Today we wish E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan a happy 61st birthday. I rarely pass up an opportunity to discuss and listen to the E Street Band, so let’s revisit a few moments from the band’s past that feature the master work of The Professor, Roy Bittan.
Like so much of E Street folklore, there are multiple stories that purport to explain how it is Bittan came to be known as The Professor. Bruce and Roy have both told different stories. They either don’t remember the real story or aren’t going to tell it. Either is possible but Springsteen still introduces him that way night after night on stage, where he shines.;
Today’s Professor playlist isn’t ‘The Definitive Roy Bittan.’ These are a few highlights from his career, some personal favorites of mine. Do you have a favorite? Jump in with both feet in the comments section. Let’s wish Roy Bittan a happy birthday while reveling in his contributions to one of rock’s best discographies.
“Jungleland:” When I think of Roy Bittan and his place in the E Street Band, I think of the piano intro to “Jungleland.” I’ve been privileged to hear this song in concert on multiple occasions and there’s nothing quite like the thrill of hearing the delicate, intricate opening as well as the majestic, dramatic passages throughout the song. That’s at the core of Bittan as a player. He’s not a honky tonker or a boogie woogie sort. He can dabble with those but it’s the flair for the dramatic that makes him the invaluable piece of the E Street Band.
“Thunder Road:” Did someone say flair for the dramatic? How about the intro to this song? “Thunder Road” is considered one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time and also one of the best songs to open an album. What are the first things you hear when you queue up Born To Run? Bruce’s mournful harmonica and Roy’s beautiful piano intro. It’s one of the most memorable sounds of the past 35 years.
“Something In The Night:” This is another great, great quintessential Bittan moment and also one I was privileged enough to experience for myself in Nashville back in 2009. This was among the highlights of that show. When Springsteen wants to make a bold statement you can usually bet Bittan is going to help him frame it.
“Because The Night:” Here’s one that got away. Springsteen fans know this is a Springsteen tune but there are a lot of listeners who don’t. It’s never appeared on an E Street Band studio record (debatable when you consider how many overdubs were made on the ‘Live ‘75/85’ box set, but…) and for years went unplayed on Sprinsgteen tours. Starting with the Magic tour, this one came out more frequently. I wasn’t lucky enough to get it but again the piano intro from Bittan is unmistakable.
“Tunnel Of Love:” No, not that one. Bittan had already played on a song of the same name before Springsteen wrote his Tunnel Of Love record, this one from Dire Straits and their Making Movies LP. Roy’s piano isn’t front and center throughout the song but there are moments early and at the end where you can hear the unmistakable sound of The Professor at work.
Happy birthday, Professor!