Bruce Springsteen never seems to stray far from politics, and it’s hard not to bring it up- especially when talking with a member of the E Street Band the day after the Democratic National Convention.
“I’ve been interested in politics a long time, then disinterested, disillusioned… but in recent years it’s been fascinating.”
Roy Bittan, piano player and keyboardist for The E Street Band, was taking some time between shows to run the interview circuit. Bruce Springsteen and the band had planned their own October surprise, adding a string of concert dates that includes Hartford’s XL Center on Oct 25.
One week before the Hartford show, The Boss took the stage with former President Bill Clinton for an Obama rally in Ohio. Bittan says the political role is Bruce’s baby.
“You may find different opinions among the band members, but I don’t think Bruce really crafts anything according to our political beliefs. He kind of writes from his heart and his intellect, and figures out what he has to say.
“I certainly go along with his particular opinion about things, but that’s just my own particular take on it.”
Bittan has played alongside Springsteen, the New Jersey working class Americana hero, for almost forty years. It’s something the musician couldn’t dream of when he first responded to an ad in the Village Voice decades ago.
“If you go back to 1974, which was when I auditioned and joined band, there weren’t very many modern rock musicians over the age of 30,” said Bittan.
“It was sort of like the Rolling Stones were there, and the Beatles … Mick Jagger was maybe in his early 30s. So there was no precedent that this is something I’m going to be doing when I’m 60.”
But he’s still doing it, tickling ivory keys.
Though Bruce is the band’s primary writer, a lot can be credited to the technical prowess Roy brought to recordings and performances. He can be credited with breathing fire into the piano driven rock sound that has gelled around Springsteen.
“The Born To Run album- which we recorded when I joined the band- I think he wrote all those songs on the piano,” Bittan says. “It was a great moment for me to step in and reinterpret what he was trying to conceive and apply my own sensibilities to it.
“Various songs amp me for various reasons. Certainly playing Jungleland comes to mind immediately. To me it’s an opus, an incredible work.” Roy says, citing one of his favorite songs to perform live. “Then there’s songs like Johnny 99, that are incredible, just fun to play. There’s so many, honestly.”
Bittan says from the get-go, Springsteen crafted a tone that focused on the keyed instruments more than traditional groups of the day.
“We were a two keyboard band- a lot of people think of rock and roll bands as guitar bands. We had organ and piano. That’s a lot.”
The organ was taken up from the beginning by Danny Federici, who passed away four years ago from melanoma. More recently the group suffered the loss of Clarence Clemons, saxophonist and a pillar for the E Street Band.
“You could imagine, you have a machine with all these parts in it. Then suddenly one part is gone,” lamented Bittan.
The “Wrecking Ball” album and tour are E Street’s first without Clemons, who passed away after having a stroke last year. His nephew Jake, who took up saxophone under The Big Man’s tutelage, is filling in.
“It’s certainly weird to look over to that side of the stage and not seeing The Big Man [Clemons] or Danny,” Bittan said. “But look you have to move forward, and we’re doing that in the best possible way we could have. Both Jake and Charlie [Giordano] are doing tremendously in keeping Clarence and Danny’s memory there.”
“I miss the guys, but the core of the band is still there. Max, Gary, myself, Steven and Bruce, and Nils. We’re still up there slugging away, and it feels wonderful. I hope it never ends.”
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