Thursday, April 24, 2008

Danny, Charlie and an E Street Forever Changed

The band is in transition right now, Charlie Giordano suddenly found himself being the permanent replacement for Danny Federici after the latter's tragic passing. Guest writer Ally tries to put a few things into perspective for us.

I was doing a little reading on Charlie Giordano the other day, who is sitting in for Danny Federici. Charlie is now introduced as "filling in for Danny Federici, Charlie Giordano" by Bruce in their first concert at Tampa, Florida since the passing of Danny. I initially was hesitant to write my thoughts but then again why not? It cannot be easy to replace a founding member of any institution let alone a founding member of the E Street Band. What Steven Van Zandt said about Charlie, "Charlie has got the impossible job of trying to come in and replace the irreplaceable", is what I would fully expect any longtime member of a group like the E Street Band to say about any other longtime founding member who is no longer there. I wrestled with how to say that and then I thought - just say it Ally, just say it darn it! I am trying to look at this objectively without being offensive, insensitive or otherwise about the passing of Danny.

It is very true that Danny is irreplaceable from the perspective that his keyboard playing was uniquely and identifiably his signature sound and his alone. His sound was one of the foundations of the E Street sound. No one can ever replace that. When Danny and Roy were playing they had a chemistry and bond that only comes from years and years of playing together. That is irreplaceable chemistry. Musicians that have been playing that long together instinctively 'know' where each other is going to go in their playing and they blend in or create some color over the other's passage within the framework of the song. It's what I would call telepathic in a sense (no pun intended). But then again it is like a sixth sense. It's powerful. Any fan who goes to a concert can feel if the band is clicking and again you can feel when it's at another level entirely or something very special. Magical. As one person wrote the other day, "Danny was essential to the E Street sound, he brought layers of color with his organ" and "I truly think him and Roy are what defines the E Street sound." I think that describes it very nicely. Layers of color with his organ. I've heard that "color" thing applied to many keyboardists, and other musicians, over the years and it is perfect.

With that in mind Charlie is the replacement for the irreplaceable. Charlie has been 'himself' interpreting the music, within the framework of each song, as relating to the keyboard parts, since leg two of the tour. He's done a great job and I think we can all agree he will continue to do so. He doesn't have the keyboard Danny-ism's, or color, that were unique to Danny. He has his own Charlie-ism's that we all now need to identify with and hear his unique color. My husband and I travelled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see the Magic show and I saw a very BIG binder on Charlie's organ. I suspect that that is The Bruce Springsteen Song Book with all the music notation, chords and lyrics for all of Bruce Springsteen's songs. Charlie was flipping through it as the night went on. You can see the Big Book on Charlie's organ on the Bruce Springsteen web site picture where Bruce is leaning on Clarence (Montreal 2008-03-02, top of the page). For you musicians out there that Big Book looks like all the various Fake Books available at music stores. They have them for all types of music. In a nutshell Fake Books have all the music notation, chords, lyrics and any notes written in them for each song in the book.

I know that what I'm about to say are two COMPLETELY different situations. One having a tragic ending and the other just retired after a brilliant career - I know and fully understand - it is a huge difference. So with that in mind, I love American football and I look at what Steve said as kind of similar to what they all (in the NFL, fans, sports writers and analysts) are saying about the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre and how irreplaceable he will be. No one is going to come in and do what Brett Favre did for so many years and likewise no one is going to come in and "fill Danny's shoes" either. So in "that sense" it is a true statement for both Danny and Brett. They are irreplaceable. People talk about how in the business world that everyone is replaceable. That's true about an accountant, an IT analyst, a shoe salesman and many other jobs but this isn't the business world in that sense. It is the music industry where creativity rules the roost and creative types are not replaceable the way they are in the traditional business world. No one replaced Jimi Hendrix. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a great, great guitarist and songwriter who died way too soon as well. After his death the band ended. I know, he was the leader of the band, as was Jimi, and that is different than this situation.

I hope you get the point I might be struggling to make. They weren't replaceable. It's in that same musical, creative and colorful sense Danny is not replaceable. No one can sit-in and play Danny. It is like The Who minus Keith Moon or Led Zeppelin minus John Bonham. Those drummers were not replaceable as there personalities and their 'sound' were key ingredients to their respective bands. Those two were HUGE foundations. The Who recorded a couple of albums with other drummers. Both bands toured with other drummers, but the original drummers were never really replaced, and the replacements could not fill the huge voids that were left by the original members. I mean no disrespect, insensitivity or in any way to take away from the drummers that filled in because they are, in their own right, really, really good drummers and songwriter/singers (Phil Collins).

Charlie has done just fine. He has thus far hasn't he since leg two of the tour? The guy is a terrific player. I loved his playing during the WSO-SSB tour. He's been involved with many projects over the years from rock'n'roll, jazz, blues, R&B, zydeco, cajun. Charlie has pretty much played it all. Danny's place is being chaired by a perfectly capable and highly talented keyboard player who is in the same relative age group as Danny and the rest of the group. Charlie being born in 1954 in Brooklyn, NYC. Will it be the same? No and we should never expect it to be. It can't be the same because we are talking two different keyboard players with different playing tendencies, stylings, sound and different musical upbringings. I really wouldn't want to see Charlie try to be Danny cause that isn't going to work. In the same sense that the next QB cannot try to be Brett Favre because he will fail. I hope my bringing up Brett Favre in comparison doesn't rattle feathers out there - it's not meant to. I wouldn't want it to be the same. Charlie will add his "Charlie-isms" to every song he plays within the framework and context of any given song. With Charlie they all have to develop a new chemistry together. Looking forward into the bands future I wonder how Bruce will have the band do the next recording sessions for whatever E Street Band project comes next. Did the band perform some songs while Danny was still with us for a future release? Clarence Clemons says he has "heard" that there is another E Street Band album ready for release (see URL below). Beyond that possible release will Bruce just go with the remaining band members? Or will Bruce add Charlie in the same way he added Soozie? Playing a couple of songs as she did on the Rising, WSO-SSB and Magic. I hope that I have not offended anyone or was insensitive or disrespectful. I welcome your thoughts.

Below are somelinks that I would like to share with you. One is an interview with Charlie. Another has some examples of Charlie's playing accordion solo.

Here is a link to Charlie's web site, not much there, oh but wait a second, there is a lot of accordion playing there, there is one page with Charlie playing 22 different accordion songs:

Here is a very good article, and interview with Charlie, from Keyboard magazine:

Another Keyboard magazine article with samples of Charlie's playing:

And to finish it of, a Clarence Clemons article

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts on Danny Federici
When I heard the news that E Street Band keyboardist Danny Federici had died on Thursday at age 58, it took quite a few minutes for the reality to sink in.
When it did, there was only one thing to do: Call the biggest Springsteen fan that I know, my old pal and former colleague Nancy Pate. Here at the newspaper, Nancy and I were like family, which is the same context in which I have always viewed the E Street Band.
Even more than the music, the band represents the noble idea of sticking together, through thick and thin, forever. That's a pretty lofty notion to take in, especially if you've run into a bad relationship, bad marriage, single-parenthood, health issues or any of the myriad struggles that make life so challenging.
So, anyway, Nancy picked up the phone and we started reminiscing about the band's history and then our own. She and I have been to a few Springsteen shows together and through more than a few adventures at work. Without her presence, I never would've had a chance to do what I love.
After the shock wore off, she got feisty:
"This pisses me off," she is telling me, "because these guys are the good guys. Hey, tramps like us..."
The E Street Band didn't do drugs, didn't carouse irresponsibly. They don't fit into the new tabloid mentality. Federici's three-year battle with melanoma had been kept so low-key that attentive fans such as Nancy and I weren't aware of it.
He had joined the band in 1969, according to the biographical information in the forward to a new Springsteen volume, For You: Original Stories and Photographs by Bruce Springsteen's Legendary Fans.
Federici played with the Boss in the seaside juke joints with Child and Steel Mill. "In Danny's case," the Chicago Tribune's Louis Carlozo writes. "greatness is understood, measured in the sublime flicker of his organ-playing hands."
After 40 years in the band, Federici's hands are still, but I'm optimistic that, like all families, the E Street Band will find a way to persevere. It gives hope to the rest of us.
Jim Abbott
Orlando Sentinel