Thirty piano players responded to an advertisement in the Village Voice in August 1974, looking for a player who could play “classical to Jerry Lee Lewis.” Roy Bittan, who had been working in bands and Broadway musicals in New York, saw the ad and after going through two auditions was given the job.
When David Sancious left, the E Street Band lost their most technically proficient and gifted musician, yet Roy would have been given the same titles upon his joining. While his skill was an obvious asset to the band’s live shows, Roy’s greatest immediate contribution to Bruce’s work was in the studio, as Bruce struggled to finish his third album.
Although Bruce had composed many of the songs for Born to Run himself on piano, his limited skills on the instrument were insufficient for recording purposes. Roy’s ability to transform Bruce’s ideas to record was critical to completing what is now known as one of the greatest rock albums of all time. The piano parts are essential on each of the album’s tracks, whether the majestic introduction to “Jungleland,” the rhythmic undercurrent in “Backstreets,” or the stripped-down despair of “Meeting Across the River.”
Live, Roy’s steady hands served as counterbalance to Bruce’s more wild antics (particularly when standing on top of Roy’s piano). When given space to solo, Roy could consistently provide something appropriate, whether a boogie-woogie solo during a cover song or the elegiac coda to “Racing in the Street.”
Between E Street tours and albums, Roy became an in-demand session player, playing and touring with artists from Dire Straits and Bob Seger to Lucinda Williams and Stevie Nicks. A master at his craft, his knowledge of synthesizers further expanded the the E Street Band’s range, most notably in the riff that begins “Born in the U.S.A.” and on many of Bruce’s hits in the 1980s, including “Dancing in the Dark” and “Tunnel of Love.”
Roy is the only member of the E Street Band to have co-written Bruce Springsteen songs, with “Roll of the Dice” and “Real World” from Human Touch to his credit, and for outtake “Trouble in Paradise” which was eventually released on Tracks. His music for these songs has been credited by Bruce with helping break a period of writer’s block he experienced in late 1989. For the Human Touch recording sessions (along with several songs on Lucky Town), Roy was one of the producers. To this day, he’s still an important part of Bruce’s studio work, working on the band demos and core recordings for each of E Street’s three reunion-era studio albums.
When Bruce split from the E Street Band and went on tour in 1992-93, it was with a completely new set of musicians, with one exception. Stage left, behind the keyboards, Roy was there.