“Do I have to say their names?” Bruce says when remembering Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons during band introductions for the “Wrecking Ball” tour. “If you’re here, and we’re here, then they’re here.”
As part of my research on the history of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concerts in the Capital Region, I found this gem of an article by Greg Haymes, former TU music critic who is now a TU free-lancer and writer for the Nippertown blog. (Greg was/is the lead vocalist of Albany’s Blotto “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard.”
DANNY FEDERICI HELPS GIVE BAND ITS DISTINCTIVE SOUND
Section: PREVIEW, Page: P23
Date: Thursday, November 18, 1999
Mention the E Street Band, and most fans will focus on Clarence Clemons’ growling, howling sax. Or the rumbling thunder of bassist Garry Tallent and drummer Max Weinberg locked together as one of the most dramatic rhythm sections in rock history.
But you could build a strong case for keyboardist Danny Federici as the band’s most valuable player, the musician who imbued the songs with their most distinctive sonic elements. After all, it was Federici’s French-accented accordion that set the atmospheric tone on early Springsteen tracks like “Sandy.”
His pealing glockenspiel flourishes helped define E Street Band classics like “Born to Run” and “Glory Days.”
And his soaring organ and piano embellishments served as the musical cornerstones for such hits as “Hungry Heart” and “Born in the U.S.A.”
But a lot of folks were surprised by “Flemington,” Federici’s debut solo album that was released last year on the independent Deadeye label.
“I think that most of the guys in the E Street Band were surprised by the record,” Federici admitted during a telephone interview from a New York City hotel. “Bruce was surprised by the album, too.
“Even though you play with a bunch of people for so many years, you’re not exactly expressing yourself by playing the music that you write. You know, the stage gets pretty big after a while. `Oh, yeah, it’s that guy way over there. I wonder what he’s playing?’
“It’s funny. You play with someone for so many years, and they don’t even know what you really sound like. You’re just playing parts. For instance, Bruce, when he first heard my album, said, `I didn’t really know what Danny would do musically.’
“And even when Nils came to the studio to play on the record, I wasn’t sure what he was going to play. I had forgotten the way he played and the range of styles that he could play. Of course, I was delighted with what he did. He took about 20 minutes, and he just came out with this great stuff.”
E Streeter Garry Tallent also contributed to “Flemington,” but nobody is likely to confuse Federici’s album with anything that he’s recorded with Springsteen.
“I guess you would call it contemporary jazz,” Federici says. “But I’m not a rock ‘n’ roller trying to be a jazz guy. I’ve had classical training for many, many years. I was studying at the conservatory in Philadelphia long before I got involved in rock ‘n’ roll.
“I was 7 years old when I started playing the accordion, and I was playing on the radio here in New York City when I was 10 years old, and I was playing a lot of benefits. My mom was always pulling me by the ear and bringing me to the Moose and Elks lodges to play — little Danny and his accordion. There were some happy times, but as I got older, there were definitely some unhappy times, too, because the accordion was not cool at all.
“My mother had designs on me being right up there with Wayne Newton, I guess, in a real schlocky kind of way. Thank God the Beatles came along and I started to get involved in rock ‘n’ roll.”
While most of the songs on “Flemington” were inspired by Danny’s pre-Springsteen experiences, the album’s title track is a tribute to his years in the E Street Band. Fans will hear hints of the trademark Asbury Park sound in the song’s keyboard and glockenspiel lines. “People will recognize that sound,” says Federici, “but at the same time I don’t sacrifice any of my own identity.”
Federici admits that he took quite a while to discover his own identity.
“It took me a long time to get away from the grip of the E Street Band,” he confides. “I say `grip’ because it was an addiction of a sort. We were together — and we are together — for ever and ever. It was really hard to find myself after being in a group of guys like that for so many years. It was difficult to find my own voice, so to speak.”
Now Federici is back in the E Street Band backing up the Boss on the most-talked-about rock tour of the year, and he’s loving it.
But he’s just as proud of “Flemington” as he is of the E Street Band.
“It’s as exciting as hell to hear my own music on the radio for a change,” he proclaims.