Clarence Clemons, perhaps the most popular member of Bruce Springsteen‘s E Street Band, passed away at the age of 69 today (June 18). The saxophone player was fighting for his life at a Florida hospital this past week, but succumbed to complications from a massive stroke he suffered on June 12.
Bruce Springsteen‘s official website has posted the following message concerning the passing of E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons. It contains a brief note about the time of death, followed by a personal statement from Springsteen:
It is with overwhelming sadness that we inform our friends and fans that at 7:00 tonight, Saturday, June 18, our beloved friend and bandmate, Clarence Clemons passed away. The cause was complications from his stroke of last Sunday, June 12th.
Bruce Springsteen said of Clarence: “Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”
As a 9 year old kid in Norfolk, Va., Clemons's father gave him an alto saxophone as a Christmas present and paid for music lessons. He later switched to baritone saxophone and played in a high school jazz band. His uncle also influenced his early musical development when he bought him his first King Curtis album. Curtis, and his work with The Coasters in particular, would be become a major influence on Clemons and led to him switching to tenor saxophone. Early on, his music talents were matched by his football skills. He played football for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, but injuries from a car accident cost him a tryout for the Cleveland Browns. That led Clemons to focus on his music career.
Clemons first met the Boss in 1971, when the Big Man walked into a club to catch Springsteen’s band playing a gig. The sax player told singer-guitarist that he’d like to play with him, and Springsteen obliged.
“The first song we did was an early version of ‘Spirit in the Night,’” recalled Clemons in a 1998 interview. “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.”
In October 1972, Clemons became an original member of what would be later known as the E Street Band. Earlier that year, he laid down saxophone tracks on ‘Spirit in the Night’ and ‘Blinded by the Light’ for Springsteen’s ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.’ The Boss’ backing group would officially be named the E Street Band in 1974.
It was 1975′s ‘Born To Run’ on which Clemons would make arguably his most memorable contributions to Springsteen’s catalog. The Big Man’s saxophone playing on such songs as the title track, ‘Thunder Road’ and ‘Jungleland’ helped make those tunes the classic tracks they still are today.
Other great sax contributions from Clemons on Springsteen albums include ‘The Ties That Bind’ and ‘Sherry Darling’ off 1980′s ‘The River,’ and ‘I’m Going Down’ and ‘Bobby Jean’ from 1983′s ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ His solo on Springsteen’s cover of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ is also a highlight, with the Boss uttering the intro line, “Clarence, you been, you been rehearsing real hard now, so Santa’ll bring you a new saxophone, right?”
Outside of his work with Springsteen, Clemons took a stab at vocals on ‘You’re a Friend of Mine,’ his 1985 duet with Jackson Browne. He also plays sax on soul legend Aretha Franklin’s 1985 hit ‘Freeway of Love.’ Most recently, he performed on a few tracks on pop superstar Lady Gaga’s latest album, ‘Born This Way.’ He also released a number of solo albums throughout his career.
Outside of music, Clemons made a number of film and television appearances, including roles in ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ and ‘Diff’rent Strokes.’
In 2009, Clemons released a collection of stories called ‘Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales.’ The book features a foreword by Springsteen, whose words offer a great summation of Clemons’ importance to the E Street Band:
“The story I have told throughout my work life, I could not have told as well without Clarence.”
Tuneage: Jungleland, with the E Street Band, Madison Square Garden, October, 2009, New York, The 25th Anniversary Concert of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In: World News, Other Entertainment, Music
Tags: Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen, RIP, rock and roll. music, Jungleland, classic rock
Location: Florida, United States (load item map)
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