Clarence Clemons Obituary

Clarence Clemons (AP Photo)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Clarence Clemons, the larger-than-life saxophone player for the E Street Band who was one of the key influences in Bruce Springsteen’s life and music through four decades, has died. He was 69.

Clemons was hospitalized about a week ago after suffering a stroke at his home in Singer Island, Fla. He died of complications from the stroke, spokeswoman Marilyn Laverty said Saturday.

Known as the Big Man for his imposing 6-foot-5-inch, 270-plus pound frame, Clemons and his ever-present saxophone spent much of his life with The Boss, and his booming saxophone solos became a signature sound for the E Street Band on many key songs, including “Jungleland,” a triumphant solo he spent 16 hours perfecting, and “Born To Run.”

In recent years, Clemons had been slowed by health woes. He endured major spinal surgery in January 2010 and, at the 2009 Super Bowl, Clemons rose from a wheelchair to perform with Springsteen after double knee replacement surgery.

But his health seemed to be improving. In May, he performed with Lady Gaga on the season finale of “American Idol,” and performed on two songs on her “Born This Way” album.

Clemons said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press then that he was winning his battles — including severe, chronic pain and post-surgical depression. His sense of humor helped.

“Of all the surgeries I’ve had, there’s not much left to operate on. I am totally bionic,” he said.

“God will give you no more than you can handle,” he said in the interview. “This is all a test to see if you are really ready for the good things that are going to come in your life. All this pain is going to come back and make me stronger.

An original member — and the oldest member — of the E Street Band, Clemons also performed with the Grateful Dead, the Jerry Garcia Band, and Ringo Starr’s All Star Band. He recorded with a wide range of artists including Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and Jackson Browne. He also had his own band called the Temple of Soul.

The stage “always feels like home. It’s where I belong,” Clemons, a former youth counselor, said after performing at a Hard Rock Cafe benefit for Home Safe, a children’s charity, in 2010.

Born in Norfolk, Va., Clemons was the grandson of a Baptist minister and began playing the saxophone when he was 9.

“Nobody played instruments in my family. My father got that bug and said he wants his son to play saxophone. I wanted an electric train for Christmas, but he got me a saxophone. I flipped out,” he said in a 1989 interview with the AP.

He was influenced by R&B artists such as King Curtis and Junior Walker. But his dreams originally focused on football. He played for Maryland State College, and was to try out for the Cleveland Browns when he got in a bad car accident that made him retire from the sport for good.

His energies then focused on music.

In 1971, Clemons was playing with Norman Seldin & the Joyful Noise when he heard about rising singer-songwriter named Springsteen. The two hit it off immediately and Clemons officially joined the E Street Band in 1973 with the release of the debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park.”

Clemons emerged as one of the most critical members of the E Street Band for different reasons. His burly frame would have been intimidating if not for his bright smile and endearing personality that charmed fans.

“It’s because of my innocence,” he said in a 2003 AP interview. “I have no agenda — just to be loved. Somebody said to me, ‘Whenever somebody says your name, a smile comes to their face.’ That’s a great accolade. I strive to keep it that way.”

But it was his musical contributions on tenor sax that would come to define the E Street Band sound.

“Since 1973 the Springsteen/Clemons partnership has reaped great rewards and created insightful, high energy rock & roll,” declared Don Palmer in Down Beat in 1984. “Their music, functioning like the blues from which it originated, chronicled the fears, aspirations, and limitations of suburban youth. Unlike many musicians today, Springsteen and Clemons were more interested in the heart and substance rather than the glamour of music.”

In a 2009 interview, Clemons described his deep bond with Springsteen, saying: “It’s the most passion that you have without sex.”

“It’s love. It’s two men — two strong, very virile men — finding that space in life where they can let go enough of their masculinity to feel the passion of love and respect and trust,” he added.

Clemons continued to perform with the band for the next 12 years, contributing his big, distinctive big sound to the albums, “The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle,” ”Born to Run,” ”Darkness on the Edge of Town, “The River” and “Born in the USA.” But four years after Springsteen experienced the blockbuster success of “Born in the USA” and toured with his group, he decided to disband the E Street Band.

“There were a few moments of tension,” the saxophonist recalled in a 1995 interview. “You’ve been together 18, 19 years. It’s like your wife coming to you: ‘I want a divorce.’ You start wondering why? Why? But you get on with your life.”

During the breaks, Clemons continued with solo projects, including a 1985 vocal duet with Browne on the single “You’re a Friend of Mine” and saxophone work on Franklin’s 1985 hit single “Freeway of Love.” He released his own albums, toured, and even sang on some songs.

Clemons also made several television and movie appearances over the years, including Martin Scorsese’s 1977 musical, “New York, New York, in which he played a trumpet player.

The break with Springsteen and the E Street Band didn’t end his relationship with either Springsteen or the rest of the band members, nor would it turn out to be permanent. By 1999 they were back together for a reunion tour and the release of “The Rising.”

But the years took a toll on Clemons’ body, and he had to play through the pain of surgeries and other health woes.

“It takes a village to run the Big Man — a village of doctors,” Clemons told The Associated Press in a phone interview in 2010. “I’m starting to feel better; I’m moving around a lot better.”

He published a memoir, “Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales,” in 2009 and continued to perform.

He is the second member of the E Street Band to pass away: In 2008, Danny Federici, the keyboardist for the band, died at age 58 of melanoma.


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Springsteen Pays Tribute to Clarence at RNR Hall of Fame Induction

When he was inducted  into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, Springsteen singled out Clemons at the close of his speech. “You want to be like him but you can’t,” Springsteen said. “The night I met Clarence, he got up on stage (and) a sound came out of his horn that seemed to rattle the glasses behind the bar, and threatened to blow out the back wall. … But there was something else, something that happened when we stood side by side. Some energy, some unspoken story. … He always lifted me up. Way, way up. Together we told a story of the possibilities of friendship, a story older than the ones that I was writing, and a story I could never have told without him at my side. I want to thank you, Big Man, and I love you so much.”

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La disparition de Clarence, la fin du E Street Band

Le blogue de Philippe Rezzonico
Dimanche, 19 juin 2011
Le texto mortuaire de mon copain Stef est arrivé 20 minutes après le début du spectacle de Damien Robitaille: Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011. Une chance qu’il y avait du bruit, à peu près personne n’a entendu mon juron…

Bien sûr, ce n’est pas comme si on ne s’y attendait pas. Depuis l’AVC subi par le saxophoniste de Bruce Springsteen le week-end dernier, on se doutait que tout ne tenait que par un fil. On redoutait le pire. Et le pire est survenu. L’irréparable.

Fini, le E Street Band. Du moins, comme on l’a connu. Fini le solo libérateur et jubilatoire de Born To Run. Terminée à jamais, la livraison homérique de Jungleland et les deux minutes et demie de bonheur procurées par les envolées musicales de Clarence.

Plus jamais les fans n’auront l’occasion de jeter un regard vers le musicien quelques secondes avant qu’il offre les solos de Prove It All Night, Badlands ou The Promised Land, alors que l’anticipation est à son comble, et que tous attendent la déferlante musicale digne d’un exutoire.

Des décennies d’images

Alors que je roulais en bagnole pour revenir chez moi, des tas d’images se bousculaient dans ma tête : Clarence et ses 325 livres, porté par la foule au Stade Olympique en 1988, durant le solo de Cadillac Ranch.

Le Big Man, plus gros que jamais, avec un sourire à faire chavirer une banquise, qui monte sur la scène de l’aréna des Devils du New Jersey, en 1999, quand le E Street Band se reforme après une décennie d’absence.

Clarence en superforme, le saxo pointé vers le ciel, alors que Bruce glisse entre ses jambes, guitare en mains, durant Light of Day, à Toronto (2000). C’est vrai… Ils étaient encore de petits jeunes dans la cinquantaine à ce moment.

Clarence qui passe près de tuer Bruce en lui tombant dessus, quand Springsteen le fait trébucher à Ottawa (2003). Chute synchronisée des deux hommes qui continuent de jouer du sax et de la guitare, alors allongés sur le dos. Moment d’anthologie.

Le meilleur saxophoniste de l’histoire du rock, qui trouve qu’il fait un peu froid en ce soir d’octobre 2003, au défunt Stade Shea de New York, mais il s’en fiche un peu, parce que ce soir-là, le E Street Band va jouer avec Bob Dylan.

Clarence, qui doit désormais s’asseoir, ici et là, en raison de sa condition physique défaillante, mais qui livre une Jungleland de légende au Centre Bell, en 2008, quand Springsteen passe avec sa tournée Magic.

Bruce et Clarence, quelques mois plus tard, qui entrent ensemble sur la scène du Camp Nou (Barcelone) alors que 80, 000 spectateurs entendent les premières mesures de Tenth-Avenue Freeze-Out.

Bruce qui demande une dédicace à Clarence (l’auteur, qui vient de lancer sa biographie) sur la scène du Giants Stadium, lors des derniers shows présentés dans l’enceinte aujourd’hui démolie en octobre 2009.

Et le mois suivant, Clarence, impérial comme jamais, qui oublie son âge et ses problèmes de santé au Madison Square Garden, quand le E Street Band joue intégralement l’album The River. Il y a un DVD pirate fabuleux qui en témoigne : The Big Man a soufflé ce soir-là dans son instrument comme un possédé, comme un type qui avait trente ans de moins, comme un artiste qui livrait son dernier spectacle.

Les frères de sang

Ce ne fut pas le cas. Il y en a eu sept ou huit autres, mais celui-là fut mon dernier. Et mon préféré. Et dieu sait que j’en ai vus des légendaires shows de ce groupe en trois décennies. Pour l’heure, j’ai une pensée pour Bruce, Steve, Max, Gary, Roy et Nils, les frères de sang de Clarence.

Parce que c’est ça, le E Street Band. Aucun groupe n’a eu plus de plaisir à jouer ensemble que ces gars-là. En tout cas, aucun ne l’a montré autant qu’eux sur les planches. Et c’est pour cela que tant de fans se reconnaissaient en eux. Quand tu fais des milliers de kilomètres de route pour voir un groupe et que tu entretiens la même franche amitié avec les chums qui sont avec toi, la communion est totale.

Oui, des tas d’images de Clarence et du E Street me viennent à l’esprit, mais aussi des tas de voyages faits avec Gisèle, Stef, Marie-Christine, Frank, David, Lawrence, Alain, Tanya, Sylvain, Ugo, André et j’en passe. Des virées mémorables au pays, aux Etats-Unis et en Europe vécues dans des capitales mondiales (Londres, Paris, New York), dans le carré de sable du E Street Band (Asbury Park, East Rutherford) et dans des villes dortoirs (Ottawa, Mansfield). Stade, aréna ou petit club, aucune importance.

C’était ça, l’idée. La route du tonnerre, elle existe. Et on la prenait souvent, car au bout de chaque ligne droite jouait le E Street un soir donné. Bruce refera-t-il un jour une tournée sous la bannière « Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band ? » Peut-être. Il l’a fait malgré la perte de Danny Federici et il a remplacé temporairement – pour des raisons de logistique – Max par son fils Jay.

N’empêche, personne ne sera dupe. Clarence Clemons nous a quittés et le E Street Band tel qu’on le connaissait n’existe plus. Ne reste que les souvenirs amassés le long de cette Thunder Road bien déserte aujourd’hui…

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E Street nation remembers beloved Big Man Clemons

KILEY ARMSTRONG | June 19, 2011|

A grateful Nation thanks him for his service.

The E Street Nation – a world-wide community wrapped around the nucleus of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – has lost its beloved Big Man, Clarence Clemons.

“The whole E Street Nation is in mourning. This is an awful moment,” grief-stricken Springsteen author Dave Marsh said Saturday night on E Street Radio after the news of the saxophonist’s death.

Besides Bruce, the band, the Nation and of course his family, the sadness enveloped Lady Gaga; she grew up in a Springsteen household, recorded with Clemons and appeared with him on American Idol. After his stroke last Sunday, Gaga spoke about how dearly she loved Clemons and summoned her Little Monsters to say how much they loved him, too, in a compilation of touching, heartfelt videos.

The Big Man just had that effect on people. Sure, there was the music; who hasn’t shed a tear from the exquisite sax strains of “Jungleland”? But the music and the man were a double draw.

“He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family,” said Springsteen.

For a week, Clemons’ devastating stroke had ignited a wildfire of tweets and texts, tears and tributes. Taking their cue from Springsteen, who had urged a climate of hope, fans posted songs with titles like “Tougher Than The Rest” and “Countin’ on a Miracle.”

Clemons, who embraced all of the world’s religions and called the stage his “healing floor,” had beaten the odds many times before. He battled chronic pain after back and knee surgeries.

The former football player willed himself out of a wheelchair just days before playing his sax at the Super Bowl.

He arrived, again, in a wheelchair for his May 2010 children’s benefit appearance, but insisted on walking across the red carpet with his much-adored wife, Victoria, and dragging himself up the stage stairs.

More recently, he appeared at New Jersey’s Garden State Film Festival. His remarks were spiritual, in keeping with the theme of his movie about his journey through China; but he also relished exchanging playful remarks with his audience.

On stage and off, he was a joy to behold – flashing that million-watt smile as he gleefully pumped up his own larger-than-life persona, mugging for the camera, laughing large in that deep, velvety voice. On Twitter, he billed himself thusly: “Saxophonist, sexual adventurer, poet and author! And the Biggest Man you’ve ever seen!” (Egotistical? Nah. Consider the context: The man was once introduced by Springsteen, among other things, as the future king of England.)

Despite the hyperbole, he touched lives in a deeply personal way.

“There would be no journey without you,” he told fans in one tweet. “Much love, Big Man.”

He once told me he could sense when someone standing near the stage was hurting; he’d intentionally latched his gaze on them as his horn sent forth a healing salve, then sealed the covenant by pressing his hands together in the prayer position.

It happened to Brenda VanHorn. After her son, a drummer, died, she sought solace and fellowship at Springsteen concerts. In Charlotte, N.C., in 2002, she and another son stood, awash in grief, during the song “You’re Missing.”

“As the last few notes of the song were playing, I looked up to see tears streaming down Clarence Clemons’ face as well,” she recounted in “For You,” a book of fan recollections by Lawrence Kirsch. “…My first reaction was that this must be a really sad song if he hears it all the time and it still made him cry.”

“Then I realized it wasn’t the song, it was us – a boy grieving for his brother, a mother grieving for her son – that caused those tears. … The Big Man, someone we have cheered and applauded for years, not only felt our pain but in some small way did his part to ease it.”

After learning of Clemons’ passing, VanHorn again reflected on that night.

“Tears were streaming down my face when Clarence looked at me and shook his head no. Then he gave me his famous blessing and more famous smile,” VanHorn said, responding to a question sent through Facebook private message. “It was as if he was telling me – enough! No more sorrow, be happy for the joy (her son) brought to us.”

“I feel like that tonight,” said VanHorn. “I am sad and I shed tears but I feel so blessed to have been able to enjoy his music all these years. He truly was the biggest man you ever saw.”

Fans always knew, of course, that Clemons would one day be with them only in spirit. But they’re still reeling from the hard, cold reality that the Big Man had run out of miracles. He just seemed so damned invincible.

As the music lives on, so will the indelible images: Scooter and the Big Man dancing with abandon on top of the stage speakers, and sealing their lifelong bromance with a kiss; Clemons tearing up as band members stood side-by-side, holding hands, during a Madison Square Garden performance of “Blood Brothers” that included the late keyboardist Danny Federici.

After Clemons was stricken, his family and Springsteen set up an email address where people could send get-well wishes.

“Dear Clarence,” went mine. “I once said you reminded me of that bunny on the TV commercial – pounding his drum while he just keeps going, and going, and going. You laughed heartily and replied, `I AM the bunny, baby!’ Yes, you are – and thank God for it.

” I hope you’re aware of the deluge of prayers, music, fond reminiscences and messages of hope being posted on the Internet by your fans all over the world – forming one giant wave of love.

“Along with my husband, Mike (you once pointed to him from the stage and said, `I like this guy!’), I wish you and your family health, strength and joy as you continue to reach mightily for the top of yet another new mountain.

“We can’t wait to see the Big Man back in action, lighting up the world with his music and his smile.”

Maybe his reply can be found in remarks he made onstage in New York in August 2010.

“You know, sometimes in this life, sometimes there are situations that make you sad. Things happen that you don’t understand that make you sad, make you very unhappy and uneasy,” said Clemons.

“But I want you to know that the universe loves you. I love you. Be happy.”

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‘Big Man’ Clarence Clemons remembered in Asbury Park, NJ shore town where he and Bruce ruled

By Associated Press, Published: June 18

ASBURY PARK, N.J. — Within hours of the death of legendary saxophone player Clarence Clemons, flowers, a candle and a handwritten sign saying “RIP Big Man” sprouted outside the rock club in Asbury Park, N.J., where Clemons and Bruce Springsteen cut their musical teeth four decades ago.

The Stone Pony was hosting an unrelated act catering to a younger crowd Saturday, but older fans of Clemons drifted by the club to share memories.

Phil Kuntz of Rumson brought a small yellow flower. He says he’ll miss hearing “Jungleland” played live.

Caroline O’Toole, the club’s general manager, says Clemons was known as “The Big Man.” But she says he was even bigger in Asbury Park, where fans grew up with his booming sax as part of the Jersey shore sound.

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