Billboard — Guitar hero Nils Lofgren has performed with Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Ringo Starr, but on his new single, “Whatever Happened to Muscatel?,” he’s collaborating with a big name from an entirely different arena: best-selling author Clive Cussler.
“We wrote this song about these great old liquors that have fallen by the wayside,” Lofgren tells Billboard.com from his Arizona home. “It started with us wanting to write this corny country song, but we went to work on it and it’s not a corny country song anymore — it’s quite cool.”
The two met when Lofgren tracked the author down during his 1989 tour with Starr’s All-Starr Band; these days, they live five minutes from each other in Arizona. The project was hammered out over a couple of visits; Cussler even sings a few lines, which Lofgren laughingly said he “begged me to take out.”
“Muscatel” will be available soon on Lofgren’s Web site, where fans can also download four hour-long guitar lessons which focus on Lofgren’s single “Keith Don’t Go” and the intro to his performance of Springsteen’s “Countin’ on a Miracle” from the “Rising” tour.
“For my job in the E Street Band, I’ve become the swingman, I play the bottleneck, dobro and pedal steel guitar,” he said. “These were all new instruments for me, and it was very overwhelming. It was like a crash course. I had to perform on them soon, which was really a challenge. It made me remember how I started, one lick at a time.”
Lofgren said he used to give lessons as a teenager, “but then I hit the road. And decades later, hundreds of people have asked me if they can buy lessons, and I always have to say no. So this was a way to do it, where you can play something and talk people through it very slowly.”
Lofgren sees his Web site as the primary outlet for his new work. “It’s been a little over 13 years now without a record company, but the Internet is like this weird new frontier. The Internet has a lot of bad things, but it’s also this brave new world where I can do what I want and play with who I want, without getting permission.”
In E Street-related news, Lofgren appears on Patti Scialfa’s upcoming record, “Play It As It Lays,” out Sept. 4 on Columbia. He’ll also accompany her on promotional stops for the record in New York, including performances on the “Today” show and “Late Show with David Letterman” on release day and “The View” on Sept. 6.
But as for increasing chatter about a new E Street record and tour in the fourth quarter, Lofgren remains tight-lipped. “What I can say is as a fan who bought tickets and saw them play before joining, I obviously would love to see another chapter,” he offers. “But as far as hard news about Bruce’s next move, that should come from him and his office. But my fingers are crossed just like every other fan.”
For now, Lofgren plans to spend the fall doing some acoustic shows in support of his new live DVD, “Nils Lofgren and Friends Live Acoustic,” which is available on the Web site, and hopes to resume recording early next year.