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.
– Bruce Springsteen
When I was 17, I came across an album that would change my music fandom forever; Bruce Springsteen’s “Greatest Hits“. I think I had just watched Philadelphia for the first time and, for some reason, really enjoyed the song Streets of Philadelphia to the extent that I wanted to delve further into Springsteen’s back catalogue. The compilation is pretty awful, missing out most of his REALLY good songs, featuring one song from the magnificent Nebraska and omitting anything off of his first two albums. However, it was good enough to inspire me to delve into his greatest album (and possibly one of the best rock albums of all time. FACT) “Born to Run”. BTR is magnificent, it’s an album that is always on my iPod no matter what my music tastes are; Springsteen’s songs were so novelistic and painted such vivid images, but more importantly, the E Street Band were firing all cylinders. None more so than Clarence “Big Man” Clemons.
Clemons is without doubt the most popular member of the E Street Band (Steve Van Zandt is an obvious second) with his bombastic solos playing centre stage to many of Springsteen’s songs, especially on BTR. The immediacy of his playing is astonishing even now, especially on “Night” where his solo just blows everything away, but his most famous solo is on the book-ender of the album and one of Springsteen’s greatest songs, Jungleland. On the near 10 minute song, Clemons’ is allowed centre stage, capturing the emotion of the song perfectly with a deeply mournful performance that is unforgettable. It is without a doubt his finest hour.
Clemons was Bruce’s right hand man and dear friend. Their friendship is seen not only in Springsteen OTT introduction of Clarence onstage but also on the front cover of Born to Run which just encapsulates the closeness of their relationship.
The story of the Boss and the Big Man meeting is true Springsteen folklore which is retold in the song “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Whilst playing a gig in his early days as a struggling musician, the doors of the bar swung open and flew off the hinges (it was a typically dark n’ stormy night) when Clemons entered. More significantly, he not only went into a predominantly ‘white’ bar, but he had the audacity to ask to partake in the performance. From that point on, the two became close friends, or as Clemons aptly put it, they fell in love with each other.
His latest illness was disheartening; Clemons and the rest of the E Steet Band played such an important part in my appreciation of rock music and to hear that someone that treasured had fallen ill is crushing. The news of his death on Saturday night as a result of complications following on from his stroke left me utterly devastate. On my Tumblr page, I commented on his illness noting that “the world just wouldn’t be as wonderful without your bombastic sax in it…” and I was right. There will be a significant member of the E Street Band missing at future shows and as good as the person playing saxophone in his place will be, they won’t be the Big Man.
Born to Run is my favourite album of all time and Clarence “Big Man” Clemons had a huge part to play in this being the case.