Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

In Memoriam – Danny Federici

One of the greatest rock organists of alltime, Danny Federici of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band died this past Wednesday after a battle with melanoma. He was 58.

Originally an accordionist, Federici brought a sweepingly orchestral, haunting sensibility to Springsteen’s songs. Go to your favorite file-trading site and download the live version of Sandy from the live box set (you can also get the album version from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, but the vocals aren’t nearly as good because Springsteen goes way out of his 2-note range). Listen to how plaintive and beautiful Federici’s accordion intro is.

While you’re at it, download the album version of Independence Day, from The River, if you don’t already own it. Federici plays the lead, a soaring trumpet melody, a particularly nasty Sunday morning wakeup call. This is one of Springsteen’s best songs, a vicious, offhandedly dismissive slap upside the head of a controlling parent, as resonant today as it was almost three decades ago, and it’s Federici who makes it work, his organ line hopeful, optimistic and brutally inevitable behind the Boss’ vindictive vocal.

Also download Point Blank, arguably the best song on The River. Federici doesn’t really contribute til about three-quarters of the way through, when his organ starts mingling with Steve Van Zandt’s distant, reverbed-out guitar in a devil’s choir of overtones. It’s a song about losing a girlfriend to either drugs or simply the call of the underworld, something that happens to a whole lot of people who have nowhere else to go. The brilliance of Springsteen’s lyric is its blunt opaqueness, leaving the listener guessing as to what horrible fate befell the woman. Federici offers more than a hint.

And since everything Springsteen is up online for download, Federici’s first solo album, Flemington is worth owning. It’s a thoughtful, pensive, ultimately optimistic bunch of soundtrack-style instrumentals, the title track a particularly standout cut.

Federici wasn’t a “chops” guy – tens of thousands of classically or jazz-trained keyboardists could play faster and more fluently than he did. Federici’s genius was a seemingly instinctive ability to find the underlying emotion of a song and channel it with a purity and clarity that bordered on the supernatural. If you’re a Springsteen fan, now’s the time to revisit his good albums – Nebraska and everything before that, along with his criminally underrated Live in NYC double cd set, featuring Federici at his understated, brilliant best. If not, you’re missing out on one of the most soulful players who ever sat down behind a keyboard.

April 19, 2008 - Posted by | Music, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks!

    Comment by Jen | September 28, 2014 | Reply


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.