The phone rang, and it was Bruce. That probably meant it was time for the band to tour.
But that's not what it meant. This time, in late 1989, Bruce Springsteen told Danny Federeci he was breaking up the band.
"I was surprised," Federeci recalled. "I was very hurt. It was the only life I had known for 22 years."
Five years later, Federeci, 44, isn't completely healed. He says he is still "working through all that stuff," but he is happy. For the first time since the E Street Band hit the road, for good, its ex-keyboardist is excited about his work. He plays Monday nights for the house band--the Sacred Hearts--at one of the hottest clubs in town, the new House of Blues in WestHollywood. He is his own Boss.
"I'm having a bit of the fun that I used to have," he said. "I had forgotten why I became a musician."
He can see his audience again. After Springsteen became a superstar during the mid-1980s, Federeci said, the band lost that once-magical intimacy with its fans. "You could see maybe the first 10 rows of the crowd, and that was it," Federeci said. "Now, I play for people I can hear, people I can see."
Federeci envisions himself as an "R&B; kind of guy," which matches his group's blend of contemporary and old-fashioned blues. The band plays Muddy Waters, Al Green and Albert King. These are the songs Federeci loves, not just the ones Springsteen preferred.
But he's no fool. He understands the climb back to success is very steep, and so he calmly accepts his band's secondary role.
"We're not there to be the stars," Federeci said. "We're there to make others look good."
That means he'll pull out his rock 'n' roll Rolodex, and bring in the best names possible. So far, Gregg Allman, Johnny Rivers and Paul Shaffer have stopped by to jam. Federeci said there will be more guests. "We want to give people a sense," he said, "that anything can happen on Monday nights."
The band is moving slowly with its music as well. Eventually, members plan to introduce original songs into their repertoire, but for the immediate future, covers will suffice. The group also includes guitarist Steve Chrismar, who played with George Thorogood; lead vocalist Jimmie Wood, who recorded with Bruce Hornsby, and drummer Tony Braunagel, who has toured with Ricki Lee Jones, Bette Midler and Bonnie Raitt.
Braunagel said Federeci has had the perfect attitude for a new band. "He doesn't walk around with his ego," Braunagel said. "He's very open to musical suggestions, and quite full of his own."
Yet, while Federeci says the breakup of the E Street Band has liberated him, both musically and emotionally, he still misses the good life. He puts "room service" at the top of that list. "I walked into the lobby of this hotel recently after a Billy Joel concert," he said, "and I saw someone with a room service tray. I don't miss the music, but I do miss the hotels."
He also misses the dedication of the Springsteen days. When the band needed to rehearse, the band rehearsed. That wasn't always the case when Sacred Hearts first got together.
"I came from a different scene," he said, "and either you're committed or you're not. I wasn't used to that. But I understand these guys have to hustle to make it in L.A."
That includes himself. Since moving out here in 1992, his resume has gotten him into meetings, but it hasn't clinched the deal. He had hoped to write music for films or television but so f1634869358good," he admits, "if I had just been a bit more famous."
But Federeci's only regret may be that he didn't leave it all sooner. "I wasted a lot of good time," he said. "That's what happens when you make too much money."
In fact, it was Springsteen who made him realize it was time to move to Los Angeles. One day, he visited Federeci's New Jersey farm and told him there was nobody left in New York. Everyone had moved west. "It was true," he said.
And it wouldn't be a total shock if Springsteen pops up soon at the House of Blues to play with his ex-keyboardist. The two saw each other a few weeks ago, and have remained good friends.
"He digs the club," Federeci said.
* The Sacred Hearts play two sets every Monday night, starting at 10:30, at the House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. Cover charge is $10.