Danny Federici: Pillar of Springsteen Sound Stood the Test of Time

I was 15 when “Born to Run” came out, and first fell in love with the sound of E Street. I didn’t know Phil Spector from a hole in the wall — I didn’t even know there were two previous Springsteen albums — I just knew that epic ballads like “Backstreets” soothed my bruised teenage heart. “Jungleland” was my other immediate favorite, it was later that “Thunder Road” and “Born To Run” sank in. Sure, Bruce was the man, but there was this other bunch of guys behind him — cool guys like Miami Steve, and Clarence — but also regular guys like Max, Garry, Roy, and Danny.

Danny played the organ, by far the least cool instrument in the band, but he laid down a foundation of sound that masterpieces were built on. In his hands even the accordion gained a level of rock cred. Danny just came to play, and wound up punching a ticket with a band that became a global sensation. he may have been the least known member of E Street which is ironic since he was so vital to Bruce in the early years. It was Danny who originally asked Bruce to join his band, not the other way around.

Danny died last week at the age of 58. Melanoma. He had taken leave of the band last November for treatment, but managed to play a show back in March in Indianapolis. The new songs from “Magic” let his Hammond B-3 organ ring out loud and proud. When Bruce pulled up songs from the Jersey Shore days, it seemed like Danny’s organ was pumping out popcorn and sun tan lotion too. His sound was so much like summer, bright with promise, but wise to the fleeting nature of the season. Never silly. Always grounded.

My son was standing next to me when Springsteen played the TD Banknorth Garden last November. At 18 he has a much more well balanced musical perspective than I had at his age, and he has an appreciation for what Springsteen is all about. I wanted him to see E Street in all its glory when they were at the top of their game, not some nostalgia act. He did that night. They ended that show with “American Land” from “The Seeger Sessions” and Danny and Roy Bittan strapped on accordions for the finale. It was old school, and a little hokey, but somehow felt just right.

On his website, Bruce called Danny “one of the pillars of our sound.” As the band carries on that pillar will still stand tall. New hands will strike the keys, but the sound that rings out will carry Danny’s spirit for all to remember. I can’t think of a better tribute.

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