Bruce Springsteen's Eulogy to Danny Federici


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.
Back shortly after a young red-headed accordionist struck gold on the
Ted Mack Amateur Hour and he and his mama were sent to Switzerland to
show them how it's really done.
Back before beach bums were featured on the cover of Time magazine.
I'm talking about back when the E Street Band was a communist
organization! My pal, quiet, shy Dan Federici, was a one-man creator
of some of the hairiest circumstances of our 40 year career... And
that wasn't easy to do. He had "Mad Dog" Lopez to compete with....
Danny just outlasted him.
Maybe it was the "police riot" in Middletown, New Jersey. A show we
were doing to raise bail money for "Mad Log" Lopez who was in jail in
Richmond, Virginia, for having an altercation with police officers who
we'd aggravated by playing too long. Danny allegedly knocked over our
huge Marshall stacks on some of Middletown's finest who had rushed the
stage because we broke the law by...playing too long.
As I stood there watching, several police oficers crawled out from
underneath the speaker cabinets and rushed away to seek medical
attention. Another nice young officer stood in front of me onstage
waving his nightstick, poking and calling me nasty names. I looked
over to see Danny with a beefy police officer pulling on one arm while
Flo Federici, his first wife, pulled on the other, assisting her man
in resisting arrest.
A kid leapt from the audience onto the stage, momentarily distracting
the beefy officer with the insults of the day. Forever thereafter,
"Phantom" Dan Federici slipped into the crowd and disappeared.
A warrant out for his arrest and one month on the lam later, he still
hadn't been brought to justice. We hid him in various places but now
we had a problem. We had a show coming at Monmouth College. We needed
the money and we had to do the gig. We tried a replacement but it
didn't work out. So Danny, to all of our admiration, stepped up and
said he'd risk his freedom, take the chance and play.
Show night. 2,000 screaming fans in the Monmouth College gym. We had
it worked out so Danny would not appear onstage until the moment we
started playing. We figured the police who were there to arrest him
wouldn't do so onstage during the show and risk starting another riot.
Let me set the scene for you. Danny is hiding, hunkered down in the
backseat of a car in the parking lot. At five minutes to eight, our
scheduled start time, I go out to whisk him in. I tap on the window.
"Danny, come on, it's time."
I hear back, "I'm not going."
Me: "What do you mean you're not going?"
Danny: "The cops are on the roof of the gym. I've seen them and
they're going to nail me the minute I step out of this car."
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
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
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
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.


Anonymous said...

When I heard the news that E Street Band keyboardist Danny Federici had died at age 58 it took quite a few minutes for the reality to sink in.
When it did, there was only one thing to do: Call the biggest Springsteen fan that I know, my old pal and former colleague Nancy Pate. Nancy and I were like family, which is the same context in which I have always viewed the E Street Band.
Even more than the music, the band represents the noble idea of sticking together, through thick and thin, forever. That's a pretty lofty notion to take in, especially if you've run into a bad relationship, bad marriage, single-parenthood, health issues or any of the myriad struggles that make life so challenging.
So, anyway, Nancy picked up the phone and we started reminiscing about the band's history and then our own. She and I have been to a few Springsteen shows together and through more than a few adventures at work. Without her presence, I never would've had a chance to do what I love.
After the shock wore off, she got feisty:
"This pisses me off," she is telling me, "because these guys are the good guys. Hey, tramps like us..."
The E Street Band didn't do drugs, didn't carouse irresponsibly. They don't fit into the new tabloid mentality. Federici's three-year battle with melanoma had been kept so low-key that attentive fans such as Nancy and I weren't aware of it.
He had joined the band in 1969, according to the biographical information in the forward to a new Springsteen volume, For You: Original Stories and Photographs by Bruce Springsteen's Legendary Fans.
Federici played with the Boss in the seaside juke joints with Child and Steel Mill. "In Danny's case," the Chicago Tribune's Louis Carlozo writes. "greatness is understood, measured in the sublime flicker of his organ-playing hands."
After 40 years in the band, Federici's hands are still, but I'm optimistic that, like all families, the E Street Band will find a way to persevere. It gives hope to the rest of us.