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E Street’s Roy Bittan on Collaborating with Bowie, Bob Seger, Stevie Nicks

Bruce Springsteen’s keyboardist shares behind-the-scenes stories from his sessions with some of rock’s biggest names

Roy Brittan

Roy Bittan is best known for as a member of the E Street Band, but he has also played with David Bowie, Bob Seger and Stevie Nicks.

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Unless Roy Bittan cures cancer or cracks cold fusion, his obituary is likely to focus on his work as the piano player in the E Street Band. He joined the group in 1974 after responding to a Village Voice ad seeking a pianist that knew "classical to Jerry Lee Lewis." It's hard to imagine what Born to Run would have sounded like without his playing, and he's so vital to Springsteen's sound that he was the only member to survive after Bruce fired the rest of the crew in 1989.

Even today, playing with Springsteen takes up so much time that Bittan had been unable to complete Out of the Box, his solo debut, until late last year. "We just did a 99-city tour, and when those things end I don't always have the inclination to jump into the studio," he says. "So I'd been working on this piecemeal between tours for a long time. It really turned into an eclectic collection of songs. Some of it had been sitting around for 10 years."

Bittan has also kept busy by playing on albums from a stunning array of artists. To celebrate the release of Out of the Box, we spoke to the keyboardist, producer and occasional accordion-player about 10 great non-Springsteen albums he's worked on throughout his long career.

Roy Bittan

Roy Bittan performs during the 29th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

Michael Zorn/FilmMagic/Getty

Roy Bittan, ‘Out of the Box’ (2014)

"Finally being the one that calls all the shots is really a blessing and a curse. It's a funny thing to do after seeing what so many artists go through to make a record. You see the pain and the joy and the agony, and as much as you're aware of that, when you're working on your own thing you realize that every decision is yours and you have a million choices to make. 

"This whole project was incredibly instructive, from beginning to end. I played all the parts, besides a guitar part by  Nils Lofgren on one track, and produced the thing. It was a journey backward, in a way, because I utilized the elements of my playing that I'd been using my entire career, from all different points. I played the accordion. I played electric piano. I played organ. I played all the keyboards, so it really was an exploration in style and composition and recording.

"I decided to call it Out of the Box because the piano is a big box, an accordion is a squeeze box and all those keyboard instruments are basically boxes because they're cases with strings and hammers in them. And since it was my first record it was like, 'Here I am, out of the box.'"