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Lofgren was born in Chicago in 1951 to an Italian mother and a Swedish father. When Lofgren was a young child, the family moved to the Washington, D.C., suburb of Garrett Park, Maryland.Lofgren's first instrument was classical accordion, beginning at age 5, which he studied seriously for ten years. After studying classical music and jazz, throughout his youth, Lofgren switched his emphasis to rock music, and focused on the piano and the guitar. By 1968, Lofgren formed the band Grin originally with bassist George Daly (later replaced by Bob Gordon), and drummer Bob Berberich, former players in the DC band The Hangmen. The group played in venues throughout the Washington, D.C. area. Lofgren had been a competitive gymnast in high school, a skill that popped up later in his career. During this time, Lofgren met Neil Young and played for him. Young invited Lofgren to come to California and the Grin trio (Lofgren, Daly and Berberich) drove out west and lived for some months at a home Neil Young rented in Laurel Canyon.