E-Street loses link in chain

Danny Federici, who died recently, defined Bruce Springsteen's sound over the last 35 years.

Springsteen 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Springsteen 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
More than any other E-Street Band member, organ/accordion player Danny Federici, who died April 17 at 58 after a three-year battle with melanoma, defined Bruce Springsteen's sound over the last 35 years. While Clarence Clemons's sax solos are full of grandeur and urban grit, and Roy Bittan's tinkling piano provides numerous dramatic goose bumping preludes and fills, it was Federici with his fluid keyboard playing that captured the innocence and wildness of Springsteen's music. Along with Clemons and bass player Gary Tallent, Federici was the only band member who was with Springsteen before he even recorded his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, in 1973. Whether evoking the Jersey boardwalk atmosphere on "Sandy," the midway carnival mood of "Bishop Danced" or the kaleidescope of highway sounds on "Born To Run," Federici always knew the right flourish and nuance to make Springsteen's music come alive and fly. While preferring to remain out of the spotlight behind an array of keyboards, Federici was a standout support player in a band of standouts, and as Springsteen himself said in a statement last week, was a "pillar of our sound." The E Street Band always gave off the vibe of being a gang of friends who would rather be on the stage playing with Springsteen more than anywhere else. Whether that was a 'show biz' front masking the usual rock star ego infighting or not, it was an undeniably real and emotional moment three weeks ago when Federici joined the band in Indianapolis for a few songs after being forced to drop out of the Springsteen tour a couple months earlier for treatment. Thin and frail, Federici stood front and center next to Springsteen as they played "Sandy" for one last time, both swaying to the beat and seemingly lost in the moment of the song and more than three decades of memories. When it was over, the whole band embraced, unaware, or perhaps, astutely aware that it would be the last time the 'Phantom' would be performing with them. "We grew up together. I loved him," said Springsteen in the statement. That says it for the rest of us too.