Danny Federici: A Chat with the Phantom of Rock?s Turnpike Opera

Greasy Lake, 2005-08-04, by: David Mieras
Exclusive Greasy Lake interview with a founding E Street Band member
<img border="1" src="images/danny_interview1.jpg" align="left" vspace="5" hspace="5" alt="Danny Federici and David Mieras">What interesting circumstance
were about to occur? I was on my way to meet Danny Federici, an original card-carrying member of the Upstage Club in Asbury Park, N.J., which had a 40-month run from 1967 through 1971. A musical associate of Bruce Springsteen?s dating to 1968 and their band Child,
Danny can surely be commended for his commitment to E Street, Inc.

<p>Listening to
Danny?s new CD, <i>Out of a Dream</i>, the drive north on the Garden State Parkway was a bit less tense. The sounds relaxed me, and before I knew it, I was sitting in a diner on Rt. 1 sipping coffee and asking directions to Vintage
Vinyl. Neither the owner nor his employees spoke much English, but a volunteer fireman a few seats down overheard my repeated attempts and came to my aid. He had his fire company shield on his shirt, so I whipped out my badge. Once our conversation about burning buildings and rock and roll was over, he would have called for an engine to chauffeur me to the store if I had asked.</p>

<p>The directions were
precise as satellite navigation and I spotted John Cavanaugh, the Stone Pony
photographer, parked outside. We didn?t waste any time getting into the store?s
air-conditioned comfort, found a spot in the back office and called Danny who,
as luck would have it, was just pulling into the parking lot with his wife

<p>The third track on
Danny?s CD is titled ?Maya.? The first comment I made ? actually, the first two
comments I made ? was ?your wife is beautiful.? ?Yeah,? he replied, ?Maya is
one of a kind.? He enjoyed speaking of his wife and her accomplishments. I
said, ?Yeah man, I like smart women, too.? </p>

<p>Getting down to
business at hand, we began the taped discussion.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> I?m associated with www.greasylake.org which is a
Bruce website, maybe the most popular Springsteen site on the Internet, very
active, with thousands of members.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Wow, yeah I looked at it. I?d like www.greasylake.org
to link with my new website, <a target="_blank" class="setlistlink" href="http://www.dannyfederici.net/">www.dannyfederici.net</a>. </p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Yeah, it?s grown a lot over the years since I first
got involved and I wanted a place where I could write
stories about growing up in Asbury Park. </p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Really?</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Yes, they?re located in Denmark, and I?m trying to
keep the members informed about what is happening in Asbury and with the Shore
music scene.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Oh, great!</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Karsten, the originator of
greasylake.org, has the first question. Your new album and solo work, which is
very jazzy, makes me wonder if sometimes you wish Bruce would get back to a
jazzy and altogether more experimental style.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> No, I never thought about that. In the early days we
would do more intricate music, stuff that was 10 minutes long, 15-minute-long
songs that would go in and out of different kinds of parts and tempos and
things like that. ?Kitty?s Back? is kind of jazzy. We sort of stay away from
that feel with the music [now], and the new CD is what I grew up with and
listened to. I was inspired during the whole Sixties era of black music coming
out of Philadelphia, and that?s pretty much my roots of soul, jazz and blues. I
was classically trained, so I could play in-between the notes. </p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Relative to the <i>Born to Run</i> anniversary, why
does it appear that you only played on the title track? Your name isn?t
mentioned under any other song. This has puzzled fans for many years.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Hmmm . . . <i>Born to Run</i> -- you know, it was a funny period. If I recall there was a period
where we were trying a whole bunch of different sounds and it wasn?t about the
individual players, it was more about the sound of the record. If someone had
to take a back seat on a particular record, that?s what we did. I think that
might have happened to a few guys here and there. Roy may have been more
prevalent on one record and maybe not so prevalent on another record, but it
didn?t really matter. I never really thought about it. </p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Obviously it worked!</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> We made up for it later.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Okay, now this is a question from me. What do you
think when you hear the word ?Upstage??</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Wow, I think a lot of things. It?s the first place I
met Bruce. When Vini Lopez and myself
heard about this kid Bruce from Freehold, we went down there to check him out. That
was the place we hung. I was driving down from Flemington [N.J.] every weekend
and trying to find a place to stay and hangout at the shore. It was a real
happening place, but everybody, every great musician who was playing club dates
in Asbury Park, would go to the Upstage at two o?clock in the morning after our
gigs were done. We?d all jam and plug into the wall of sound with Tom Potter
and play ?til four o?clock in the morning, five o?clock in the morning. It was
just a really cool club for musicians.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Quite unique?</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Quite unique, it really was.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> I went to this show at the Clearwater Swim Club in
September of 1970. It was probably the most memorable show I?ve been to in my
entire life. </p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Hmmm . . . They tell me that is where I got my
nickname . . . </p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> That?s what I hear.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> . . . which I?ll talk about later next year in the
coffee table book that Bob Santelli and I will have
published. (<i>FYI: it's ?Phantom</i>&quot;.<i>)</i></p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> To avoid the police riot, my friends from Neptune and
Ocean Grove and I all went back into the corner and climbed up a tree. We
watched the whole thing happen from a bird?s eye view! </p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Wow, I know where you are talking about. Up on the little hill.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> I remember when someone set the bath house on fire.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> I might have left by that time?</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Yeah, you probably did.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Yeah, I was out of there.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> And how they shut down the highway.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> I didn?t even know. I actually hitch-hiked and got a
ride, but that was crazy because we did that show for Vini
who was in jail in Richmond, Virginia. Apparently he was seeing some gal who
was living with some drug dealers and he didn?t know anything about it. Yeah,
he got busted and went to jail. So we played that to get him out of jail and
raise some money and it turned into a real fiasco. When I turned around and
looked off stage and saw paddy wagons on the island, I could not believe,
?What, they set the whole thing up?? It was unbelievable.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Yeah, it was quite shocking, it really was, but then
again Middletown Township had a reputation because of the police chief and you
just didn?t want to go there.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> He stopped a lot of people -- the wrong people -- on
the way down to the shore. He got himself in a lot of trouble as the years went
by. </p>

<p><i>(The Clearwater Swim Club show
was a fundraiser held at a dilapidated place on Rt. 36 in Atlantic Highlands. Bruce
and Danny's band, Steel Mill, had a gig in Richmond the week before, and Vini
Lopez had to be left behind for lack of bail. This event on the Jersey Shore
was raided by baton- waving police after the band continued playing beyond the
curfew. Rt. 36 was shut down, and practically every
fire truck and police car in Middletown converged on our party. In 1970, with
the Vietnam War raging and Civil Rights disturbances -- the Asbury Park race
riot erupted two month earlier -- long-haired rock and rollers were considered
the enemy by the hawks. The week after Clearwater, a show was scheduled at
Beacon Beach in Pt. Pleasant Beach: We got there, only to turn around and stick
out our thumbs because it was cancelled due to all the bad publicity
surrounding Steel Mill. The guys from Asbury were being noticed.)</i></p>

<p><img border="1" src="images/danny_interview2.jpg" vspace="5" hspace="5" alt="Danny Federici signs autographs at Vintage Vinyl"><p><b>H.D.:</b> I?ve always pictured in my mind that, when the day
comes and the movie is made about the early days of the members of the E Street
Band, I see that as an intricate scene in the movie.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> A lot of people don?t know about that.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Yeah, no water in the pool and filled with trash.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Well, they?ll know about it next year. I?m going to
talk about the whole thing in my book.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> Good, that?s great to know. Now this is a question I
was told was mandatory to ask: Does the E Street Band have another tour on the

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Yeah, right, it seems like that is the standard

<p><b>H.D.:</b> They made me do it.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> I hope so! I hope so. Bruce is doing his own thing
right now, you know: he?s the Boss. Whatever he feels like doing. You know
we?re all on great terms, everybody is healthy, happy, probably better now then
ever before. So there is certainly no reason not to do it. </p>

<p><b>H.D.: </b>Any plans for a show in Asbury Park, like at the Stone
Pony? Maybe a CD release party? Have you considered

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> No, I haven?t even thought of that. I played the
Stone Pony once before with my first album and it was a great experience. It
certainly is a place I?d like to go again.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> I?ve been talking to a number of people about your
new CD and everybody is saying, ?Well, is he coming to Asbury Park??</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> Well, I?d like people to listen to the record. I
think they will be surprised. The music is a little smoother on the record, and
it?s a lot different than when we play live. We take it up a level.</p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> The CD was so relaxing to me.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> That?s what it?s supposed to do. That?s what it?s
supposed to do. </p>

<p><b>H.D.:</b> I enjoy your CD very much, and particularly like the
title track, which is excellent.</p>

<p><b>Danny Federici:</b> I like that tune myself. </p>

<p>Following the
interview, Danny set up on the stage in the rear of the store, where he greeted
fans and signed CDs and photos. I had the chance to speak with one of his
oldest friends from Flemington, Rich Luster, who told me about a recent event
held at Danny?s old school. Rich said it was one of the most successful
fundraisers in the school?s history, and that Danny was extremely nervous
coming home to be honored. Danny confirmed his anxiousness. The highlight of
the evening was a presentation of a reconditioned instrument.</p>

<p>The story goes that
Danny gave his first accordion to a neighbor, Mrs. Griffin, so that her son
could learn to play. In appreciation of that gift many decades ago, Mrs.
Griffin had the small squeeze box spruced up and returned to its original owner.</p>

<p>Maya and Danny had
a dinner date in the City, and on the way out I gave him a copy of the DVD
teaser, ?Cradle of Rock?, which was produced at the request of the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. The montage of circa 1970 Potter
family photos from the Upstage Club Collection should bring back many happy
memories. This portfolio of slides were rediscovered in 2003 when the Potter
Family contacted me and Gary Wien, publisher of <i>Upstage Magazine</i>, after
reading the first chapter of Gary's book, <i>Beyond the Palace, </i>in which I talked about the Upstage Club.

<p>Now, the next link
in the chain is to call Kyle at the Pony and let him know that Danny is ready
for a gig.</p>


Photos by John Cavanaugh Edited by Harry Lister