Music in the 1970s was in a state of flux. The Beatles were over, disco was peaking and rock was meandering between Elton John and Led Zeppelin. In the middle of that came a scrawny New Jersey kid named Bruce, singing long, involved stories about coming of age in a blue collar town, accompanied by a big black saxophone player named Clarence. Saxophone!?
I have seen Bruce Springsteen live five different times, in facilities ranging in size from a half-full 3000-seat auditorium in New Orleans in the 1970s, when people barely knew who he was, to a sold out 50,000-plus stadium in Washington DC at the peak of his concert career in the 1980s. The shows were not mere concerts, they were events! Everybody in the band played and sang like it was the last concert they’d ever do.
But nobody in the E Street Band made a bigger impression in both size and sonic impact than saxman Clarence Clemons. He was an integral part of the band’s sound and stage show. It was clear from their interaction on stage that Clarence and Bruce had friendship, love, respect and brotherhood with each other.
The “Big Man” died this weekend from complications related to a stroke he had a week ago.
I mostly know of his work with Springsteen and that he played that killer sax solo in Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love” but I learned a few other things about him today: he also performed at various times with Jackson Browne, Twisted Sister, the Grateful Dead and Lady Gaga. He released a few solo albums and appeared in several movies and TV shows.
That band and the music world will not be the same without him.
Here is a live performance of “Jungleland” with an awesome Clemons solo in the middle:
Here is an interview clip in which he explains his relationship with Springsteen: