Archive for Bruce Springsteen

SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY: IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 12, 2016 by midliferocker

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A Jersey legend keeps making music and remembering his roots. 

By Steve Houk

There are plenty of treasures that have to do with the Jersey Shore. The boardwalk. The salt water taffy or the fudge you get there, maybe a Kohr Bros. cone. The old restaurants and legendary bars. And of course, the beautiful beaches.

But the Shore’s biggest treasure might just be the music it inspired. Of course, it gave birth to Bruce, with that Aurora risin’ behind him right there in Asbury Park. But of the slew of other great bands and musicians that have risen out of the sand, surf and beer soaked bars up and down the coast, none screams Jersey Shore louder than Southside Johnny, aka John Lyon, who fed off the influences of his other Shore brethren as well as those who came before all of them and crafted a sound that’s been blasting across the globe for decades now and is still going strong. And it’s been a combination of Lyons’ determination and a little help from his friends that has kept him going this long.

“I love playing so I knew I would play music somehow, but I thought I’d be like most of the guys in Jersey, and play on the weekends and have a regular job and that kinda stuff. But I got very lucky, got some publicity, and Bruce and Steven both helped. My sheer tenacity has kept me goin’.”

At 68, two years older than his childhood buddy Mr. Springsteen, Lyon is still packing clubs and theaters and touring heavily in both the US and Europe, and released his 13th studio record Soultime last year. He and his Jukes appear at The Birchmere on Saturday December 17th.

For Lyon, it was those he surrounded himself with early on that helped pave the way, a group of buddies that seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do from the get go.

“(E Street Band bassist) Garry Tallent was my big inspiration,” Lyon told me recently. “He and I went to high school together, and Sonny Kenn and (original E Street Band drummer) Vini ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez, they were all like, we are going to be musicians. And they were 16 years old! 15, 16, 17 years old. And then I met Steve and Bruce, all these other people, and they all said, we’re gonna be musicians. I’m thinking, how can you know at 17 that there’s not going to be some other path you’re gonna take? They just were so focused. And I joined up with all those people and it was music 24 hours a day. We would listen to it, we would talk about it, we’d play, we’d jam, it just was all music. For years, that’s all we concentrated on. It just became this great obsession with all of us. It was just the greatest time ‘cuz we really had a purpose and a focus.”

And it was that sense of camraderie that continued and pervaded the Jersey Shore music scene, helping the budding musicians to hone and craft their own sounds.

“There was no real competitive scene, in the sense that we all really rooted for each other,” Lyon said. “Steven of course was a big influence because he had so much ambition and he wanted to learn how to produce, and he wanted to learn how to arrange. He really had the push to get things done. Just like Bruce. Bruce was a ball of energy as far as rehearsing and writing and playing.”

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Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and Southside Johnny on stage together

Lyon made a decision early on to add horns to his music, something that helped set him apart from other bands on the scene and cemented his trademark sound.

“I was in blues bands, playing and singing, and that’s fine, but two hours of blues just didn’t sound fulfilling for me,” Lyon continued. “I needed to hear some R & B, and some rock and roll, even a little jazz if we wanted to. I wanted it to be a broader palette than just blues. And one of the things I grew up listening to was Count Basie and other big band stuff, then there was the Stax horns. And you think, yeah that’s what I want, I want horns. Steven and I had bands together, we had an acoustic duo, and finally when we started to get into the recording, after Bruce made his first record, I said I’d like horns on some songs, and Steven said yeah, I’d love to have a horn section in the band. So we made the first demo of four songs with some guys from the Asbury Park High School Marching Band, believe it or not. They weren’t skilled musicians but we got what we needed out of ’em. It was alot of fun. The horns have been the thing that makes us unique in some ways but it also…when you start a song and the horns come in, it just takes it up that step and people really get excited, and I do too. It lifts me up, too.”

And like his Shore buddies, the power and magic of the live experience would be something that would not only drive his success from then until now, but it would save his sanity, much like Springsteen recently revealed about himself in his autobiography.

“That’s the place where I feel most comfortable. I went through an anxiety period, and I would really not want to be around people, until I walked on stage and everything was OK. It was the weirdest feeling just to be…you can’t talk to anybody backstage and you just want to run out screaming into the night. And then you walk out on stage and the band starts and you feel completely comfortable and like, everything’s alright. It’s two hours of being who you want to be. For me it has always been therapy, giving it all up on stage, we all learned that from people like Jackie Wilson and Otis Redding and Sam and Dave. If you’re not sweatin’, you’re not workin’.”

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes perform Saturday December 17th at The Birchmere,  3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria VA 22305. For tickets, click here

 

 

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Growin’ Up and Rushing Down The River Of Life With Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band 1/29/16 WASHINGTON DC

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 30, 2016 by midliferocker

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By Steve Houk

It’s a rare thing, seeing someone grow up. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see your children, your partner, other relatives, even some close friends, go through the myriad of miraculous changes and trying times that growing older brings. But it is a special and beautiful thing to witness and share.

For many of us, we have been given that unique blessing with Bruce Springsteen. Thirty five years ago, when his fifth album The River was released and I saw him for the first time third row in Hartford in front of Clarence, he was a 30 year-old, wiry, scrappy, mutton-chopped young man still searching for his true path, unknowingly on the precipice of true greatness. And he was using his extraordinary music to find his way, creating stories in his songs that described the pains and triumphs of becoming an adult.

We were all growing up too, on our own edge of discovery, finding out who we were going to be, and his music spoke to us, it said to us: be free, exult, laugh and dance, but also be wary of what life will bring, and here’s why. It was like we grabbed his hand and said, hey, take us along with you, we may need help with all of this growing up shit, too.

Three decades later, a beefier yet fit, mature, grown-up Bruce Springsteen took the stage last night to play The River for us again, this time as a 66 year-old man who through his incredibly powerful and passionate music has spent those last 30 plus years telling us his own story about his coming of age. And now, with us also being adults, some of us parents, all of us as older people, who have lived some life by now (oh boy, have we), we are still holding his now rougher, deeply-lined and a tad more craggly hand, and have never been more appreciative of how he has helped us through the hardest, most beautiful, most challenging times in our lives, while also living his. And The River would never be more powerful or meaningful than it was on this night.

With his astonishingly tight even-after-all-these-years band in superb form as the newborn tour revs up to speed, Springsteen cold opened with the rare River sessions track “Meet Me In The City” with full lights up, serving as a “We’re back, and we’re yours” type of welcome. Bruce then paused to tell about how when The River came out, he was still trying to figure out who he was, how he fit in, how “I’d taken notice of things that bond people to their lives. Maybe if I started writing about them, they’d start happening in my own life.” He said he had wanted “to make a big record that sounded like life and would contain fun, dancing, laughter, jokes, politics, sex, good comradeship, love, faith, lonely nights, and of course…tears. So tonight I want you to come along with us as we…go down The River.”

And with that, The E Street Band, led by their ferociously committed bandleader urging the crowd on with the chant of “Let’s hear party noises!” launched into the classic album with a string of rockers that would cover the comradeship element to a tee: “The Ties That Bind,”, the raucous “Sherry Darling,”, the tempting “Jackson Cage” featuring a rare turn by Big Man nephew Jake Clemons on harmonica, and the always joyful Bruce/Steven Van Zandt ode, “Two Hearts.” The wild dancing was full steam ahead by the first note of this opening suite of some of Bruce’s most joyful songs, provoking images of friends and neighbors shaking it deliriously at a backyard party in Jersey on a hot summer night.

Yes, like us, this is an older E Street Band, not that 1980 version, but even though some songs this night may have been a tidge slower than their ’80 predecessors, and Bruce would not be sliding on his knees or sprinting across the stage, there was very little loss of power or glory all night, and it’s clear the band has already hit its stride. Nils Lofgren was in excellent form with his virtuostic playing while Van Zandt filled his sidekick role as good as ever. Garry Tallent and Max Weinberg shined on the deep end, Charlie Giordano was strong on keys, and Clemons continues to wonderfully fill in for his legendary uncle on sax.  And as always, Roy Bittan provided his masterful piano magic. Some die-hards may incorrectly think the talented Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell aren’t necessarily essential, but last night, they helped fill in splendidly on background vocals and in other understated ways, and definitely added an extra element to several songs. There were moments looking across the front of the stage and seeing the five players in line when I thought, yes this works, they are in sync and this newer E Street Band ensemble, although different from the boys’ club of 198o, is a perfect evolutionary piece of this lifelong puzzle.

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With those four party songs over, the lights dimmed. ” ‘Independence Day’ was the first song I wrote about fathers and sons,” Springsteen said quietly. “It’s the kinda song you wrote when you’re young, and you’re first startled by your parents’ humanity. You come to realize that they had their own dreams and their own desires, and all you can see is the adult compromises they’ve had to make. When you’re young, you haven’t had to do that yet, all you could feel as a younger person was a desire to escape that world. So I had a simple setting for the song, it was just a conversation between two people futilely trying to understand one another around the kitchen table late at night.” There’s Bruce’s hand we’re holding again, making you think of the times you sat with your father, your mother, wife or husband, son or daughter, around that same table. “Papa go to bed now, it’s getting late,” Bruce sang achingly, “nothing we can say will change anything now, ‘cuz there’s different people living down here now, and they see things in different ways, soon everything we’ve known will just be swept away.” When my son Ben went to college two years ago, I put this song on and wept. And I’m sure I’m not alone. And last night, I wept again. But I also took Ben to his first Bruce show ever two years ago at Nationals Park, and it was incredible to share it with him, I cried but they were different tears. So there ya go, the ups downs and facts of life, all with Bruce alongside.

“Here’s another leaving home song,” Springsteen shouted, as the singalong fave “Hungry Heart” kicked off another string of out-of-your-seat songs that really are the centerpiece of the “fun-dancing-laughter” core of the record. “I took a wrong turn and I just kept going” conjures images of Bruce in that hot rod taking that turn and not looking back. But like everybody, like us, always craving love. He would also do his fall backwards into the crowd stunt here and be passed by hands gingerly along and back up on stage. “Out In The Street,” “Crush On You,” a surprisingly strong “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” were next, followed by “I Wanna Marry You,” where he reflected, “I wrote this song as a little daydream, where you’re standing on the corner watching someone who you’re never going to meet walk by, and you imagine a whole life with that person, in thirty seconds. Of course you imagine the easiest kind of love. One without consequences. That’s why it’s a song of youth.” Again, he takes us to a place in our imaginations, and in our real lives, where we’ve all been before.

Things would go very deep for the next two, and among many, this was certainly one of the evening’s most powerful pieces of the show. The stirring, run-back-to-your seat-if-you’re-getting-a-beer, harmonica opening of “The River,” the hauntingly baptismal title cut, began one of Bruce’s most pointed songs about finding out there are consequences to moments of passion and yet you can still find the beauty amidst the dissapointment. In one of the most devastating lyrics he’s ever written, Springsteen and Scialfa sang stirringly in harmony, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is something worse?” Sound familiar? Probably. His falsetto at the end was like a desperate cry from the banks.

Bruce continued this deeply affecting part of the show with another slug-you-in-the-gut look at relationships, “Point Blank.” Opening with the familiar gorgeously grand piano flourish by Bittan, Bruce sings of the ache of lost love and yes, more lives singed by dissapoinment. “I was gonna be your Romeo and you were gonna be my Juliet, but these days you don’t wait on Romeos, you wait on those welfare checks.” This was also a song that because of it’s lyric, “Point blank, they shot you in the back,” was not played at several December 1980 River shows after John Lennon was killed.

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Weinberg’s familiar drum opening signaled another chance to ratchet the party back up as Bruce announced, “Has anybody got my Cadillac?” before “Cadillac Ranch”, Bruce’s slambanging ode to hot rods that featured a scorching fiddle solo from Tyrell, followed by “I’m A Rocker,” before returning to the perils of love with “Fade Away” (featuring one of Van Zandt’s strongest harmonies of the night) as Bruce pleads with his lover not to let their love dissapear.

As the lights lowered once again, Springsteen became thoughtful, pensive. “This is the first song I wrote about men and women. And to ask the question, if you lose your connection, do you lose yourself.” With the gentle strums of the acoustic and Roy’s tinkling piano that Backstreets magazine’s review described  as “a lover’s tears hitting the street at night; lonely, delicate and fragile,” Bruce began the heart-rending strains of “Stolen Car,” which has turned out to be one of the early favorites on this tour. It’s a song that has always made us look long and hard at the love in our life and how important keeping the connection really is. “She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote, when our love was young and bold, she said last night she read those letters, and they made her feel one hundred years old.” There’s that kitchen table we’ve all sat around again, where the deepest things are often said. And there’s Bruce again trying to help us understand the heights and depths of love.

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After stopping at the musical keg for another brew and a dance on the roadhouse romp of “Ramrod” and a beautiful band-all-in version of “Price You Pay,” things would come to an emotional crescendo with two more of Bruce’s most stirring songs ending the River portion of the evening. “Drive All Night” was much anticipated and did not dissapoint, it was in fact magnificent, the best version of the song I have ever heard save the 1980 one, with the aching promise of devotion from one lover to another  slowly building to an utterly stunning intensity yet unseen for this song before, with Bruce in is as fine a voice as he would be all night, or on this song, as he ever has been. Some of his most evocative lyrics — “I wanna drive all night again, just to get you some shoes and to taste your tender charms” — echoed through the sold-out arena, and tears twinkled and streamed down cheeks amidst the faithful. “Don’t cry nowwww, don’t cry nowwwww…” followed by a staggering Jake Clemons solo. I mean, really?

“Wreck On The Highway,” the last song on the record and a fitting way for Bruce to complete the mood and tone of The River as a whole piece, brought people to their figurative knees, with a story about a man — Bruce, you, me — coming upon a crash on a desolate stretch of road one night, and then getting home to his love and treasuring their life amidst the always present spectre of loss. “Sometimes I sit up in the darkness, and I watch my baby as she sleeps, then I climb in bed and I hold her tight, I just lay there awake in the middle of the night, thinking ’bout the wreck on the highway.” As the song ended, Bruce walked to the mike, and said, “And that’s…The River.” Certainly one of the most remarkably emotional sets many there including me had ever seen him do, The River was done total justice and was performed exceptionally well. And above all, once again, Springsteen had our hands held tight, telling us the stories of our life, and his, in his music.

Not slowing down one bit, Springsteen and Company would slam right into a fabulous seven song home stretch that largely he rotates every show this tour, give or take a couple. A fun roll of BITUSA’s “Darlington County” was followed by two major Darkness On The Edge Of Town gems for this ecstatic DC crowd, “Prove It All Night” and then seamlessly into “The Promised Land.” Two more songs that have always made us yearn along with Bruce for hope and redemption, if you just believe. A real nugget from Tunnel Of Love followed, “Tougher Than The Rest” featuring the best moment for Scialfa by far as she and her husband melded voices beautifully across the powerful lyrics and yes, sparking memories of my life when Tunnel came out. “Wrecking Ball” was next and then, speaking of powerful, “The Rising” rose up the foundations, and at least for this fan, you could not help remembering Springsteen’s first show in Washington after 9/11, arguably the most emotional show he has ever played here.  And to end the main sets, perhaps Springsteen’s greatest song, “Thunder Road” was the fitting closer. With lights fully up on the crowd and everyone singing every word at top volume, Springsteen and his band brought the house down with yet another song that in one way another we can all relate to. We’ve all rolled down the windows and let the wind blow back our hair, feeling alive and free, even with the uncertainty of life swirling around us.

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It never seems the E Street Band would have any gas left in that ol’ Cadillac after 2 1/2 hours of playing, but of course Springsteen and Co. returned to the stage for a five song encore, starting with “No Surrender,” a song that no doubt resonated with the large amount of veterans in the audience who Springsteen had acknowledged earlier. With the house lights remaining on, fists were raised and crowd voices finally went hoarse on exuberant versions of “Born To Run,” “Dancing In The Dark,” a well-played “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” and finishing the evening, as has been standard so far on the tour, with a lively and wedding-memory-inducing roll of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” Even when rolling covers, Bruce is able to help us summon up memories of our past, I mean, who hasn’t gotten a little bit louder now next to the bride and groom? The band would gather front of stage and bow as is customary, bringing t and More edition of this incredible thing that is a Springsteen show to a close.

Of the dozens of Springsteen shows I’ve seen, the sheer emotional power of this rendition of The River was astounding, and affected me and I’m sure many others there very deeply. It took me back to 1980 and that first River show as a teenager on the brink of 20, and also reminded me how much water has flowed down my own river of life since. And other moments last night outside of The River made me remember other points in his career when, as he was writing about life and love and happiness and despair and how to best try to endure it all, we were all experiencing it too, and learning and listening and trying and failing and trying again, with his voice in our heads and in our hearts.

As last night becomes a treasured memory, I still have Bruce Springsteen’s hand in mine, as others do, and we will continue to as long as he will allow us to go along on this incredible journey of life, both his and ours. We’ve grown up with him, and hopefully there’s still a long river of life ahead for all of us. And as long as we’re all breathing air, Bruce will be there to ride the rapids of life’s river with us.

 

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TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 29, 2016 by midliferocker

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By Steve Houk

I remember that it was snowing. Big puffy flakes that we were catching on our tongues as we giddily skipped down the streets of Hartford towards the Civic Center. It was Dec 12 1980, three days after John Lennon was shot, we were all 19 or 20, in the prime of our young lives. It was even our friend Linda’s 20th birthday, and in a stunning reminder how much time has passed, she passed away just last month.

But on that cold and wintry night in 1980, we were beside-ourselves ecstatic to be on our way to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band on a stop during the tour to support his latest album, The River, his much anticipated follow up to Darkness On The Edge Of Town. For many in our posse, it would be our first time at a full length Bruce show, a couple of us had seen him do his six or seven song set at the No Nukes Benefit a year before at MSG, but this was our first foray into a no holds barred full on Springsteen show. And it was a show that for some of us would end up being the greatest concert of our lives. And tonight, Bruce will be up there again, playing the entire River record, almost four decades after we first saw him.

Why was this concert that took place over 35 years ago so memorable, so profound, so unforgettable? Because it was way more than a concert, as most Springsteen shows are. This show was an experience, almost like a Broadway show, where we were taken on a journey, an adventure, an odyssey. We were brought to the highest heights and also down to some low lows, it’s a story, a tale, rather than a list of songs that a band plays and then they’re done. It was a revival meeting, a therapy session, a short story, a love song, a party crasher, a psalm, a hymn, a raging rocker. All of those things in one 3 hour and 45 minute expression of the sheer joy of rock and roll. Seeing Bruce for the first time was an utter mindblower. In subsequent Springsteen shows that I have seen, which were all spectacular in their own ways, you knew what to expect. He’d still find ways to surprise you, but you knew what you were in for. At this show in Hartford, we had yet to experience him, and so to sit there and see this relatively scrawny, mutton chopped Jersey Devil blow our minds ten ways from Sunday was an incomparably exhilarating feeling.

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For Bruce, The River was another vitally important chapter in his growth as an artist, and as a man. On Born To Run, Bruce took Wendy from the front porch to his front seat in a desperate attempt to escape the hopelessness of youth. On Darkness, he started peering into the reality of life and his need to find the promised land and escape the badlands became even more urgent, but he was still figuring it out, all as he kept racing in the street.

But on The River, responsibility and commitment have arrived and taken center stage, and amidst the hungry hearts, Sherry darlings and ramrods are strewn the stolen cars, wrecks on the highway and deep rivers of stark reality where beneath the surface of hot cars and hot girls flow the deep challenges of marriage, parenthood and work. On “Independence Day,” among the most deeply personal songs Springsteen has ever written, he makes no bones about telling his father that he’s a man now, he’s leaving to make his own way, because he knows one thing for sure: “They ain’t gonna do to me what I watched ’em do to you.”

And it was at this very moment, a critical time when we were all figuring out who we were too, that we were first given Bruce. A man standing tall and proud but also wary and troubled, on the edge of true adulthood, and huge superstardom, giving every single solitary ounce of his heart and soul for almost four hours, leaving us to walk into the snowy 1980 night deliriously happy, mouths still agape at what we had witnessed, and ecstatic we had found him.

And tonight, when the lights go out at Verizon Center, and we all take another dive into The River, we are no longer 18 or 19, like Bruce we now also have families, we have responsibilities, we have commitments and yes, we have struggles and challenges all these years later. And thankfully we still have Bruce, who tonight will take us back to that snowy Connecticut night when our rock and roll lives changed forever, and then ecstatically take us up into the stratosphere before letting us out in the streets once again to ponder what we just saw.

Take me to The River. Wash me down.

 

 

 

WILLIE NILE: BRILLIANCE REALIZED

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 1, 2015 by midliferocker

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One of rock’s most gifted songwriters reaps the rewards of patience. 

By Steve Houk

You might not know Willie Nile‘s music. And until you do, well, it’s your loss.

Forget that Nile is one of the most prolific and brilliant songwriters anywhere. One critic referred to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Willie Nile as the “bards and masters of melody and meaning.” If it was up to some of the most gifted musicians on the planet, as well as a legion of fans he’s garnered over his 30 plus years in the business, everyone would know who Willie Nile is.

“From Richard Thompson to Bruce Springsteen — I treasure (Bruce’s) friendship, he’s as good a guy as you’d hope he’d be  — to Bono and Lucinda Williams just to name a few, they’ve all been so supportive,” the great Nile told me from New York recently. “Lucinda told me when she heard ‘On The Road to Cavalry,’ that it was the most beautiful song she’d ever heard. And I’ve been to Ireland the past two winters, and both times after sound check, I’d go up to the dressing room and there’s this wooden gift box with two bottles of champagne and five to six bottles of Guinness and a note, and you open it up and it says, ‘Welcome to Dublin, Love, U2.’ That’s from Bono, he’s been such a supporter, too. I just pinch myself. So as up and down a ride as it’s been, it’s really more satisfying than you can imagine, because of the respect I’ve gotten, and the joy I’m having making the music.”

Up and down is right, but respect and joy are what surrounds Willie Nile these days. At 67, the supremely talented Nile is one of those musicians whose career has had enough gaps in it that he’s almost slipped through them himself: a fairy tale start, followed by a long reclusion from the music business altogether, and then a masterful 25 year awakening, turning him into one of music’s most unheralded songwriting geniuses. Nile and his truly excellent band play tonight at The Barns of Wolf Trap.

For Nile, it’s all about the songs, and album for album, from his self-titled debut in 1980 to his latest record ‘World War Willie,’ his sublime tunes are what separates him from the rest of the pack, they’ve reaped him the major respect he so deeply deserves. Yes, he and his band can rock the house like nobody’s business, in the studio and especially live, but it’s the evocative, poignant and stunning tapestries of life that Nile paints with his words that place him in very rare company.

“When I write, I just write what comes to me,” Nile told me. “Whether it’s something political, you know, the world we live in, or I see something that touches my heart, whether it’s love or loss, or someone else’s sorrow or loneliness. I watch people all the time, looking for things that inspire me. From burning the house down on a Saturday night, just blowing the roof off a place with party songs, to other deeper songs about a time, a place or a love, what’s great about rock and roll is you can write about anything. There’s no limit, it’s boundless. There’s something about that that really appeals to me.”

Willie Nile's self-titled debut circa 1980

Willie Nile’s self-titled debut circa 1980

Willie Nile just might have become one of those aforementioned household names if things had gone a bit differently. An unexpected gig opening up for one of rock music’s most famous bands right after his first album dropped gave him a leg up most musicians dream about, and things seemed ready to blast off.

“I toured with the Who in 1980, after my first record,” Nile said. “When they told me at the record company, oh, Pete Townsend loves your record, I just thought to myself, yeah, sure he does, this is some kinda bullshit that the record company is throwing. So go forward, it’s the last show of my first tour at the Roxy in L.A., and after the show, Bill Curbishley, The Who’s manager and a number of Who people came back. They really liked the show, and asked me on the spot if I wanted to open across the US for The Who. They had another band opening, they just started the tour, and they kicked them off the tour. It was the dream of a lifetime, we had the time of our lives. I was playing in a few hundred seat clubs, first time ever playing with a band. Next thing you know I’m in front of 20,000, 25,000. It was great.”

With a huge break like that, you’d think it’d be pretty smooth sailing to the next level. But for Nile, after two stellar early records and the Who warm-up slot, it was an admirable combination of principles and responsibility that took precedence, and he literally dissapeared from view for a half dozen years just as his star was about to burst open. He spent that time largely letting family take a front seat, with music being relegated to the back.

“I walked away in ’81, we went and had kids and raised a family in Buffalo. It was a magical time up there, but a hard time,” Nile said. “I went through whatever savings I had and borrowed money, and I didn’t play at all. I mean, nothing. (My career) also had become more about business and not about music. So I just said, you know what? I’m outta here. That’s not why I came. Music is a total joy for me, I love it, and they were totally killing my buzz, and I go, I’m not gonna let them kill my buzz, so I just turned around and walked away. If I had any regrets it would be management choices, choices that I’ve made. Like if I hadn’t made some of those moves, things would be different. But you learn, you make mistakes, and you learn hopefully from them. It’s taken me a long time, but it’s been a very rewarding journey for many years.”

Nile kept writing music up in Buffalo, but stayed away from performing throughout much of the 80’s. It was late in the decade when a unique opportunity presented itself, and the pull of his chosen gifts beckoned Nile back into a life of music.

“I got a call from a promoter in Norway saying, ‘I thought you were dead. We all thought you were dead,'” Nile said. “I had never been to Europe, which is really a shame, had I gone to Europe back in the beginning, things would have been quite a bit different. But I went to play a children’s cancer hospital benefit in the far north of Norway, and I ended up going there like six, seven years in a row. I also went to this benefit for this writer, the godfather of all the music critics in Norway. It was filmed, Joe Ely was there, I did like a 25 minute set. I took the videotape of that performance to a buddy of mine, a producer at Columbia, and he loved it so much he signed me on the strength of that. So that got me going again.”

The wait was worth it, Nile was back in business, and over the next decade he would release two stellar records, “Places I’ve Never Been” in 1991 (featuring Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III and Roger McGuinn on backup vocals) and eight years later, “Beautiful Wreck Of The World,” which would be his first self-released record and change the course of his career for the better by freeing himself of the constraints of record companies’ incessant meddling. A whirling flurry of creativity and productivity would follow, and finally, his name would become synonymous around the world for both kick-ass rock and roll and thoughtful, deep songwriting.

“That was really a turning point for me, because of the internet plus the independent thing, that freed me up from relying on major labels to be interested or involved. In 2006, ‘Streets Of New York’ really put me back on the map, internationally. I had started going to Europe in maybe ’92 on a regular basis, so I had pretty developed fan bases in Italy and Spain, and now in these last years the UK and Ireland. But in 2006, ‘New York’ made a lot of noise, Bono gave me a great quote for it, a lot of people gave me some great quotes. Then I put out ‘House of a Thousand Guitars’ in 2009, 2011 was ‘The Innocent Ones’ which got a ton of acclaim on BBC, they called it the album of the year, again, independently released. In 2013, I put out ‘American Ride’ through a Sony distributed label. That won the Independent Music Award for Best Rock Album of the Year in a worldwide vote, which was really sweet.”

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Willie Nile (R) on stage with close friend Bruce Springsteen

For Willie Nile, it’s been a long road to where he is today, and if it weren’t for a couple of important decisions he felt he needed to make, he might be in that upper echelon of rock star popularity. But don’t let that fool you: they don’t get any better than Willie Nile, a sweet and sincere guy whose songwriting chops and live performances are as good as anyone out there right now. And he’s very pleased with where things are in his life today.

“You learn things, everybody’s got different paths. I’m very happy where things are now. It’s been much easier on my family. But I really treasure all the stuff that I have learned. I wouldn’t trade it for the world at this point. I’m having a great, great time. Still writing like crazy, and enjoying it as much as ever. And the people come out and give me a lot of love so it’s very rewarding. I consider myself very lucky.”

Willie Nile and his band perform tonight at The Barns at Wolf Trap. Tickets are available here.