Nels Cline

Nels Courtney Cline (born January 4, 1956[1]) is an American guitarist and composer. He has been the guitarist for the band Wilco since 2004.

Nels Cline
Cline in 2004
Background information
Birth nameNels Courtney Cline
Born (1956-01-04) January 4, 1956
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresFree jazz, experimental, noise, punk rock, indie rock
Years active1977–present
LabelsCryptogramophone, Nine Winds, Atavistic, Enja, Little Brother, Strange Attractors, Audio House, Long Song
Associated actsQuartet Music, Nels Cline Trio, The Nels Cline Singers, Wilco

In the 1980s he played jazz, often in collaboration with his twin brother Alex Cline, a percussionist. He has worked with musicians in punk and alternative rock such as Mike Watt and Thurston Moore. He leads the Nels Cline Singers, Nels Cline Trio, and the Nels Cline 4.

Cline was named the 82nd greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in November 2011.[2]


Cline began to play guitar at age 12 when his twin brother Alex Cline started playing drums. The brothers developed together musically, playing in a rock band called Homogenized Goo.[3] Both graduated from University High School. Cline cites hearing a recording of Jimi Hendrix performing "Manic Depression" as a defining moment in his decision to become a guitarist.[4] Cline is known for his improvisational work and diversity of his musical projects, as well as his use of effects pedals and looping devices. He has played with Charlie Haden, Gregg Bendian, Wadada Leo Smith, Tim Berne, Vinny Golia, Julius Hemphill and Eric Von Essen, a member of Cline's jazz group Quartet Music.

Cline's first appearance on an album was Vinny Golia's 1978 Openhearted. His first work as a bandleader was 1988's Angelica. In the late 1980s, Cline formed the Nels Cline Trio with Mark London Sims on bass and Michael Preussner on drums. The trio released one album before replacing Sims with Bob Mair at bass. This trio released three albums before splitting up. Shortly before the end of the trio, Cline recorded two albums, In-Store, and Pillow Wand, with guitarist Thurston Moore.

In 1983, he was asked by drummer Chris Mancinelli and bassist Steuart Liebig to join BLOC. The trio developed musical ideas for about a year and added guitarist Nicholas Kirgo and vocalist Camille Henry. In 1990 they signed with A&M. The album In the Free Zone was released in early 1991. They were bought out of their two-album deal and dropped a month after the album's release. After eight years of performing and recording the band decided to break up.

From 1984–1986 Cline was a member of the JAH Band, which included Julius Hemphill, Alex Cline, Jumma Santos, and Steuart Liebig. In 1984 they recorded Georgia Blue (Minor Music). Cline has worked with punk 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, Willie Nelson, and Banyan with Watt and Stephen Perkins. He participates in jazz projects with his twin brother, Alex, though their first duo together was in Culver City, California, at their 50th birthday show.

He was a member of the Geraldine Fibbers and Scarnella with Carla Bozulich. He played on, co-arranged, and co-produced her album The Red Headed Stranger, with guests Jenny Scheinman, Scott Amendola, Devin Hoff, and Willie Nelson, as well as Bozulich's Evangelista albums. The two worked sporadically on performance pieces, production, recording, and tours. He leads the free jazz band the Nels Cline Singers, which recorded Instrumentals, The Giant Pin, Draw Breath and Initiate. His Acoustic Guitar Trio with Jim McAuley and Rod Poole specialized in microtonal improvisation. In 1999, Cline and drummer Gregg Bendian recorded a modern rendition of John Coltrane's 1967 album Interstellar Space. He also participated in Rova's Electric Ascension (2005), a performance of Coltrane's Ascension (1965).

Cline has performed on over 150 albums in jazz, pop, rock, country, and experimental music. He was featured in a cover story by Guitar Player magazine for his work with the rock band Wilco. [5] Cline appeared on Wilco's albums Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (The Album), The Whole Love, Star Wars, Schmilco and Ode to Joy (Wilco album) as well as the live album Kicking Television: Live in Chicago.

Personal life

Cline is married to Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto.[1][6] Their wedding was in Honda's hometown in Japan in November 2010.[1][6] They met through Mike Watt when he assembled the group Floored by Four.[1][7] Cline joined Honda as a guest guitarist in the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono band for their tour in 2010.[8] Cline joined Honda and her band Cibo Matto at the 2015 Solid Sound Festival.[9]


With the Nels Cline Trio
With the Nels Cline Singers
With Quartet Music
  • Quartet Music (Nine Winds, 1981)
  • Ocean Park (Nine Winds, 1984)
  • Window on the Lake (Nine Winds, 1986)
  • Summer Night (Delos, 1989)
With Wilco
With Floored by Four
With Exoterm
  • Exits Into A Corridor (Hubro, 2019)


As sideman

With Scott Amendola
  • Cry (Cryptogramophone, 2003)
With Banyan
With Gregg Bendian
  • Gregg Bendian's Interzone (Eremite, 1997)
  • Myriad (Atavistic, 2000)
  • Requiem for Jack Kirby (Atavistic, 2001)
With Tim Berne
  • 7X (Empire, 1980)
With the Blue Man Group
With Carla Bozulich
With Alex Cline
With the Geraldine Fibbers
  • What Part of Get Thee Gone Don't You Understand? (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1997)
  • Butch (Virgin, 1997)
With Firehose
With John Fumo
  • After the Fact (Nine Winds, 1986)
With Vinny Golia
  • Openhearted (Nine Winds, 1979)
  • Blood and Concrete: a Love Story (IRS, 1991)
  • Against the Grain (Nine Winds, 1996)
  • Razor (Nine Winds, 1996)
  • A Nation of Laws (Nine Winds, 1997)
  • One, Three, Two (Jazz Halo, 2003)
With Dennis González
  • The Earth and the Heart (Konnex, 1991)
With Julius Hemphill
  • Georgia Blue (Minor Music, 1985)
With Deborah Holland
  • Freudian Slip (bugle/Dog & Pony, 1994)
With Rickie Lee Jones
With Osamu Kitajima
  • Beyond the Circle (CyberOctave, 1996)
With Wayne Kramer
  • Citizen Wayne (Epitaph, 1997)
With Mary Lou Lord
With Lydia Lunch
With Wayne Peet
  • Blasto! (Nine Winds, 1988)
  • Live At Al's Bar (pfMentum, 2004)[10]
  • What The? (pfMentum, 2019)[11]
With Rhythm Plague
  • Dressed For The Apocalypse (Killzone Records, 1985,2017)[12]
  • Ethereal Thickness (Killzone Records, 2019)[13]
  • Heavy Buildup (Killzone Records, 2019)[14]
With AJ Roach
  • Dogwood Winter (New Folk Star, 2003)
With Rova Saxophone Quartet
With Wadada Leo Smith
With G. E. Stinson
  • Vapor (Ecstatic Peace, 1999)
With Walter Thompson
  • Stardate (Dane, 1980)
With Mia Doi Todd
With Noe Venable
  • The World Is Bound by Secret Knots (Petridish, 2002)
With Mike Watt
With Alicia Bay Laurel
  • What Living's All About: Jazz, Blues and Other Moist Situations (Indigo With Stars, 2006)


  1. Fusilli, Jim (2010-10-05), "Four Rock Nomads Unite for a Fleeting Tune", The Wall Streer Journal, retrieved 2011-03-31
  2. "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
  3. Hoinski, Michael (2009-05-08). "Nels Cline on Masturbation, Thurston Moore, and Wilco's New Record". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 2009-05-10. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  4. Poole, Rod. "Nels Cline: In The Avant-Garde Spotlight" (Audio interview). National Public Radio. Retrieved 18 December 2013. It was hearing Jimi Hendrix one afternoon on the AM radio, the song was Manic Depression. That was it. We were both literally jumping up and down and freaking out.
  5. Steadfast Inclinations. Barry Cleveland. Guitar Player. March 2005.
  6. Gilbert, Andrew (2011-01-27). "Nels Cline and Yuka Honda treasure time together". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  7. "Interview: Mike Watt talks about Yoko Ono gigs". Music Illuminati. 2011-01-27. Retrieved 2010-10-24.
  8. Tulich, Katherine (2010-09-30). "Musicians pay tribute to John Lennon and Yoko Ono". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  9. "Wilco Tinkers and Experiments at a Festival It's Happy to Share". 2015-06-29. Retrieved 2015-06-29.
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