Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist whose soulful sound was one of the joyful hallmarks of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band, has died, according to a number of media reports.
Clemons, 69, died of complications from a stroke he suffered last Sunday, June 12, 2011.
According to Backstreets.com, the Springsteen fan website, Springsteen had this to say about Clemons upon hearing of his death:
"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."
The story of how Clemons and Springsteen hooked up has often been told by Springsteen on-stage. Here’s a version told by Clemons, from a French Springsteen fan site:
"I come from a long line of Southern Baptists. They thought rock’n’roll was the devil’s music, so I didn’t join my first band, The Vibratones, until I went to Maryland Eastern Shore University. We were all music majors. We’d play for beer and hot dogs. James Brown covers, that kind of thing. We lasted from about ’61-’65 until we left school and drifted apart.
"My next band was Norman Seldin & The Joyful Noise. He was a Jewish guy with an Afro. Our singer, Karen Cassidy, was always telling me about this guy Bruce Springsteen, saying, "You two should meet, you’ll be so hot together."
"One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I’d heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I’m a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, ‘I want to play with your band,’ and he said, ‘Sure, you do anything you want.’
"The first song we did was an early version of Spirit In The Night. 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."
Says a CNN article about Clemons’ death: "He passed away at a hospital in Palm Beach, Florida, where he had stayed ever since suffering a stroke last Sunday, said a spokesperson for Springsteen and the E Street Band. He was surrounded by members of his family, including his wife, Victoria, according to the spokesperson.
"Standing at more than 6 feet tall, Clemons was affectionately known as the ‘Big Man’ to fans. He published his autobiography ‘Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales’ in 2009 and suffered some health problems in recent years.
"In addition to his career as a musician, Clemons also worked as an actor, appearing in the TV shows ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Simpsons’ as well as the films ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ and ‘New York, New York.’ "
To read more about Clemons, here’s a wonderful remembrance by Caryn Rose and Glenn Radecki at backstreets.com. The story is accompanied by some great photos as well. One is below: