Danny Federici died this week

One of my favorite albums of all time is Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle.” His first album–the one that would later produce a string of hits for Manfred Mann–hadn’t sold so well, and the band was reduced to making its next record in a way-off-the-beaten-path studio with a creaky piano.

It’s hard to describe, but the album has a…a sound. Springsteen was 24 when he made it, and it’s one of those rare recordings, kind of like the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul,” in which you can tell that the artist really hasn’t made up his mind what he’s going to end up sounding like yet.

The result is an album that contains hard pumping blues, goofy disco horn rock, and sappy, jazz-infused folk ballads. I love it. I spent a million hours as a teenager laying in my room with a pair of gigantic headphones on, listing to it by the glow of the stereo.

One of the keys to that album is Danny Federici. For much of his career, he was Springsteen’s “other” keyboard player, taking a back seat to Roy Bittan. But in the early days, his organ and accordion playing (yeah, that’s right–accordion) were a fundamental part of the band. He was never flashy, but he was always there, and it’s hard (okay, impossible) to imagine what songs like Sandy or Wild Billy’s Circus Story or Backstreets would have been without him.

For the last three years or so, Danny Federici had been fighting melanoma. In November of last year, he left the Springsteen tour to pursue treatment. On March 20, 2008, he made a brief, surprise return in Indianapolis, and played accordion on Sandy. On Thursday, he was gone.

“The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle” is part of what made me, me. Danny Federici was a big part of that. I’ll raise a glass in his honor and wish him well on his journey. He’ll be missed.

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