What would “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” be without Danny’s accordion? Or “Kitty’s Back” without his organ solo? Though his quiet demeanor reflected his nickname, “Phantom Dan,” Danny Federici certainly wasn’t a minor player in the E Street Band.
The Flemington, New Jersey native was born on January 23, 1950. Inspired by “The Lawrence Welk Show” at an early age, Danny began playing the piano and the accordion and was a prodigy, winning Ted Mack’s “Original Amateur Hour.” As a teen, he began to play in bands, performing everything from polkas to rock ‘n roll.
Bruce and Danny met in 1968 and, together with Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, formed the band Child. Danny would subsequently remain with Bruce through all of the Boss’ early bands: Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, the Bruce Springsteen Band and, finally, the E Street Band (as it became known in 1972, around the release of Bruce’s first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.)
At his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, Bruce called Danny “the most instinctive and natural musician” he had ever met.
In addition to the E Street Band, Danny worked with other notable musicians throughout his career, including Gary U.S. Bonds, Graham Parker, and Garland Jeffreys. He also played accordion and organ for the 1982 debut album of fellow bandmate Steven Van Zandt’s band, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul.
During the Magic tour in 2007, Danny announced his battle with melanoma and left the tour for treatment. Though gravely ill, Danny rejoined the band on stage during a performance in Indianapolis on March 20, 2008. It would be his final appearance: he died almost one month later at New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Shortly after his death, The Danny Federici Melanoma Fund, a nonprofit organization designed to raise awareness of and research funds for melanoma, was established by Danny’s family and the E Street Band, in conjunction with the founders of the Melanoma Research Alliance.
In an interview with Backstreets Nils Lofgren said, “Danny just had his own unique, fluid style. One of the most naturally gifted, effortless, soulful players I’ve ever known.” Max Weinberg told Backstreets, “He had a marvelous approach to his instrument and was just an indispensable component of the E Street Band.”
The 2009 album Working on a Dream is dedicated to Danny, with the song “The Last Carnival” written specifically for Bruce’s long-time friend.