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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Phantom Dan

The music world lost a giant talent, though perhaps not a household name, last week when Danny Federici (pictured at left) died at age 58 after a three-year battle with melanoma.

A keyboard player for Bruce Springsteen since before the Boss’ group was called the E Street Band, Federici was a quiet and unassuming but unrivaled talent, and he was content to be a vital, rather than visible, member of one of rock ’n’ roll’s most famous ensembles. He seemed comfortable, in fact, to be situated at the left-rear corner of Springsteen’s stage - far from the spotlight that has shone throughout the years on Springsteen himself, sax man Clarence Clemons and guitarist Steven Van Zandt - and to be known by fans as "Phantom Dan."

Federici’s main job in the E Street Band was that of organist - and perhaps that was part of what made him so special. The sound of his instrument, an oddity in rock music, added something to Springsteen’s songs that a simple piano or electric keyboard could not. And Federici’s occasional use of an accordion or concertina - most notably during the wistful “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” from Springsteen’s early catalog - was unlike anything in popular music and always made the song stand out when it was performed live.

I was lucky enough to see Federici perform with Springsteen eight times, and it saddens me that I’ll never see him again. I have tickets to see Springsteen and the E Street Band twice this summer at Giants Stadium, and though the Boss will be at his best, I’m sure, and Federici’s giant shoes will continue to be ably filled by Charles Giordano (who’s been sitting in since the beginning of this year), it just won’t be the same.

“Now you see him, now you don’t,” Springsteen once said in introducing Federici at a concert.

How sadly right he was.



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