By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Danny Federici was never one to try to steal the spotlight. It was not in his character. But, though sweet-natured and shy, his presence was always felt by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and by their fans. After over 40 years The E Street Band was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Although he had been with Springsteen throughout every evolution of the band, sadly, Danny Federici didn’t live to experience his own well-earned moment in the spotlight.
Born in Flemington, New Jersey in 1950, Danny Federici’s first instrument was the accordion and from the age of seven, his mother often booked him at events, parties, and on the radio. He eventually won the early television talent program, “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour” at a very young age. Danny recalled, “I had quite a little accordion career going on, before I even got involved in rock ‘n’ roll…..” It was the 1960’s and there wasn’t any path into the world of rock ‘n roll for an accordionist. E Street band mate Nils Lofgren was a witness to this and remembers in a 2015 interview, “Well, I spent 8 years on the South side of Chicago where I was born. When I was five, every kid played accordion. I asked to take lessons and I did. After the waltzes and polkas you moved into classical or jazz. My teacher sent me into classical accordion….. I fell in love with the Beatles and the Stones and through them, I discovered the British invasion, the American counterpart of the great rock bands of the 60’s….” Nils eventually became a guitarist. Unlike only a decade earlier, an accordionist had to move on and study other instruments to be accepted within rock ‘n roll. There were no role models and few music publications supported a rock ‘n roll repertoire for accordion. Danny Federici adapted to this drastic change and chose to continue his music career by mastering piano and the Hammond B-3 organ, keyboards favored in the Blues, Jazz and in Rock ‘n Roll music.
Danny graduated from Hunterdon Central High School in New Jersey where, in 1968, along with classmate Vinnie “Mad Dog” Lopez and an unknown Bruce Springsteen, he started a band called Child. Out of Child evolved the group Steel Mill, then Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom which then became The Bruce Springsteen Band. Finally, around the time of the release of their first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. in 1972-73, they took the name Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The band memorialized E Street in their name because David Sancious’ mother allowed them to practice at the family home located on that street.
(Bruce Springsteen and the band that would eventually be called The E Street Band in the earliest days: L to R: the late Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen, David Sancious, Vinnie “Mad Dog” Lopez, Danny Federici, and Garry Tallent, c.1972)
Springsteen was determined to build their reputation on live performance. His career breakthrough came when Rock Critic Jon Landau, observed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at a small venue in 1974. What Landau wrote and published in The Real Paper, according to David Remnick, (July 30, 2012 issue of Profiles) “is considered to be the most important review in Rock Music history”. Landau writes,”Last Thursday, at the Harvard Theatre, I saw my rock ‘n roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock ‘n roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was feeling music for the first time…. He is a rock ‘n roll punk, a Latin street dancer, a ballet dancer, an actor, a joker, bar band leader, hot-shot rhythm guitar player, extraordinary singer and a truly great rock ‘n roll composer. He leads a band like he’s been doing it forever…..He parades in front of his all-star rhythm band like a cross between Chuck Berry, early Bob Dylan, and Marlon Brando.” From that time, the future for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band changed dramatically. The years that followed brought great success that garnered best selling albums with hit singles and multiple Grammy Awards. After constant touring for nearly two decades, the band took a much needed hiatus. Throughout the 1990’s, Springsteen and the E Street Band members worked on other projects.
Danny recorded and performed with Arizona-based band, Diamondback and co wrote many of the tracks on the album Ragin’ Wind with lead singer, Franklin Jenkins. He also recorded a solo jazz album called Flemington, named after his home town. It was re-released under the Music Masters Jazz label in 1997. Danny followed up with a self released album of Jazz in 2004, Sweet, which was re-issued as Out of a Dream in 2005 on V2 Records. Federici performed on other artists recordings during the hiatus, including Joan Armatrading, Graham Parker, Gary U.S. Bonds and Garland Jeffreys. Danny remained with Bruce Springsteen throughout the duration of the E Street Band performing for the last time just three weeks before his death in 2008 from Melanoma.
Springsteen described Danny Federici as “the most instinctive and natural musician I ever met” and told him, “Your organ and accordion playing brought the boardwalks of Central and South Jersey alive in my music…” and also acknowledged that “Danny is one of the pillars of our sound and has played beside me as a great friend for more than 40 years.”
Jason Federici, one of Danny’s three children writes: “Since my father’s death, my family and I created a foundation dedicated to raising funds for melanoma research, The Danny Fund. Today, we are honored for the foundation we built to be a program of the Melanoma Research Alliance. Together, we are working to fund the most promising melanoma research worldwide that is hastening the discovery of better treatments and hopefully, a cure. Your participation today will directly support a young investigator whose ambitious and innovative research often spearheads groundbreaking scientific developments.”