Danny Federici, a founding member of The E Street Band who played alongside Bruce Springsteen for nearly forty years, passed away yesterday afternoon in New York City after a long struggle with melanoma. Federici was fifty-eight years old. The man who lent organ, glockenspiel and accordion sounds to some of Springsteen’s greatest work had taken a leave of absence from the group’s current tour back in November and made a surprise appearance on stage in Indianapolis on March 20th where he performed a few songs with the band, including the accordion-heavy and rarely played “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” (footage of this, along with information on remembrance donations for Federici, is up at Springsteen’s official site). “Danny and I worked together for 40 years — he was the most wonderfully fluid keyboard player and a pure natural musician,” Springsteen said in a brief statement on his website. “I loved him very much…we grew up together.” Both tonight’s concert in Ft. Lauderdale and tomorrow night’s show in Orlando have been postponed.
Federici and original E Street Band drummer Vini Lopez saw Bruce Springsteen perform at Asbury Park’s fabled Upstage Club in 1969 and convinced him to leave his current band Earth and join their band Child, which eventually evolved into the E Street Band. “I’ve told a few people that and they didn’t put it in print,” Federici told Backstreets magazine in 2005. “They didn’t believe me!” Federici earned his nickname “The Phantom” when he escaped from a near-riot at an Atlantic Highlands New Jersey Springsteen concert 1970 without the police noticing.
Federici’s distinct organ and accordion playing shaped many of Springsteen’s most enduring songs, such as “Hungry Heart,” “Kitty’s Back” and “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” He played on every E Street Band album, including 2007s Magic. “He’s all over that record,” Magic producer Brendan O’Brien told Rolling Stone in 2007. “We played a bunch of songs at him and he played great organ on all of them and we figured out what we needed. You can’t intellectualize music to him. If you let him do his thing he’s just amazing.”
When Springsteen dissolved the E Street Band in 1989 Federici moved to Los Angeles and attempted to get work writing movie scores. “Los Angeles is a funny town when it comes to newcomers,” Federici said in 2005. “Especially a newcomer who is no longer in the E Street Band.” He eventually put together the House of Blues band that played every Monday night in the mid 1990s. Springsteen reformed the E Street Band in 1999 and Federici played at every show until he had to step aside to receive treatment for melanoma late last year. His final full performance with Springsteen and the E Street Band was November 19th in Boston. “It’s like [Bruce and the E Street Band] are relatives,” Federici said in 2005. “Someone’s always there for you. Bruce has been supportive throughout my entire life. I’ve had my ups and I’ve had my downs, and I’ve certainly given him a run for his money, and he’s always been there for me, and we’ve talked about how lucky we are. I mean, there’s only a handful of bands in the world that can do what we’re doing. My father used to say, ‘You know, you’d better find something that you can do, ’cause this rock ‘n’ roll stuff ain’t going to last.'”