E Street Band's Danny Federici

Keyboardist Danny Federici began a solo career in 1997, with Flemington, but he is still far more well-known as a key player in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

Federici, born Jan. 23, 1950, was raised in Flemington, N.J. He studied classical accordion as a youth and played in local bands, including the Legends and the Jolly Crickets. While still a teenager, Federici began playing keyboards in the Jersey rock band Child with guitarist Springsteen and drummer Vini Lopez.

Child changed their name to Steel Mill and played regularly on the East Coast. In 1969 the band toured California, where rock impresario Bill Graham took notice. Steel Mill turned down a contract from Graham's Fillmore Records because the bandmembers felt the money offered wasn't enough. When Steel Mill returned to Jersey, Steve Van Zandt joined as bassist.

In 1971, Springsteen disbanded Steel Mill, intending instead to start a group with a brass section. A few months later, he formed the Bruce Springsteen Band with Federici, Lopez, Van Zandt (now on guitar), pianist and guitarist David Sancious, bassist Garry Tallent and a four-piece brass section. When the brass players didn't work out in concert, Springsteen axed them and added saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

After less than a year, Springsteen left the band and auditioned for record companies as a solo singer/songwriter. After signing with Columbia, he began recording Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973), which ended up featuring members of the Bruce Springsteen Band on a few soul-oriented rockers.

The band was back in total for The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973), which included the classic "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" (featuring Federici's French-accented accordion). The group began calling itself the E Street Band, after the street in Belmar, N.J., where Sancious' mother lived.

But Springsteen soon replaced Sancious with Roy Bittan, and Max Weinberg became the new drummer. Born to Run (RealAudio excerpt of title track) was released in 1975 to wild anticipation after critics — including Jon Landau, who called Springsteen rock 'n' roll's future — lauded the band.

The LP reached #3 and went gold but didn't match the lofty expectations. Nevertheless, Springsteen & the E Streeters began a slow but steady climb to global superstardom, which they achieved with the massive-selling Born in the U.S.A. (1984).

Though world tours with the E Streeters followed, Springsteen began relying on the band less in the studio, ultimately jettisoning all but Bittan for the simultaneous 1992 releases Lucky Town and Human Touch.

With the E Street Band inactive, Federici moved to California and began recording some of his own compositions. He conceived most of the guitar, horn and rhythm parts himself, then recruited musicians, including Tallent, to execute his ideas.

Federici co-founded Deadeye Records to sell the instrumental, jazz-oriented Flemington, named for his hometown, over the Internet. Eventually, Federici signed with BMG International, which issued the LP. Tracks included "Pennsylvania Avenue," "A Doorman's Life," "Mr. Continental" and "Round and Round."

"This album crosses a lot of lines and shows you where my musical tastes lie," Federici said on Deadeye's Web site (www.deadeye.com). "But I have a lot more to say. This is just the beginning."

Last year, Federici rejoined the E Street Band for their global reunion tour. Controversy ensued when the E Streeters were not included with Springsteen for his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Hall officials are planning to honor sidemen in future inductions.

Much of Federici's work can be heard on the Springsteen box set, Tracks (1998).

Other birthdays on Sunday: Millie Jackson, 57; Jerry Lawson (Persuasions), 56; Anita Pointer (Pointer Sisters), 52; Bill Cunningham (Box Tops), 50; Robin Zander (Cheap Trick), 47; Reggie Calloway (Calloway), 45; Earl Falconer (UB40), 41; and Django Reinhardt, 1910–1953.