Nils Lofgren turns attention to his own work

Bruce Springsteen (left) and Nils Lofgren.

NEW YORK - Nils Lofgren often wears a big top hat onstage when playing with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. But it's not to cover a big head.

The guitarist has forged a relatively unique rock 'n' roll niche through a willingness to sublimate his ego and take on supporting roles with Springsteen, Neil Young and Ringo Starr in addition to writing and recording his own music.

With Springsteen on a break, Lofgren is turning attention to his own work. Fantasy Records recently released "Face the Music," a nine-CD, one-DVD box set of Lofgren's music from his days leading the Washington-area band Grin in the late 1960s through 20 years of self-produced material on his website.

Sure, it's great to play his own music. But Lofgren also appreciates being in a band and not having to deal with everything a boss is responsible for.

Lofgren, 63, has never had a signature hit of his own, though he's certainly tried. He's made his peace with that, without pretending it hasn't been frustrating.

Thirty years after replacing Steve Van Zandt in the E Street Band, Lofgren said he still feels like the new guy. Springsteen stuck with him even when Van Zandt returned; Lofgren learned instruments like the dobro and pedal steel guitar to find new room in the music.

The band's welcome into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring was meaningful, although some members weren't happy that it came 15 years after their Boss.

"It almost became like a badge of honor that we weren't in," he said.