Thirty piano players responded to an advertisement in the Village Voice in August 1974, looking for a player who could play "classical to Jerry Lee Lewis." Queens-born Roy Bittan, who had been working in bands and Broadway musicals in New York, saw the ad and, after two auditions, was given the job.
Live, Bittan’s steady hands served as counterbalance to Springsteen’s wilder antics (often while standing on top of Bittan’s piano). When given space to solo, Bittan could consistently provide something appropriate, whether a boogie-woogie solo during a classic rock & roll cover or the elegiac coda to “Racing in the Street.” A master at his craft, even nicknamed “The Professor,” his knowledge of synthesizers further expanded the E Street Band’s range, most notably in the riff that opens “Born in the U.S.A.” and on such 1980s hits as “Dancing in the Dark” and “Tunnel of Love.”
Bittan is the only member of the E Street Band to have co-written Bruce Springsteen songs, with “Roll of the Dice” and “Real World” from Human Touch to his credit, as well as “Trouble in Paradise,” which was released on the Tracks box set. His work on these songs has been credited by Springsteen with helping break a period of writer’s block he experienced in late 1989. For the Human Touch recording sessions (along with several songs on Lucky Town), Bittan was one of the producers.
Between E Street tours and albums, Bittan became an in-demand session player, recording and touring with legends including Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Dire Straits, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, and Warren Zevon. In addition to adding keyboards, he also produced artists from Stevie Nicks and Lucinda Williams to Meat Loaf and Celine Dion. In 2014, Bittan released his first solo album, Out of the Box—a collection of instrumentals on which he played all the parts (except for one appearance by Nils Lofgren) and produced himself, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the E Street Band.