Monday, June 20, 2011

R.I.P. Clarence Clemons

Yesterday morning, I woke to the news that the Big Man for Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, Clarence Clemons, had died from complications of a stroke that he suffered on June 12. Clarence Anicholas Clemons Jr. was born on Jan. 11, 1942, in Norfolk, Virginia. His parents bought Clarence (who was at the time known as Nick, Jr.) his first saxophone – an alto. He was nine years old.

To support his love for the instrument that became his identity, his parents enrolled him in lessons immediately. The world has never been the same due this act of parental love and devotion. His first performances supported gospel groups.

Fate had a way of pushing Clarence into the spotlight as he intended to pursue a career in professional football; however, on the day before his tryout with the Cleveland Browns, he was injured in a car accident that ended his hopes of playing football. It was career path he had worked diligently towards with high school football and a scholarship to Maryland State College.

Spirit in the Night

In the 70s, he worked in corrections in New Jersey and was playing with Norman Seldin and the Joyful Noyze. As fate again would have it, on a break from Seldin’s show, he walked into the Student Prince nightclub with saxophone in hand. Bruce Springsteen's Band was playing that evening.

Clemons recalled the incident in a People Magazine Interview: "I had my saxophone with me, and when I walked in this club -- no lie -- a gust of wind blew the door down the street. I say, 'I want to play. Can I sit in?' Bruce says, 'Hey, you can do anything you want.'" The first song that he performed with Springsteen was “Spirit in the Night.”

The world became aware of Clarence Clemons with the famous photo from the cover of Springsteen’s “Born to Run” LP. In fact, the cover was iconic and numerous others mimicked the pose as a parody of the original. It no doubt ranks up with "Meet the Beatles"/"With the Beatles" and "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" as one of most copied album covers.

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

From that iconic LP, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” even references Clarence in the lyrics. "When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band."

I got to see Sprinsteen and company during the “Back in the U.S.A.” tour in 1985 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Besides Bruce, the highlights of the show were Nils Lofgrin and Clarence Clemons. Clarence, we’ll miss your presence and your great saxophone licks. Rest in Peace.

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