Bruce Springsteen: Glory Days

The Boss on Stage, but ‘Saddie’ Out in Right

KEVIN COYNE

One summer night in 1973, two friends who had not met since high school bumped into each other outside a bar on the Jersey Shore: Bruce Springsteen was walking in, his old baseball teammate was walking out. They went back inside, had a few drinks and reminisced.

They talked about the nuns at St. Rose of Lima School, where they were seatmates in seventh grade, and about baseball games whose scores they still remembered. Springsteen told his friend that he had released two albums and that his band had just opened an arena show for the Beach Boys and was starting to draw big crowds. They stayed at the bar, the Headliner, in Neptune until closing, then did not see each other again for more than three decades. But “Glory Days,” a 1984 Springsteen song at least partly inspired by that night, brought them together again.

Those of us from Springsteen’s hometown, Freehold, N.J., knew that “Glory Days,” like much of his work, was about the place where we grew up and where many of us still live. So rich are Springsteen’s descriptions of the characters he knew, the plots he watched unfold, that some of his songs sound to us like documentaries.

But “Glory Days” was also the source of an enduring mystery. Who was that speedball pitcher in the song?

I finally found out at a reunion we held recently for our Little League’s 60th anniversary — not from Springsteen, who did not come, but from Dick Enderly, once a fine schoolboy pitcher, who had put the question to Springsteen at their 30th high school reunion in 1997, and received the answer.

“Joe DePugh,” Enderly told me. “I got it straight from the horse’s mouth.”

DePugh, the oldest of six brothers, was a star Little League pitcher and a teammate of Springsteen’s in the Babe Ruth League. A joint assessment of their comparative baseball skills led to DePugh’s affectionate nickname for Springsteen, a right fielder: Saddie.

By high school, they had drifted apart.

“He lost interest in baseball, and I was nothing but sports,” said DePugh, now 61, who also played basketball and football.

As a high school senior, he had several offers to play college basketball and an invitation to try out for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In a telephone interview, DePugh said: “I was like: ‘I’m going to be a pitcher for the Dodgers. No, I’m going to college. No, I’m going to be a pitcher for the Dodgers.’ Well, the tryout cleared all that up.”

He played basketball at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and earned a degree in English. But by the time he graduated, his parents had died and DePugh was the legal guardian of his two youngest brothers. DePugh was a substitute teacher for a while but could not find a permanent teaching position, so he became a self-employed contractor. He also played in a summer basketball league, and it was after a game that he ran into Springsteen at the Headliner.

A few years later, DePugh moved to Vermont. His friend Scott Wright always played Springsteen’s music on a boom box on job sites, and DePugh told him about meeting Springsteen at the Headliner. When “Glory Days,” a track on “Born in the U.S.A.,” was released, Wright heard it first.

“He told me, ‘Springsteen has a new album out, and there’s a song on there about you,’ ” DePugh said. “ ‘It’s exactly the story you told me.’ ”

DePugh was skeptical, so Wright called a radio station in Montpelier, Vt., and requested the song.

“My wife starts bawling,” DePugh said. “That’s how I knew exactly that it was me.”

The story spread slowly among his friends in Vermont and, when DePugh was 50, he was recruited to join a baseball league for older men.

“When I showed up for the first practice that summer,” he said, “these guys would come up to me and feel the sleeve of my shirt, and say: ‘Oh, you’re real. We thought you were a legend.’ I pitched the whole season that year and ended up with a 0.00 earned run average.”

DePugh attended his 35th high school reunion in 2002, but Springsteen did not. Their classmate Don Norkus eventually got them together for lunch in May 2005, at an Italian restaurant in Red Bank, N.J.

“Bruce pulls in and I point at him and he points at me, and that’s when the hugging started,” DePugh said. They stayed until they were almost the last customers left, as they had at the Headliner three decades earlier.

DePugh spends the colder months in Florida, stopping in New Jersey when he passes through in the spring and the fall. He and Springsteen met again a couple of years ago, at an Italian restaurant in Freehold. At the end of the night, they said their goodbyes at the back door.

“He said, ‘Always remember, I love you,’ not like some corny Budweiser commercial, but a real sentimental thing,” DePugh said. “I was dumbfounded. I said, ‘Thanks, Saddie.’ That was all I could come up with, and all of a sudden, he’s out the door. And it hit me that you’ve got to do a little better than that, so I pulled the door open and yelled down to him, ‘Sad!’ He turned around and I pointed at him and said, ‘I love you, too, and I’m real proud of you.’ And he just waved.”

Kevin Coyne, who teaches at Columbia Journalism School, is the historian for Freehold, N.J.

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Bruce Springsteen’s Eulogy for Clarence Clemons

‘Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies. He leaves when we die’

Bruce Springsteen has released the text of the eulogy that he delivered at the funeral of Clarence Clemons on June 21st at Royal Poinciana Chapel in Palm Beach, Florida. He also performed an acoustic version of “10th Avenue Freeze-Out” and ended the ceremony by performing “You’re A Friend Of Mine” with Jackson Browne and members of The E Street Band. “This is a slightly revised version of the eulogy I delivered for Clarence at his memorial,” says Springsteen. “I’d like to thank all our fans and friends who have comforted us over the past difficult weeks.”

I’ve been sitting here listening to everyone talk about Clarence and staring at that photo of the two of us right there.  It’s a picture of Scooter and The Big Man, people who we were sometimes.  As you can see in this particular photo, Clarence is admiring his muscles and I’m pretending to be nonchalant while leaning upon him.  I leaned on Clarence a lot; I made a career out of it in some ways.

Those of us who shared Clarence’s life, shared with him his love and his confusion.   Though “C” mellowed with age, he was always a wild and unpredictable ride.  Today I see his sons Nicky, Chuck, Christopher and Jarod sitting here and I see in them the reflection of a lot of C’s qualities. I see his light, his darkness, his sweetness, his roughness, his gentleness, his anger, his brilliance, his handsomeness, and his goodness.  But, as you boys know your pop was a not a day at the beach.  “C” lived a life where he did what he wanted to do and he let the chips, human and otherwise, fall where they may. Like a lot of us your pop was capable of great magic and also of making quite an amazing mess.  This was just the nature of your daddy and my beautiful friend.  Clarence’s unconditional love, which was very real, came with a lot of conditions.  Your pop was a major project and always a work in progress.   “C” never approached anything linearly, life never proceeded in a straight line. He never went  A… B…. C…. D.  It was always A… J…. C…. Z… Q… I….!  That was the way Clarence lived and made his way through the world.  I know that can lead to a lot of confusion and hurt, but your father also carried a lot of love with him, and I know he loved each of you very very dearly.

It took a village to take care of Clarence Clemons.  Tina, I’m so glad you’re here.  Thank you for taking care of my friend, for loving him.  Victoria, you’ve been a loving, kind and caring wife to Clarence and you made a huge difference in his life at a time when the going was not always easy. To all of “C’s” vast support network, names too numerous to mention, you know who you are and we thank you. Your rewards await you at the pearly gates.  My pal was a tough act but he brought things into your life that were unique and when he turned on that love light, it illuminated your world.  I was lucky enough to stand in that light for almost 40 years, near Clarence’s heart, in the Temple of Soul.

So a little bit of history: from the early days when Clarence and I traveled together, we’d pull up to the evenings lodgings and within minutes “C” would transform his room into a world of his own.  Out came the colored scarves to be draped over the lamps, the scented candles, the incense, the patchouli oil, the herbs, the music, the day would be banished, entertainment would come and go, and Clarence the Shaman would reign and work his magic night, after night.  Clarence’s ability to enjoy Clarence was incredible.  By 69, he’d had a good run, because he’d already lived about 10 lives, 690 years in the life of an average man.  Every night, in every place, the magic came flying out of C’s suitcase.  As soon as success allowed, his dressing room would take on the same trappings as his hotel room until a visit there was like a trip to a sovereign nation that had just struck huge oil reserves.  “C” always knew how to live.  Long before Prince was out of his diapers, an air of raunchy mysticism ruled in the Big Man’s world.  I’d wander in from my dressing room, which contained several fine couches and some athletic lockers, and wonder what I was doing wrong! Somewhere along the way all of this was christened the Temple of Soul; and “C” presided smilingly over its secrets, and its pleasures.  Being allowed admittance to the Temple’s wonders was a lovely thing.

As a young child my son Sam became enchanted with the Big Man… no surprise.  To a child Clarence was a towering fairy tale figure, out of some very exotic storybook.  He was a dreadlocked giant, with great hands and a deep mellifluous voice sugared with kindness and regard.  And… to Sammy, who was just a little white boy, he was deeply and mysteriously black.  In Sammy’s eyes, “C” must have appeared as all of the African continent, shot through with American cool, rolled into one welcoming and loving figure.  So… Sammy decided to pass on my work shirts and became fascinated by Clarence’s suits and his royal robes.  He declined a seat in dad’s van and opted for “C’s” stretch limousine, sitting by his side on the slow cruise to the show.  He decided dinner in front of the hometown locker just wouldn’t do, and he’d saunter up the hall and disappear into the Temple of Soul.

Of course, also enchanted was Sam’s dad, from the first time I saw my pal striding out of the shadows of a half empty bar in Asbury Park, a path opening up before him; here comes my brother, here comes my sax man, my inspiration, my partner, my lifelong friend.  Standing next to Clarence was like standing next to the baddest ass on the planet.  You were proud, you were strong, you were excited and laughing with what might happen, with what together, you might be able to do.  You felt like no matter what the day or the night brought, nothing was going to touch you.   Clarence could be fragile but he also emanated power and safety,  and in some funny way we became each other’s protectors; I think perhaps I protected “C” from a world where it still wasn’t so easy to be big and black.  Racism was ever present and over the years together, we saw it.  Clarence’s celebrity and size did not make him immune.  I think perhaps “C” protected me from a world where it wasn’t always so easy to be an insecure, weird and skinny white boy either.  But, standing together we were badass, on any given night, on our turf, some of the baddest asses on the planet.  We were united, we were strong, we were righteous, we were unmovable, we were funny, we were corny as hell and as serious as death itself.  And we were coming to your town to shake you and to wake you up. Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I’d written in my songs and in my music.  Clarence carried it in his heart.  It was a story where the Scooter and the Big Man not only busted the city in half, but we kicked ass and remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship would not be such an anomaly. And that… that’s what I’m gonna miss.  The chance to renew that vow and double down on that story on a nightly basis, because that is something, that is the thing that we did together… the two of us.  Clarence was big, and he made me feel, and think, and love, and dream big. How big was the Big Man?  Too fucking big to die.  And that’s just the facts.  You can put it on his grave stone, you can tattoo it over your heart. Accept it… it’s the New World.

Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies.  He leaves when we die.

So, I’ll miss my friend, his sax, the force of nature his sound was, his glory, his foolishness, his accomplishments, his face, his hands, his humor, his skin, his noise, his confusion, his power, his peace.  But his love and his story, the story that he gave me, that he whispered in my ear, that he allowed me to tell… and that he gave to you… is gonna carry on.  I’m no mystic, but the undertow, the mystery and power of Clarence and my friendship leads me to believe we must have stood together in other, older times, along other rivers, in other cities, in other fields, doing our modest version of god’s work… work that’s still unfinished.  So I won’t say goodbye to my brother, I’ll simply say, see you in the next life, further on up the road, where we will once again pick up that work, and get it done.

Big Man, thank you for your kindness, your strength, your dedication, your work, your story.  Thanks for the miracle… and for letting a little white boy slip through the side door of the Temple of Soul.

SO LADIES AND GENTLEMAN… ALWAYS LAST, BUT NEVER LEAST.  LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE MASTER OF DISASTER, the BIG KAHUNA, the MAN WITH A PHD IN SAXUAL HEALING, the DUKE OF PADUCAH, the KING OF THE WORLD, LOOK OUT OBAMA! THE NEXT BLACK PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES EVEN THOUGH HE’S DEAD… YOU WISH YOU COULD BE LIKE HIM BUT YOU CAN’T!   LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BIGGEST MAN YOU’VE EVER SEEN!… GIVE ME A C-L-A-R-E-N-C-E.  WHAT’S THAT SPELL? CLARENCE! WHAT’S THAT SPELL? CLARENCE! WHAT’S THAT SPELL? CLARENCE! … amen.

I’m gonna leave you today with a quote from the Big Man himself, which he shared on the plane ride home from Buffalo, the last show of the last tour.  As we celebrated in the front cabin congratulating one another and telling tales of the many epic shows, rocking nights and good times we’d shared, “C” sat quietly, taking it all in, then he raised his glass, smiled and said to all gathered, “This could be the start of something big.”

Love you, “C”.

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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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