It was 12 years ago today (April 17th, 2008) that the E Street Band's co-founding organist Danny Federici died at age 58 at New York City's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, following a three-year battle with melanoma. Federici, who was nicknamed “Phantom” due to a comical scuffle with the law during a 1970 riot at a Bruce Springsteen show, had been playing with Springsteen since 1969 — longer than any other musician in the E Street Band at that point.
Federici backed Springsteen in such pre-fame bands as Child, Steel Mill, the Bruce Springsteen Band, and Dr. Zoom & The Sonic Boom. Federici's organ, accordion, and glockenspiel work were hallmarks of Springsteen's sound, evoking the heart and soul of the New Jersey shore and the characters from the central Jersey scene whom Springsteen chronicled in his early works. In 1999, Springsteen saluted Federici during his acceptance speech to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, saying, “Danny Federici, the most instinctive and natural musician I ever met and the only member of the band who can reduce me to a shouting mess. I love you Danny. Your organ and accordion playing brought the boardwalks of Central and South Jersey alive in my music. Thank you.”
Springsteen had announced on November 21st, 2007 that Federici would be sitting out the then-upcoming leg of his European dates to take time off to receive cancer treatment. Federici's last full E Street Band concert took place in Boston on November 19th, on the last night of the first leg of their tour. Word of Federici's long-rumored fragile health spread quickly after the show, at which Federici was unusually spotlighted numerous times during the concert and the curtain calls.