June 18, 2011 – Clarence Anicholas Clemons was born January 11, 1942. At aged nine, his father gave him an alto saxophone as a Christmas present and paid for music lessons. He later switched to baritone saxophone and played in a high school jazz band. At age 18, Clarence had one of his earliest studio experiences, recording sessions with Tyrone Ashley’s Funky Music Machine, a band from Plainfield, New Jersey that included Ray Davis, Eddie Hazel and Billy Bass Nelson, all of whom later played with Parliament-Funkadelic.
He also performed with Daniel Petraitis, a New Jersey and Nashville legend. These sessions were eventually released in 2007 by Truth and Soul Records as Let Me Be Your Man. While at Maryland State College he also joined his first band, The Vibratones, which played James Brown covers and stayed together for about four years, before playing with The Joyful Noyze.
In July 1972, Bruce Springsteen began recording his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and during breaks from recording, he jammed with Clarence & The Joyful Noyze on at least two occasions at The Shipbottom Lounge in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. When Springsteen decided to use a tenor saxophone on the songs “Blinded By The Light” and “Spirit In The Night” it was Clarence he called and from 1972 until his death, he was a prominent member for 39 golden years with the E Street Band, playing the tenor saxophone. Known as the Big Man for his imposing 6-foot-5-inch, 270-plus pound frame he 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.”
He also released several solo albums and in 1985 had a hit single with “You’re a Friend of Mine”, a duet with Jackson Browne. As a guest musician he featured on Aretha Franklin’s classic “Freeway of Love” and on Twisted Sister’s “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” as well as performing in concert with The Grateful Dead and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. He has recorded with dozens of artists from Roy Orbison to The Four Tops to Scarlet Rivera and Lady Gaga. He also had his own band called the Temple of Soul.
As an actor he featured in several films, including New York, New York and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He also made cameo appearances in several TV series, including Diff’rent Strokes, Nash Bridges, The Simpsons and The Wire. Together with his TV writer friend Don Reo he published his autobiography, Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales, in 2009.
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 claimed. “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.”
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.
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.”
The “Big Man,” sadly died on June 18, 2011 at the age of 69 in Palm Beach, Florida, from complications of a stroke.
He was 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.