Dedicating his new solo album, "Old School," to late fellow E Street Band member Clarence Clemons was a no-brainer for Nils Lofgren.
"I'm still reeling," Lofgren, who was touring in Britain when Clemons died June, tells Billboard.com. "Clarence and I had a deeper friendship offstage rather than on. Right off the bat, 27 years ago, he kind of embraced me into the band; they all did, but he was a really powerful friend. It's an awful loss. We spoke every week. When I had both hips replaced (in 2008), my first three-block hobble with my walker and my therapist was up the road to Clarence's room where he had his knee done in the same hospital. It was kind of a hilarious meeting of the cripples."
In recent shows, in fact, Lofgren has taken to changing the lyrics of his "Old School" track "Miss You Ray," as in Charles, to "miss you C." "And I will continue to do that, Lofgren says.
He also knows it will be strange to look to his right, where Clemons once stood, when the E Street Band hits the road in 2012.
"It'll be more than strange," Lofgren says. "There's no Clarence. There can't be. I remember when we lost Danny (Federici, in 2008), it was rough enough, and I found myself standing on stage looking at a video of Danny's whole life as a musician, and it was very, very emotional. This will be, too."
Lofgren says he has "not a clue" about how Springsteen is going to configure the band for next year and how he's going to handle Clemons' absence. "I know, as always, he'll do something special and classy as he's always done, but that's a real rough thing," the guitarist says. Lofgren also demurs on talking about anything beyond the four European dates that have already been announced, as well as the album Springsteen has revealed he's recording.
"All I can say is Bruce has committed us to some shows in the summer, which obviously is a beautiful thing," Lofgren says. "It means the challenge of putting the E Street Band back together for another go-round, which for me is a wonderful musical challenge and journey, and that's about all I know right now. But I'm grateful for that."
Until the E Street Band fires up, Lofgren will be busy promoting "Old School," his first set of all-new material in five years. Most of the songs, he says, were written since Springsteen and the E Street Band came off the road in 2009, and Lofgren acknowledges that there's a loose thematic tone that was inspired by turning 60 last June, a perspective best heard in songs such as the politically charged title track, "Ain't Too Many of Us Left" and "60 is the New 18."
"You can't really spin 60 too much. That's a big number," says Lofgren, who produced the album. "I'm still standing, singing, playing, getting better. I feel like, damn, I'm not only still standing but I've got lots of ideas. I feel like an authentic old guy now who's grateful but also hopefully has his eyes open. There's a lot going on that I don't like, but you just keep a perspective to comment on all of it and keep it emotional and try to keep it somewhat intelligent and hopeful and, number one, keep it passionate."
He also kept "Old School" -- which includes guest appearances by Paul Rodgers, Sam Moore and Lou Gramm -- stylistically broad. "I'm pretty schizophrenic in musical genres and writing," Lofgren acknowledges. "I haven't had the burden of a record company looking over my shoulder for 16 years, so I was free to do something I was proud of, wherever that led. So it's a combination of a lot of different styles and feels from very general acoustic to pretty rough and aggressive. I just kind of let myself go 'til I had a batch (of songs) that had a cohesive feel. It's all over the place, but it still has a vibe to it."
Lofgren -- who's also done "some initial session work" for a new album by Springsteen's wife and E Street Band mate Patti Scialfa -- plans extensive touring in support of "Old School," accompanied by longtime friend and musical partner Greg Varlotta. And he predicts that his next album will come sooner rather than later. "I'm totally back into my groove of singing and writing," he says. "I'd like (the next album) to be out in a couple of years, but I can't promise it. I'm just excited that I've got a record I'm proud of, and I want to keep the groove going."
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