I was very upset to hear today that the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, had passed away on Saturday at the age of 69. Clarence had suffered a massive stroke on the 12th of June, but recent news had indicated he was showing signs of improvement. Unfortunately, as is often the case with that terrible affliction, things took a turn for the worse and the world lost the second of the original E Street Band ( after Danny ( Phantom Dan ) Federici who died in 2008 )
Clarence was truly an iconic figure in rock music, even though "just" a side-man. He's there on the cover of the Born To Run album ( out-take from the photo session above ) with Springsteen leaning on his shoulder, the camaraderie of The Big Man and The Boss, ready to take on the world, there for all to see.
Clarence's saxophone playing was a joyous, lusty and beautiful sound; a vital component of the E Street shuffle, connecting the band to the heartbeat of rock 'n' roll. He plays like a titan on Thunder Road, like a rock 'n' soul god on Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, like a ghost on Jungleland. Of course, Clarence made exciting and funky contributions to all the albums Bruce recorded with the E Street Band ( even the folk-rock compromise first album ) but it's on Born To Run where he can be heard at his most expressive and ambitious: just listen to his epic sax solo on Jungleland - absolutely spine-tingling - or the smoky, bluesy ending to Night, which finishes far too soon, leaving you begging for more.
And, of course, Clarence was well-loved as a fantastic live performer ( even while struggling in later years with the effects of hip operations ) and comedic onstage foil to The Boss. From Bruce's overblown, gleefully hyped-up introductions to The Big Man, to their chargin' around the stage routines, the Bruce and Clarence Show was a huge part of the live E Street experience. Cheers from ecstatic crowds were ( almost ) as big for Clarence as they were for Bruce. As I said to my mate Edward today, I just can't imagine the E Street Band without Clarence.....
And here's Clarence with Lady Gaga from her Edge Of Glory video, still reaching out to new audiences, 50 (!) years after his first giant steps into the world of rock 'n' roll.
But it's for his work with that scruffy young rocker, Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen, that Clarence will be forever remembered. Let's let Clarence ( via Wikipedia ) tell us the story of their first, fateful meeting.....
One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I'd heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I'm a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, "I want to play with your band," and he said, "Sure, you do anything you want." The first song we did was an early version of "Spirit In The Night". Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives. He was what I'd been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.
RIP Clarence Clemons 11th January 1942 - 18th June 2011