Man, That Piano Man

Knock! Knock!
Who’s There?
Roy Bittan.
Roy Bittan who?
Roy Bittan no one else plays hard-driving piano on rock classics.

What makes Bruce Springsteen “Badlands” and Bob Seger’s “Roll Me Away” fan favorites from the many hits the two recording artists produced during the 1970s and 1980s are the “yearning to be free” lyrics, the plaintive voices of the rockers at the peak of their careers, and, most of all, the accompaniment of Roy Bittan’s keyboarding that makes the hard-charging last thirty seconds of each single moments to treasure and ones their fans wish could go on and on and not fade away.

From the very first notes of “Badlands” it is Roy’s persistent “dum-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum” cadence as memorable as the “dum-de-dum-dum” theme of Dragnet that sets the pace for Bruce’s ode to freedom of the spirit. After a pause for a short guitar and sax solo, Springsteen sets up the concluding chords with a humming interlude before the buildup “for the ones who had a notion.” Then Roy’s subtle slide and Max Weinberg’s drum roll, both often overlooked, set up the pulsating drive to the finish line that makes this one a winner for everyone on E Street.

Originally “Roll Me Away” was to start out “full throttle” until a more subtle intro by Bittan and drummer Russ Kunkel became the preferred start, offering a nice contrast to the pounding pace that begins after the first verse is spoken. Once Seger hits the road, the drum and piano go along for the ride. Everyone pauses on the mountaintop to gaze at the young hawk flying, then, with spirits lifted, come cascading down wide open in a “turn up the volume, wake up the neighbors” fadeout that makes this a car cruising standard.

“Badlands” and “Roll Me Away” remain two of rock’s most significant paeans to the open road and individual freedom. Springsteen, Seger, and the musicians (especially Bittan) made certain the fire inside was passed on to us so we can offer words of encouragement to anyone who wants to find out what they have or who stands staring at the Great Divide: There is no need to get it right next time—They got it right the first time.

 

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