The first thing thing that came to mind when I heard that Danny Federici had passed was the chorus of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” This song, more than any other song in Springsteen’s catalog, was Federici’s as much as it was Springsteen’s. In fact, I can not imagine how that song will ever be performed without Phantom Dan by the Boss’ side, playing the accordion. I have always felt that Springsteen is a better performer when he has his E Street compatriots backing him up, especially Garry and Danny. Especially in the ’90s — listen to the songs on Human Touch and Lucky Town and it’s clear there’s something missing. Heart? A little soul? Then listen to the tracks from Greatest Hits and The Ghost of Tom Joad that include Garry and Dan supporting Springsteen — you can hear that extra warmth.
Federici sat silently in the background for 40 years while his close friend became an international superstar. The entire legion of E Street fans feels sorrow in its heart today, because even though Federici was rarely in the spotlight, we all know how much Springsteen loved his friend. His organ hummed through the songs, providing a sort of spiritual lift (as in “Streets of Fire” or “My City of Ruins”) or an exuberance (like in “Hungry Heart” or “Livin’ in the Future”) that might otherwise be missing in Springsteen’s music. And of course, his accordion playing kept Bruce and the fans connected to the band’s Jersey shore roots. Federici often came off as a loner, which may have been why he and Bruce connected so early in life. Before the E Street Band became a gang in the late ’70s, they were a collection of misfits and loners. But quiet as he may have been, his presence was felt in every concert.
My favorite statement by Federici came when he admitted that he probably couldn’t play any Springsteen songs alone. It was only with the band that he could play a song and that the melodies and intricacies came back to him. The music was in his soul. And now, a little bit of the soul in the E Street Band is missing forever.