Thursday, April 17, 2008

R.I.P. Danny "Phantom Dan" Federici

It's a sad day on E Street, as Danny Federici, longtime keyboard and accordion player for Bruce Springsteen's band, died at the age of 58 after losing his battle against melanoma.

When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, Springsteen called Federici "the most instinctive and natural musician I ever met" and continued by remarking that he was "the only member of the band who can reduce me to a shouting mess. I love you Danny. Your organ and accordion playing brought the boardwalks of Central and South Jersey alive in my music."

I've always thought that one of Springsteen's most powerful songs is "Racing in the Street," a track off the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" album that, to me, reflects the resiliency of those who, through the indomitable human spirit, face up to challenges and find a way through.

The song has long been a personal favorite, and I've been fortunate enough to see it in concert a number of times, the last of which was on October 26, 2007, in Oakland, Calif. It features a beautiful Federici organ solo at the end, which eventually merges with Roy Bittan's piano playing to produce a stunning keyboard-driven coda to a heavenly tune.

Below is a clip from a performance of "Racing" from the Capitol Theater in Passaic, N.J. in 1978.

Six years ago, Bruce and company appeared on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and performed "Kitty's Back," a rollicking, jazzy track that shows the band -- a true band in every sense of the word on stage -- playing wonderfully together. It's one of my favorite video clips ever of this talented musical street gang, showing their pure, unbridled joy at getting to do what they do best.

The song is not a huge showcase for Federici (although there is a nice solo break for him at about three minutes into the clip embedded below), but I've always remembered the broad smile on his face that was omnipresent throughout the nearly 10-minute performance.

This is what they do ... play beautiful, soulful music that deeply impacts the lives of people around the world in ways they would never know.

We'll miss ya, Danny.

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