing with each other it led from that," Lofgren recalls. "And, of course, Neil was singing and playing live to all the arrangements, just organic and naturally." The process is captured in Mountaintop, which screened for one night only in theaters on Oct. 22 and will likely surface again — on the Neil Young Archives site if nowhere else.

"(Young) felt like he wanted people to see what it was like to get to what we got to — and it's not always a nice, polished journey," Lofgren says. "It can be challenging, and he wanted people to see that. So instead of a standard, polished movie and everyone looking good and sounding nice…it's gonna have our frustrations and our good-natured yelling and just not being able to get a song right but playing through it until we did. It's very real."

Colorado resurrects Crazy Horse — with bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina — for Young for the first time since 2014. Like any seasoned Young cohort Lofgren knows better than to try to assess the staying power of this configuration, but he's hopeful that Young's enthusiasm for it will lead to more music and performances.

"I think after the last show we did, in Winnipeg, we really found our groove, and I know I felt like I stayed on the Horse the whole night," Lofgren says. "I think it was that feeling that led to Neil wanting to write a bit more music for (Crazy Horse) and feel an urgency for it. We all love each other and have a great history. No matter what happens, it's great to have another chapter with Neil and Ralphie and Billy, and if more comes from it, that's all the better."