The E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan turns 70 years old today. He joined up with Springsteen right before Born to Run was recorded in 1974 and has played a pivotal role in his career ever since, even staying with him on the Human Touch tour in 1992 when the rest of the group was fired. “It was a harsh situation at that particular moment,” Bittan told Rolling Stone in 2015. “I kind of always described it to myself like there was a plane crash and I was the only survivor.”
Springsteen’s loyalty to Roy Bittan is easy to understand. He’s a musician with incredible range and skill, popping up on everything from David Bowie’s Station to Station to Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna, Bonnie Tyler’s Faster Than the Speed of Night and Peter Gabriel’s Peter Gabriel II. (Check out this 2015 interview with Bittan where he talks about 10 of his favorite non-E Street Band sessions.)
Many Springsteen fans first noticed Bittan on the Born to Run tour where the show would sometimes begin with Springsteen and the keyboardist alone onstage playing a stripped-down rendition of “Thunder Road.” That’s the version of the song that opens the Live 1975-85 box set and they resurrected it on select shows on the 2012 Wrecking Ball tour. Here’s a video from London’s Hyde Park on July 12th, 2012 where they bring it back.
Springsteen himself turns 70 on September 23rd, but that’s not going to stop him from recording an E Street Band album later this year and, if he sticks to a plan out outlined a few months back, bringing the band back out on the road next year. As always, Bittan will be along for the ride.