Dark Melody: The River Comes to Clarence Clemons

Stuart Mitchner

I’ve always been aware of the song playing in the minor keys, the dark melody that runs counterpoint to life’s sweeter song. The one that says time is short. — Clarence Clemons (1942-2011)

The quote is from Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales (Grand Central 2009), a quirky, crazyquilt of a memoir in which roughly half the chapters are by Clarence Clemons, who died June 18, and half by his friend and quasi biographer Don Reo. Given the bond between the Big Man and the Boss, the book also has a lot of Bruce Springsteen in it, as Clemons points out in a prefatory note: “It’s impossible to tell my story without telling at least part of Bruce’s,” for without Bruce, “there is no Big Man.” Springsteen’s brief foreward touches on the “Tall Tales” aspect of the book by suggesting that it gets as close to the “truth” as he can imagine: “Mere facts will never plumb the mysteries of the Big Man.”

One fact you can count on is the bigness. At 6’5, 270 pounds in his prime, Clemons was a presence to be reckoned with onstage, a massive absolute disguised as a barn-burning roadhouse tenor man. As Springsteen put it at last week’s memorial service, “When you were in his presence, it was like being in a sovereign nation.” Clemons thinks big as well. The river Springsteen “goes down to” with his girl in the song of the same name is dry when the song ends because “dreams are lies when they don’t come true.” For the Big Man, the river is music, it’s never dry, and he doesn’t need to go down to it because he’s never away from it: “It follows me; it changes its path to be with me and to stay with me and to define me. It is my purpose and it flows through my soul and it always will, and nothing in this world, including death, can stop that.”

Clarence Climbs Aboard

After reflecting on the year 1985, when “the band was big everywhere … in a way that was hard to imagine,” Clemons adds, “Except I did imagine it. I saw it all that first night at the Student Prince [the Asbury Park club where Springsteen was playing in September 1971]. I saw the success and the stardom and the stadiums, and I knew without a doubt it was going to happen.” While Bruce was “a very reluctant star who eventually had to find a way to deal with it” when “the power of the songs made the pull of giant stardom irresistible,” Clemons “climbed aboard and swore to ride it until the wheels fell off and burned.”

Springsteen celebrates the moment Clemons came into his life in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” which he sang a softer, toned-down version of at the memorial service. While it may seem to be a song about the birth of the band, it’s more personal than that; the singer, Scooter [Bruce before he was the Boss], had been “searching for his groove,” “back to the wall,” “stranded in the jungle,” “all alone” and “on [his] own” when “the Big Man joined the band.” Together, they ride “from the coastline to the city” and “All the little pretties raise their hands” as “Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half.”

Busting London

If you’ve seen the November 1975 Hammersmith Odeon concert included on the 30th anniversary Born to Run CD/2 DVD set (Sony 2005), you may wonder what Robert Hilburn was thinking of when he called that show “ill-fated” and Bruce’s performance “subdued” in Springsteen (Rolling Stone 1985). It’s true that the Boss was still feeling the aftershock of unthinkable fame, having scored the covers of both Time and Newsweek the previous month while his landmark album Born to Run was rocking America. As the Big Man suggests in his reference to Bruce’s problem dealing with stardom, Springsteen wanted fame on his own terms, which was one reason he was outraged by the excess of publicity that accompanied the band’s first overseas appearance.

Outraged maybe, but also furiously energized, since that concert has to be one of the most exhilarating live events ever recorded and Springsteen is subdued only by comparison to the arena extravaganzas to come where he does everything but ascend to rock and roll heaven after having group sex with 100,000 fans. As for Clarence Clemons, he’s in his element here, decked out in a white suit with a red flower in the lapel and the audience in his pocket. He’s not only mastering the scene, he’s giving power transfusions to the band and, most of all, to his soulmate. If you doubt that “soulmate” is the right word, check out what happens when Clemons picks up the marimbas after his searing tenor solo in “She’s the One” and he and Bruce ease into a joyous dance, shimmying around one another Motown style.

In Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture (Rutgers 2004), Krin Gabbard illustrates how the spiritual, emotional, and musical aspects of the black life force have been absorbed, appropriated, or exploited by white culture. As the DVD of the London concert shows, Bruce, the Big Man and the E Street Band are on another level. Contrary to the responses to his death that verge on typecasting him as a token attraction, a glorified variation on the resident black, there’s nothing token about the way Clarence Clemons commands the Hammersmith Odeon stage while the scraggly, scruffy, half-starved-looking leader scurries around in his floppy knit hat shouting, “Play it, Big Man!” as Clemons rides to glory on “Spirit in the Night,” “She’s the One,” and then puts a prayer to music in “Jungleland.” During that stately solo Springsteen closes his eyes and drinks it in, the music flowing between them, poet to poet. As you learn from the documentary (Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run) that comes with the 30th anniversary package, Clemons spent 15 hours in the studio perfecting that solo, every note of which was mused over, finessed, and edited into final form by Springsteen.

“Born to Run”

Legendary rock songs are usually marked by breakthrough moments. In “Born to Run” the breakthrough begins instantly with a wall-of-sound juggernaut moving full speed ahead “on the streets of a runaway American dream” where the breakthrough breaks through and Clarence Clemons cuts loose, a classic chorus, R&B nirvana, after which the song surpasses itself with the sublime transitional down-shift from sheer soaring to the slower, darkly building thrill-ride movement from “Beyond the Palace hemipowered drones scream down the boulevard” to “I wanna die with you Wendy on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss.” And just when you think it can’t get any better there’s another breakthrough, the musical equivalent of five orgasms, grand opera, shoot out the lights, before Bruce shifts back into drive for the ride to the end.

The Meeting

The Springsteen-Clemons meeting is described in a YouTube interview as Clemons recalls the nor’easter that swept the Atlantic coast on the night he walked into the Student Prince “and the wind actually tore the door out of my hand and blew it down the street.” As “the bouncers go running after the door, I’m standing there with lightning and thunder behind me, a black guy walking into a white club. I walked over to Bruce and said I want to sit in. “ In another version, Clemons pictures the band onstage “staring at me framed in the doorway.”

This is a big man, remember, who can’t close the door because it’s blowing down the street. For such a moment you need Sergio Leone directing with chimes and trumpets by Ennio Morricone. “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.”

As for Princeton history: When celebrating the 40th anniversary of Jadwin Gym’s opening, TigerBlog came up with the 40 greatest moments in Jadwin history. Of the events, 25 were intercollegiate; the remaining 15 included concerts, political events, and various others. TB’s number one event? The November 1, 1978 appearance of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

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Bloodbrother: Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011

by David Remnick

In the summer of 1971, when an ambitious Shore rat named Bruce Springsteen was playing at an Asbury Park bar called the Student Prince and writing songs for his first album, a band called Norman Seldin and the Joyful Noyze was playing at the Wonder Bar down the road. The tenor saxophone player was a huge ex-football player with a King Curtis sound named Clarence Clemons. The story, oft-repeated, is that one stormy night, between sets, Clemons wandered into the Student Prince and sat in, playing “Spirit in the Night.”

“Bruce and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything, we just knew,” Clemons said many years later. “We knew we were the missing links in each other’s lives.” Clemons played on that first album, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” and, at a gig at the Shipbottom Lounge, joined the group that would be called the E Street Band. The legend of that meeting and the formation of the band was the stuff of “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”—an anthem of becoming that was part of the repertoire for four decades. (“Well the change was made uptown/and the Big Man joined the band….From the coastline to the city/all the little pretties raised a hand.”)

Clemons, who died Saturday of complications from a stroke, was not an entirely original player—he was a vessel of many great soul, gospel, and R&B players who came before him—but he was an entirely sublime band member, an absolutely essential, and soulful, ingredient in both the sound of Springsteen and the spirit of the group. Clemons will be irreplaceable; Sonny Rollins could step in for him and never be able to provide the same sense of personality and camaraderie. His horn gave the band its sound of highway loneliness, its magnificent heart. And his huge presence on stage was an anchor for Springsteen, especially when Bruce was younger, scrawny, and so feral, so unleashed, that you thought that he could fall down dead in a pool of sweat at any moment. At the brink of exhaustion and collapse, Springsteen could always lean on his enormous and reliable friend—an emblematic image that is the cover of “Born to Run.”

On the band’s most recent tour, one that celebrated forty years of music-making, Clemons was clearly hurting: bad knees, bad hips, long shows. Backstage he was ferried around in a golf cart; onstage he played a lot of cowbell and, like Pavarotti in his later years, gave his aching joints breaks when he could. But he was still capable of playing, note for note, his signature solos. He made a joyful noise. Musicians as various as Jackson Browne and Lady Gaga called on him to record, to lend them some of the largeness and warmth of his tone.

If you want to hear the Big Man at his best, a few suggestions:

Two commercial sources first: I love the film of the E Street Band’s foray in England, the DVD of their 1975 concert at Hammersmith Odeon, which is included in the deluxe edition of “Born to Run.” Having gone through the extended boot camp of recording the album over many months, Springsteen, Clemons, Steve Van Zandt, and the rest of the band members seem liberated as they play the songs with the kind of abandon that comes from—practice, practice, practice. They are absolutely alive and the songs are fresh. Another live recording that is sometimes overlooked is “Live in New York City,” a double CD of their “reunion” tour in 2000. The band seems utterly un-bored playing the old songs. Clemons is riveting on his signature solo on “Jungleland” and he and the rest bring you to tears at their anthem of fellowship, “If I Should Fall Behind.”

The YouTube bonanza—and perhaps the greatest of all available Springsteen concerts—is his performance at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey, in September, 1978. (Video below.) By then, the band had taken on the songs from “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and Clarence was a presence more powerful than an N.F.L. linebacker. His solos on “Thunder Road” and many others are as urgent as Springsteen’s singing. Of course, I may think so highly of the Capitol Theater performance because I grew up in Jersey and hooked into Bruce early; and I was there. The first time I saw Springsteen was when he was the back-up act for Chicago at Madison Square Garden—“Who is that guy?”—and then kept following him, from the Capitol Theater and beyond. (A similarly brilliant 1978 concert, in Houston, is included as a DVD in the deluxe edition of “Darkness” that came out last year.)

Springsteen is a rock ‘n’ roll romantic, and a large part of his romanticism stems from his notion of what a band means. No one, save Springsteen himself, meant more to the E Street Band than Clarence Clemons. The word is that Springsteen is writing a memoir; the passages on his late, great friend will undoubtedly be the hardest to write and the most moving to read.

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Clarence Clemons by Branford Marsalis

June 18, 2011, marked the passing of Clarence “Big Man” Clemons. Ethan’s offer for me to write something on the Big Man allowed me to dig out my Springsteen CD’s along with some other things Mr. Clemons had performed on.

Listening to the music brought me back to my youth, but in addition, reminded me of something I had learned as a teenager, before I ever considered becoming a jazz musician: if you can play something that compliments the song, it will have a lasting impression.

I have spent a lot of years resisting the allure of “playing the changes” at the expense of playing the song, and hearing Clarence again reminded me where I subconsciously acquired that instinct. As a student of those solos, The Big Man is right up there with King Curtis, New Orleans tenormen Herb Hardesty and Lee Allen, “Fathead” Newman, Boots Randolph (to whom Clarence pays homage in virtually every solo), David Sanborn, Phil Woods and Dick Parry. In terms of saxophone playing,  the Big Man is certainly closer to Randolph than Sanborn or Curtis (and not as bad as Parry)…but what they all have in common is simply this:  their solos leave indelible imprints on the songs they played on.  One cannot imagine another musician taking their place.

If you know anything about Springsteen’s music, you know it is a reflection of his personal beliefs. It is hard, unrelenting, and honest.  At times, those values can be very difficult to find in finer players:  The ease with which the “shredders” play often has an effect of them being above the song, or worse, not even aware of the song’s existence. Clarence’s lack of saxophone prowess meant that he would have to get there with attitude, sound (which was massive!) and conviction. Thus, a musical marriage was made.

Many times, saxophone solos complimented the seemingly compulsory 8 bar break from the singing, as had been mandated since Tin Pan Alley days. When you listen to the Big Man playing on “I’m Goin’ Down,” “Badlands” or the early “Born to Run,” his solos lift the song up, taking them to the next level, a level which the Boss gladly matches. And believe me, hearing it live was even more intense!

When I was playing with Sting in the mid to late 80s, we embarked on a massive tour in support of Amnesty International. On the second tour, Mr. Springsteen and band joined. I had been critical of Clarence before then, because, as a young musician, I focused on facility and “hipness,” as opposed to the power of musical intent. On that tour, I learned a lot about Bruce, and how much music he knows. I hung a lot with Nils Lofgren and Danny Federici, and learned that Gary Talent was in that long line of super-important-yet-ignored bassists in pop music. And to top it off, I was invited to play a set with the band.

Other than with my quartet, I have not experienced that kind of intensity onstage; no matter how hard I played, it was not hard enough. And I did that gig only for an hour.  When it was over, my lips felt like they usually do when I play a gig after not touching the horn for two weeks. To add to the perspective, at that time, Bruce and the Boys (and gal) played like that for about four hours every night. Clarence was very gracious to me, and he brought it.  Everything I played had to have his vibe on it, so powerful was his influence on the sound of the band, and the sound on him.

After that night, Tom Hermann, Sting’s monitor man (now a sound engineer on the David Letterman show), used to hold his arm about 6.5 feet in the air, which was the cue for me to throw out a Clarence lick on Sting’s tunes. The first time I did it provoked a curious response from my boss (so opposite was it from my normal style of playing), but after that it was cool.

Whether playing with the E Street Band, or wailing on Aretha’s “Freeway of Love” (thanks to producer Narada Michael Walden, another Clarence believer), The Big Man was one of a kind, and Bruce will have a hard, if not impossible time, replacing him. The best way to close is with Mr. Springsteen, from his recording of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” from the box set Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Live, 1975-1985: “… and last, but not least, do I have to say his name?” No sir, you do not.

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After Clarence Clemons’ death, what’s next for the E Street Band?

Jay Lustig/The Star-Ledger

clemons.jpg
The E Street Band at the last show ever at Giants Stadium, in October 2009.

After Clarence Clemons died and fans got over their initial shock, one of the first questions they asked, to themselves and to other fans, was, “Will the E Street Band continue?”

Now, though, the question is more like: “How will the E Street Band continue?”

In a statement posted on his website after Clemons’ June 18 death, Bruce Springsteen indicated that he thought the band had a future, writing that “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.”

On Sunday, E Streeter Steven Van Zandt also looked to the band’s future on his syndicated radio show “Underground Garage,” discussing the strong bond among band members and then saying: “We will continue to make music and perform. Let’s face it, that’s all we really know how to do. But it will be very different without him.”

How will the band do it? Springsteen hasn’t said, so all we can do is speculate. But here are some thoughts on the subject.

When keyboardist Danny Federici — like Clemons, an original E Street Band member — died in 2008, the band segued smoothly to its next phase. But that was a totally different scenario. Federici had been suffering from melanoma for awhile, and the undeniably capable Charles Giordano had already been filling in for him on tour. After Federici’s death, Giordano simply stayed on.

Clemons’ shoes are harder to fill. While Federici was one of the architects of the E Street sound, he did not play a big role in the band’s stage show. Clemons, though, was right up front, taking solos (though, admittedly, fewer and fewer as the years went on) and acting as a kind of Springsteen sidekick.

Van Zandt, on Sunday, called Clemons the band’s “second member,” and I don’t think he meant chronologically. He meant that Clemons was the second most important guy (Springsteen always fed into that idea, too, by introducing Clemons last at shows). As has been mentioned countless times since Clemons’ death, it was he — and no other E Streeter — that Springsteen chose to pose with on the cover of his “Born to Run” album. And Clemons’ booming saxophone was a big part of the E Street sound, from “Spirit in the Night” (from Springsteen’s first album, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.”) to “This Life” (from his most recent one, “Working on a Dream”).

The symbolism of Clemons just being there, onstage, was powerful: Here were Springsteen and his cherished friend, still together after so many years, so many tours. Another musician can play Clemons’ parts, but that can never be replaced.

So what can Springsteen do?

The most straightforward solution — hire another sax player — is also the most problematic. Another musician can never offer the resonance that Clemons did, just by showing up.

Some fans have brought up the prospect of Clemons’ nephew — Jake Clemons, who plays sax as well as guitar — stepping into the role. Of course, drummer Jay Weinberg, Max Weinberg’s son, filled in for his father for portions of the 2009 “Working on a Dream” tour, and that worked out well. So that’s one possibility — and one that would at least offer some sentimental uplift.

But there are other ways to go, too.

Springsteen could avoid songs that are sax-heavy, or rearrange them so that they don’t need sax. That was his strategy, more or less, on the 1992-93 band tour he did without Clemons and most of the other E Streeters. He did have a multi-instrumentalist in the band, Crystal Taliefero, who could play sax. But she didn’t play it much.

He could add a full horn section, not just a sax, so that the horn parts could be spread around. This would at least take some of the pressure off the new sax player.

He could really shuffle things up, with various E Streeters playing in several different combinations — electric, acoustic, semi-acoustic — at different points in the show, and the songs getting drastic reinterpretations. I really like this solution: I’m always eager to hear Springsteen reworking things instead of just cranking out songs such as “Badlands” and “The Rising” — great as they are — the same way they’ve always been played.

And Springsteen might have been thinking along these lines before the start of his 2005 solo tour; he reportedly rehearsed with a stripped-down band featuring Federici, guitarist Nils Lofgren, violinist Soozie Tyrell and drummer Steve Jordan before deciding to do the tour solo.

I have my doubts, though, that Springsteen would do something so radical,
especially for an arena/stadium tour.

Certainly, no matter what happens, there will be warm words about Clemons on any future E Street tour, and maybe a video tribute or something along those lines.
It would be great if his sax could be onstage, too, whenever and wherever the E Street Band plays, as a three-dimensional representation of the idea that — as Van Zandt said on Sunday — “The heart of us, Clarence and Danny, will always be there, stage right.”

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The Boss and the Big Man: the life and death of Clarence Clemons

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mervyn Dandy
Bruce Springsteen’s saxophone player, Clarence Clemons, known as “the Big Man”, has died. He suffered a stroke on 12 June 2011, following which he underwent two surgeries and was declared in a serious but stable condition. Sadly, he succumbed to complications caused by the stroke in the early evening of Saturday 18 June 2011. He was 69 years of age.

Paying tribute to Clemons, Springsteen said: “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 honoured 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.” Clemons is the second member of the legendary E Street Band to pass away, organist Danny Federici having died in 2008.

Clarence’s passing has drawn tributes from musicians other than the Boss, and from leading American personalities in other walks of life as well. At a U2 concert in Anaheim a few hours after Clemons’s death, Bono paid tribute to him and read lyrics from Bruce’s song “Jungleland” (from the seminal breakthrough album Born to Run (1975)), on which Clemons had played a lengthy and meticulously rehearsed solo on his beloved tenor saxophone. New Jersey rock band Bon Jovi performed “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, likewise from Born to Run, at a concert in Denmark the following day in his honour. Carlos Santana and Eddie Vedder, at separate concerts over the course of the two days following Clarence’s death, paid tribute to him and made a dedication to him. Television presenter Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show, in his first show after Clemons’s demise, dedicated a “Moment of Zen” to him and screened a clip of Springsteen introducing Clemons to an audience. And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered all flags in New Jersey to be flown at half-staff in honour of Clemons on Thursday 23 June 2011.

To the average fan outside America, not much is known about Clarence Clemons other than his membership of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. And it may come as a surprise to some to discover that Clemons played with a wide variety of famous and influential musicians other than Springsteen, and released a number of solo records as well. In 1985 he had a hit single with Jackson Browne (who took second billing, after Clemons, on the label) entitled “You’re a Friend of Mine”, on which Clarence both played and sang lead vocals in his booming, soulful voice. He co-wrote, played and sang all the lead vocals on the tuneful and up-tempo B-side, “Let the Music Say It”, which was arguably an even better song than its accompanying A-side. He also played saxophone for Aretha Franklin on her hit single “Freeway of Love” in the same year. He toured with Ringo Starr in 1989, as a member of the first line-up of the All-Starr Band, during which he sang “You’re a Friend of Mine” with fellow member Billy Preston (who died in 2006) and handled lead vocals by himself on an updated arrangement of “Quarter to Three”. (Only the latter track was included on the album released from that tour, in 1990. Significantly, that incarnation of the All-Starr Band included guitarist Nils Lofgren, who went on to become a member of the E Street Band after it was re-formed by Springsteen in 1999, pursuant to the success of the 4-CD Tracks box set, issued in 1998.) Most recently, Clemons played saxophone on two tracks, “Hair” and “The Edge of Glory”, from the new Lady Gaga album Born This Way, released a few weeks ago. All this was in addition to various other side projects, including his own band, Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers, with whom he released an album entitled Rescue in 1983. He also made three other solo albums, Hero (1985), A Night with Mr C (1989) and Peacemaker (1995).

The list of musicians for whom Clarence played is as varied as it is astonishing; he has backed another Jersey band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and he has recorded with Carlene Carter, Janis Ian, Joan Armatrading, Greg Lake, fellow E Street Band member Little Steven (Steve van Zandt), Ian Hunter, Twisted Sister, Gloria Estefan, the Four Tops, Joe Cocker, Roy Orbison, Alvin Lee, Luther Vandross and Todd Rundgren, among many others.

Besides all this, Clemons (like Steve van Zandt) pursued a career as an actor, both in feature films and on television, the latter including appearances in Diff’rent Strokes (1985), The Weird Al Show (with Weird Al Yankovic) (1997), and an episode of The Simpsons (1999) in which he was a guest voice. The full-length films in which he acted include Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977), in which he played a trumpeter named Cecil Powell.

But it is as the saxophonist for the E Street Band for which Clemons is best loved and most widely remembered. Bruce Springsteen wrote a line for him in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (“And the Big Man joined the band” – the predictable cue for a flourish on the saxophone), and he was a key member of Springsteen’s backing group even before it became known as the E Street Band, having joined in 1972. Different accounts of their first meeting have been told by Springsteen in concert, one of which can be heard on “The E Street Shuffle” on the recently released Live at the Main Point, 1975 double album, recorded on 5 February 1975. According to Clarence, the true story is that he went down to a club called The Student Prince at which the erstwhile Bruce Springsteen Band was playing. It was a rainy and windy night, and when Clemons opened the door to the club, the door flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band, on stage at the time, stared at the huge frame of Clarence Clemons in the doorway, and when Clemons approached Springsteen later that night and asked to play with the band, Springsteen – apparently intimidated by Clemons’s bulk – immediately consented. The two realized immediately that they belonged together. Springsteen’s affection for Clemons was both enormous and obvious: witness the Boss’s beaming smile as Clarence, imposingly clad in a white suit and white wide-brimmed hat, plays his sax solo on “She’s the One” at the legendary November 1975 Hammersmith Odeon show in London, and the genuine warmth in the Boss’s pose and facial expression as he leans on the Big Man in the iconic monochrome photograph that was spread across the front and back covers on the gatefold sleeve of Born to Run.

Clemons first played on record for Springsteen on “Blinded by the Light” and “Spirit in the Night” on the Boss’s debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973), contributing also background vocals and handclaps to that LP. But it was on Born to Run that he came to international attention and eventually world fame, playing saxophone on six of that album’s eight songs, including “Thunder Road”, “Born to Run”, “She’s the One” and “Jungleland”. His full-bodied and passionate delivery on those pivotal tracks helped in no small measure to elevate Born to Run to its status as one of the most majestic albums in the rock milieu.

Many more magnificent, and often driving, sax solos followed – on “Badlands” from Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), on “The Ties That Bind”, “Sherry Darling”, “Independence Day”, “Crush on You” and “Ramrod” from The River (1980), on “Bobby Jean”, “I’m Goin’ Down” and “Dancing in the Dark” from Born in the USA (1984). But it was on the blazing set of tracks culled from the E Street Band’s 1981 American concert tour which appear on the Live 1975—85 set that Clarence delivered the most compelling of his many amazing performances. The E Street Band were, by that stage, the best backing band in the world – they were simply untouchable – and Clemons was an indispensable part of the group. The sax solo that carries the incredible performance of “Cadillac Ranch” on that album through to its exuberant conclusion is, for my money, the best in all of rock – superior even to the raunchy playing of Bobby Keyes on the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” or anything that Andy Mackay laid down on tape for Roxy Music during the seventies and eighties.

Clarence Clemons was not only one of the world’s best-known saxophone players but also one of the most talented – indeed, he was arguably rock’s finest ever saxophonist. He has left behind a wonderful collection of performances that will continue for decades to delight fans and aficionados of rock music, none better than on the numerous Bruce Springsteen albums on which he played. He is an iconic figure who symbolized the amazing artistic heights that can be reached when black and white musicians collaborate. He was a Big Man in every sense, and he will be sorely and deeply missed.

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