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When Rolling Stone released the latest version of its 100 Greatest Guitar Players in 2015, Nils Lofgren was listed among the “panel of top guitarists and other experts” who voted for and ranked their favorites. In a more just world, he would have been one of the 100.
Lofgren, whom The Guardian has called an “unsung guitar hero” despite his being a “perfect power-pop genius,” has never gotten the attention he’s deserved. He’s best known as a sideman for giants like Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young rather than for his own music. And that may be a personality thing – he has never demanded the spotlight. As Bono once put it, “Nils Lofgren is both front man and side man. The side man is a particular psychology … which requires real generosity of spirit toward the front man …” And saxophonist Branford Marsalis has said: “His musicianship will always overtake any desire to use the bandstand to call attention to himself …”
Lofgren recently spoke to NewsHour Weekend ahead of his sound check at the legendary Stony Pony music venue in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He said, “I don’t need to solo. Honestly, if you said, ‘Hey, [do you wanna] go to a bar and jam all night and play every lead in a blues band, or do you wanna just go play country piano and rhythm guitar with Willie Nelson,’ I’d say, ‘Give me the piano and the rhythm guitar.’” It’s an attitude that has served him well, and kept his career alive at times when his solo work, no matter how strong, wasn’t selling.
Modesty notwithstanding, Lofgren is a player of rare subtlety and taste. Here’s a playlist to demonstrate.
Tom Casciato is an Emmy award-winning director, writer, producer and television executive who has created critically acclaimed nonfiction projects that have appeared on PBS, ABC, NBC, TBS, Showtime and more. He recently directed and produced two stories within episodes of the second season of the Emmy Award-winning climate-change series, "Years Of Living Dangerously." His 2013 film with Kathleen Hughes and Bill Moyers for Frontline series, "Two American Families," was called by Salon “... one of the best and most heartbreaking documentaries” of the year. Tom previously worked at WNET from 2006 until 2012, serving variously as director of News & Current Affairs and executive producer of two PBS series, "Wide Angle" and "Exposé: America’s Investigative Reports."
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