Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever Book Excerpt
Today Nils Lofgren is best known for his solo work as a singer-songwriter and as a guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and Crazy Horse with Neil Young. But in 1968 Lofgren was 17, a struggling musician who’d left Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, MD to head for New York City.
In this excerpt from Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, Lofgren describes his momentous event backstage at the famous East Village concert hall.
Nils Lofgren: In ’68, I left my senior year of high school and struck out as a professional musician. I went up to Greenwich Village for a while, pretty much lived in the streets, would go up to record companies, look ’em up in the phone book, and walk in and ask for work and record deals. I didn’t know what I was doing. But early on in the Village, I hooked up with an Englishman.
His name was Philip and we made a deal. He realized I was a young 17-year-old musician trying to get something going. He had this funky old car that needed work. He said he was a lighting man for Traffic. He went to all these clubs and had access to all these musicians in places like the Fillmore.
I gave him the 115 dollars I was saving to sustain me while I was looking for work for Philip to fix his car and in return, we started pallin’ around and he got me into the Fillmore East and other clubs. He snuck me in there. He had ins and he knew people and we went in there to see the Animals with Eric Burdon.
He seemed to know everybody but he introduced me as his sidekick. I was in one of the dressing rooms upstairs. A couple of guys from the band were jamming. I think the drummer was playing guitar, someone was playing drums on a railing or something. They were playing the blues.
I still remember this guy grinning at me, and he hands me the guitar, he said, “Why don’t you play?” And I’m like, oh my God, great, ’cause Eric was singin’ great with this female singer. But then I’m like, I don’t have a thumb pick. What am I gonna do? I can’t not play. So I ripped off a bottle cap of a beer, which I was uncomfortable with, but I played.
And Eric Burdon was singing great blues with this fabulous African American female, just wailin’ on the blues.
I’d just never found out her name. I started playing on this guitar I was handed. Sounded pretty good, it felt pretty good, and they were happy about it. They weren’t really paying me a lot of attention.
I was so nervous to hold my own and just stay down in it and not whine about not having a flat pick that the fact that they kept singing when I was playing really meant a lot to me. Nobody pulled a James Brown and said, hey, get off the stage, you’re fined. Even though it was an impromptu setting, that was my big goal, like oh, just please keep singing if I play because I want the groove and ride to continue and it did. I was very lucky and blessed.
It was like they almost didn’t notice, which made me feel great. That was the goal, like yep, we’re just jamming here and it sounds and feels great, no need to stop or look around. And he stayed down in it with the girl and it was beautiful.
It was just a Holy Grail moment for me, getting into the Fillmore, and all of sudden, I’m playing with the Animals. Of course, I’m scared to death because I don’t know what I’m doing. And now I’d burned all my bridges leaving school and I don’t know anything about the rock and roll business but — I was in the Fillmore.
Mastropolo is the author of New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make New York Rock, one of Best Classic Bands’ Best Music Books of 2022, and Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.
Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever
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