Nels Cline (born January 4, 1956 in Los Angeles)[1][2] is an American guitarist and composer.



He first came to prominence in the 1980s playing jazz, often in collaboration with his identical twin brother Alex Cline, a drummer. Since then, Nels has worked with a wide range of musicians in punk and alternative rock, notably Mike Watt, Thurston Moore and Wilco (the latter as a full-time member since 2004). He also leads the groups the Nels Cline Singers and Nels Cline Trio.

Cline was named the 82nd greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in November 2011,[3] and the 43rd greatest guitarist of all time by Spin magazine in May 2012.[4]


File:Nils double neck Wilco London on 24.2.10.jpg

Cline began to play guitar at age 12 when his twin brother, Alex Cline took up the drums. The pair developed musically together, playing in a youth rock band they dubbed "Homogenized Goo"[5] and both graduated from University High School (Los Angeles, California).

Cline is known for his improvisational work and for the diversity of his musical projects, as well as his use of effects pedals and looping devices which give his music a distinct sound. He has played with jazz musicians Charlie Haden, Gregg Bendian, Wadada Leo Smith, Tim Berne, Vinny Golia and the late bassist Eric Von Essen, a longtime musical companion in the L.A. jazz group Quartet Music.

In 1983, Nels was asked by drummer Chris Mancinelli and bassist Steuart Liebig to join the early formation of BLOC. The trio developed musical ideas for about a year. At this point they added another guitarist NIcholas Kirgo and vocalist Camille Henry. The quintet became a Los Angeles club favorite and garnered much praise from the local press and media. Practically every major label was interested at some point but no major label seemed to have a clue how to promote the multi-talented group. In 1990 with Tony Peluso producing, they were signed with A&M Records after turning down a previous offer from Atlantic Records. The album "In the Free Zone" was released in early 1991. A&M at this point was in the middle of being sold to Polygram and there was little support at the label for the band. They were bought out of their 2 album deal and promptly dropped a month after the album's release. After 8 years of performing and recording the group decided to break up and move on.

Cline has also performed and recorded with punk rock bassist Mike Watt in his touring bands The Crew of the Flying Saucer and The Black Gang, as well as with members of Sonic Youth and country music legend Willie Nelson, and in the jazz/punk/improv band Banyan with Watt and ex-Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins. He frequently participates in jazz projects with his twin brother, Alex, however their first actual duo together was in Culver City, California, at their 50th birthday show.

Cline's first appearance on an album was on Vinny Golia's 1978 record, Openhearted, and his first work as a bandleader was 1988's Angelica. In the late 1980s, Cline formed the Nels Cline Trio, which featured his guitar playing complemented by Mark London Sims at bass and Michael Preussner at drums. The trio released several 7 inch demos and one album, before replacing Sims with Bob Mair at bass. This new trio released three albums before splitting up, featuring some of Cline's most melodic works, before he ventured into a freer and more minimalist territory in the decade to come. Shortly before the end of the trio, Nels recorded two albums, In-Store, and Pillow Wand, with Sonic Youth frontman and guitarist, Thurston Moore.

Nels was also a member of the Geraldine Fibbers and Scarnella with Carla Bozulich. He played on, co-arranged and co-produced her The Red Headed Stranger album guest-starring Jenny Scheinman, Scott Amendola, Devin Hoff and Willie Nelson, as well as Bozulich's Evangelista albums. Additionally, the two worked sporadically on performance pieces, album co-production/recording, countless tours adding up to hundreds of concerts and more during their 12 year collaboration.

In 1999, Cline paired up with jazz drummer Gregg Bendian to record a modern rendition of John Coltrane's 1967 album, Interstellar Space. On Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane, Bendian and Cline reinterpret Coltrane's piece using their own distinctive approaches. He also participated in ROVA's Electric Ascension (2005), a performance of Coltrane's landmark large-ensemble recording Ascension (1965).

Cline's current outfit is the improv/free jazz ensemble The Nels Cline Singers, with which he has recorded four albums, Instrumentals, The Giant Pin, Draw Breath and Initiate, his most recent work as a leader. The Nels Cline Singers are currently signed with Cryptogramophone Records.

Another important project of Cline's has been the Acoustic Guitar Trio, a free-improvisation group with Jim McAuley and the late Rod Poole that specialized in microtonal improvisation.

Cline has performed on over 150 albums in the jazz, pop, rock, country, and experimental pop music genres. He continues to expand his audience as a member of the Grammy-winning rock band Wilco, which he joined in early 2004. He was later featured in the cover story of Guitar Player Magazine for his collaboration with the band.[6] Cline appears on Wilco's albums Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (The Album) and The Whole Love, as well as the live album Kicking Television: Live in Chicago, and tours with the band.

In February, 2007, Cline was chosen by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the Top 20 New Guitar Gods, and given the title "The Avant Romantic."

Currently, Cline is using the Schroeder DB-7 red amplifier built for him by Tim Schroeder of Schroeder Guitar & Amp Repair (Schroeder Audio, Inc.) in Chicago, IL.[7]

In 2012, he will appear on a cover of the Tommy Bolin song "Dreamer" with Myles Kennedy.

Personal lifeEdit

Cline is married to former Cibo Matto keyboardist Yuka Honda.[1][8] Their wedding was held in Honda's hometown in Japan in November 2010.[1][8] They met through Mike Watt when he put together the group Floored By Four.[1][9] Honda joined Nels Cline Singers for their live shows after having her input in their new album Initiate. Watt and Cline's other recent project band, Brother's Sister's Daughter for a tour and recording session in Japan for their second album.[citation needed] Cline also joined Honda as a guest guitarist in Yoko Ono Plastic Ono band in some of the dates in their tour in 2010.[10]

Notable discographyEdit



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Fusilli, Jim (2010-10-05), "Four Rock Nomads Unite for a Fleeting Tune", The Wall Streer Journal,, retrieved 2011-03-31 
  2. California Births, 1905 - 1995, Nels C. Cline
  3. "100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2012-05-26. 
  4. "SPIN's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". SPIN. Retrieved 2012-05-26. 
  5. Hoinski, Michael (2009-05-08). "Nels Cline on Masturbation, Thurston Moore, and Wilco's New Record". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  6. *"Steadfast Inclinations". Barry Cleveland. Guitar Player Magazine. March 2005.
  7. Drozdowski, Ted "How to Get Wilco’s Live Guitar Sound",, April 20, 2009, accessed January 31, 2011.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Gilbert, Andrew (2011-01-27), "Nels Cline and Yuka Honda treasure time together", The Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington),, retrieved 2011-03-31 
  9. Interview: Mike Watt talks about Yoko Ono gigs, Music Illuminati, 2011-01-27,, retrieved 2010-10-24 
  10. Tulich, Katherine (2010-09-30), "Musicians pay tribute to John Lennon and Yoko Ono", Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California),, retrieved 2011-03-31 
  11. As noted before, Nels Cline has participated in numerous projects and other bands. The albums listed above are a selection of notable releases from Nels' personal projects, bands, and collaborations. For a complete and comprehensive list of Cline's participation on various recordings, see Nels Cline Discography.

External linksEdit



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