Accordionist, glockenspieler and organist from Flemington, New Jersey, who was a fan of The Lawrence Welk Show and took up the accordion at the age of seven. He studied classical music and could play a mean polka, so his mom got him the hook-up at clubs, parties and radio broadcasts.
Danny became enamoured of blues and jazz and, eventually, rock and roll. He and Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez decided to start a rock group and drafted Bruce Springsteen into what would eventually become known as The E Street Band, this after a number of different monikers, including The Bruce Springsteen Band, Child, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, and Steel Mill.
Nicknamed “Phantom” because of an incident that occurred during a concert in Asbury Park when he caused a ruckus by conking a handful of policemen with some heavy-duty speakers and then conveniently disappearing into the crowd in the riotous aftermath. A warrant was issued for his arrest but the band managed to keep him on the lam, sneaking him in and out of concerts. He wasn’t so lucky when his car was towed away and the police found a giant marijuana plant inside.
In 1969, he and his bride, Flo, gave birth to a child, Jason, but the marriage did not last. Danny’s first album with Bruce was The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. His organ stylings played a prominent role in the sound and success of The Boss’s first top-ten hit, “Hungry Heart”. The Spectoresque “Wall of Sound” Danny helped create gets the proceedings off to a raucous start and the record never really lets up. It has since become a sing-along favourite with audiences at Bruce’s marathon concerts.
He also played an electronic glockenspiel, conjuring up the nostalgic sounds he and The Boss enjoyed as youths, passing time at amusement parks, the beach, the boardwalk, and the carnival. Sometimes, he also employed an electronic keyboard to generate a similar sound.
In 1987, he wed Kathlynn Helmeid, an airline attendant whom he had the good fortune to meet during the tour in support of Born in the U.S.A. He appeared on the subsequent album, Tunnel of Love, and its accompanying tour, as well. In 1989, Bruce and the E Street Band went their separate ways, although The Boss rehired Danny as a session musician on his 1995 solo release, The Ghost of Tom Joad.
Danny released his own solo album in 1997 entitled Flemington, and was joined by fellow E Street band-mates Nils Lofgren and Garry Tallent. It was re-released as a self-titled album in 2001. In 2002, Danny and Kathlynn were divorced. They had two adopted daughters, Harley and Madison.
Meantime, the E Street Band was reunited for Bruce’s 9/11-themed The Rising, with Danny supplying the organ coda on “You’re Missing”. Two years later, Danny released another solo album, a smooth-jazz affair entitled Sweet, re-released in 2005 as Out of a Dream. He was also busy in the studios adding his own unique ambience to recordings by Joan Armatrading, Gary U.S. Bonds, Garland Jeffreys, and Graham Parker.
Sadly, in 2007, his second wife, Kathlynn, died of complications from Crohn’s disease. Danny was himself suffering from melanoma and had to quit the band in November 2007. His replacement was Charles Giordano. Danny gamely tried to perform with the band one more time, on 20th March 2008, at Indianapolis, Indiana’s Conseco Fieldhouse.
On 17th April 2008, the melanoma claimed his life. His deathbed wish was for a fund to be set up in his name to help others suffering from the same disease.
Bruce Springsteen recordings
Held up without a Gun (Bruce Springsteen)
Hungry Heart (Bruce Springsteen)
Here he is performing as an organist with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on “Thundercrack”…