Daniel Paul Federici
January 23 1950 – April 17 2008
"The most instinctive and natural musician I've ever met. Your work and accordion playing brought the boardwalks of central and south Jersey alive in my music" - Bruce Springsteen 3/15/1999
"Danny and I worked together for 40 years - he was the most wonderfully fluid keyboard player and a pure natural musician. I loved him very much...we grew up together" - Bruce Springsteen April 2008
FAREWELL TO DANNY
Let me start with the stories.
Back in the days of miracles, the frontier days when "Mad Dog" Lopez and his temper struck fear into the band, small club owners, innocent civilians and all women, children and small animals.
Back in the days when you could still sign your life away on the hood of a parked car in New York City.
"Danny, come on, it's time."
As I open the door, I realize that Danny has been smoking a little something and had grown rather paranoid. I said, "Dan, there are no cops on the roof." He says, "Yes, I saw them, I tell you. I'm not coming in." So I used a procedure I'd call on often over the next forty years in dealing with my old pal's concerns. I threatened him...and cajoled. Finally, out he came. Across the parking lot and into the gym we swept for a rapturous concert during which we laughted like thieves at our excellent dodge of the local cops. At the end of the evening, during the last song, I pulled the entire crowd up onto the stage and Danny slipped into the audience and out the front door. Once again, "Phantom" Dan had made his exit. (I still get the occasional card from the old Chief of Police of Middletown wishing us well. Our histories are forever intertwined.) And that, my friends, was only the beginning. There was the time Danny quit the band during a rough period at Max's Kansas City, explaining to me that he was leaving to fix televisions. I asked him to think about that and come back later. Or Danny, in the band rental car, bouncing off several parked cars after a night of entertainment, smashing out the windshield with his head but saved from severe injury by the huge hard cowboy hat he bought in Texas on our last Western swing. Or Danny, leaving a large marijuana plant on the front seat of his car in a tow away zone. The car was promptly towed. He said, "Bruce, I'm going to go down and report that it was stolen." I said, "I'm not sure that's a good idea." Down he went and straight into the slammer without passing go.
Or Danny, the only member of the E Street Band to be physically thrown out of the Stone Pony. Considering all the money we made them, that wasn't easy to do. Or Danny receiving and surviving a "cautionary assault" from an enraged but restrained "Big Man" Clarence Clemons while they were living together and Danny finally drove the "Big Man" over the big top. Or Danny assisting me in removing my foot from his stereo speaker after being the only band member ever to drive me into a violent rage. And through it all, Danny played his beautiful, soulful B3 organ for me and our love grew. And continued to grow. Life is funny like that. He was my homeboy, and great, and for that you make considerations... And he was much more tolerant of my failures than I was of his.
When Danny wasn't causing chaos, he was a sweet, talented, unassuming, unpretentious good-hearted guy who simply had an unchecked ability to make good fortune and things in general go fabulously wrong. But beyond all of that, he also had a mountain of the right stuff. He had the heart and soul of an engineer. He learned to fly. He was always up on the latest technology and would explain it to you patiently and in enormous detail. He was always "souping" something up, his car, his stereo, his B3. When Patti joined the band, he was the most welcoming, thoughtful, kindest friend to the first woman entering our "boys club." He loved his kids, always bragging about Jason, Harley, and Madison, and he loved his wife Maya for the new things she brought into his life.
And then there was his artistry. He was the most intuitive player I've ever seen. His style was slippery and fluid, drawn to the spaces the other musicians in the E Street Band left. He wasn't an assertive player, he was a complementary player. A true accompanist. He naturally supplied the glue that bound the band's sound together. In doing so, he created for himself a very specific style. When you hear Dan Federici, you don't hear a blanket of sound, you hear a riff, packed with energy, flying above everything else for a few moments and then gone back in the track. "Phantom" Dan Federici. Now you hear him, now you don't. Offstage, Danny couldn't recite a lyric or a chord progression for one of my songs. Onstage, his ears opened up. He listened, he felt, he played, finding the perfect hole and placement for a chord or a flurry of notes. This style created a tremendous feeling of spontaneity in our ensemble playing. In the studio, if I wanted to loosen up the track we were recording, I'd put Danny on it and not tell him what to play. I'd just set him loose. He brought with him the sound of the carnival, the amusements, the boardwalk, the beach, the geography of our youth and the heart and soul of the birthplace of the E Street Band. Then we grew up. Very slowly. We stood together through a lot of trials and tribulations. Danny's response to a mistake onstage, hard times, catastrophic events was usually a shrug and a smile. Sort of an "I am but one man in a raging sea, but I'm still afloat. And we're all still here." I watched Danny fight and conquer some tough addictions. I watched him struggle to put his life together and in the last decade when the band reunited, thrive on sitting in his seat behind that big B3, filled with life and, yes, a new maturity, passion for his job, his family and his home in the brother and sisterhood of our band.
Finally, I watched him fight his cancer without complaint and with great courage and spirit. When I asked him how things looked, he just said, "what are you going to do? I'm looking forward to tomorrow." Danny, the sunny side up fatalist. He never gave up right to the end. A few weeks back we ended up onstage in Indianapolis for what would be the last time. Before we went on I asked him what he wanted to play and he said, "Sandy." He wanted to strap on the accordion and revisit the boardwalk of our youth during the summer nights when we'd walk along the boards with all the time in the world. So what if we just smashed into three parked cars, it's a beautiful night! So what if we're on the lam from the entire Middletown police department, let's go take a swim! He wanted to play once more the song that is of course about the end of something wonderful and the beginning of something unknown and new.
Let's go back to the days of miracles. Pete Townshend said, "a rock and roll band is a crazy thing. You meet some people when you're a kid and unlike any other occupation in the whole world, you're stuck with them your whole life no matter who they are or what crazy things they do." If we didn't play together, the E Street Band at this point would probably not know one another. We wouldn't be in this room together. But we do... We do play together. And every night at 8 p.m., we walk out on stage together and that, my friends, is a place where miracles occur...old and new miracles. And those you are with, in the presence of miracles, you never forget. Life does not separate you. Death does not separate you. Those you are with who create miracles for you, like Danny did for me every night, you are honored to be amongst. Of course we all grow up and we know "it's only rock and roll"...but it's not. After a lifetime of watching a man perform his miracle for you, night after night, it feels an awful lot like love. So today, making another one of his mysterious exits, we say farewell to Danny, "Phantom" Dan, Federici. Father, husband, my brother, my friend, my mystery, my thorn, my rose, my keyboard player, my miracle man and lifelong member in good standing of the house rockin', pants droppin', earth shockin', hard rockin', booty shakin', love makin', heart breakin', soul cryin'... and, yes, death defyin' legendary E Street Band.
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