A change was made uptown
And the Big Man joined the band
10th Avenue Freeze Out
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Today marks the two- year anniversary of the death of Clarence Clemons. To honor his memory, I thought it appropriate to choose a song with a reference to the Big Man for my blog post this week.
Clarence was the heart and soul of the E Street Band. Bruce always referred to him as the Minister of Soul. Born in Virginia on January 11, 1942, he grew up in a Baptist family. His grandfather was a Southern Baptist Preacher so the family always listened to gospel music. At the age of nine, his father gave him a saxophone as a Christmas present and paid for music lessons. Obviously, those lessons paid off.
Clarence had an incredible music talent and played in his high school Jazz Band. He showed enormous potential as a football player too. Clarence was a lineman. His musical and athletic ability afforded him the opportunity to attend Maryland State College on both music and football scholarships. Clarence tried out for the Dallas Cowboys and attracted the attention of the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, the day before he was set to try out for the Browns, Clarence was involved in a serious car accident. The accident ended any plans for a career in the NFL.
With a possible career in the NFL cut short, Clarence focused on his saxophone. By 18, he was already jamming with bands. Before meeting Bruce, he played with several bands around the Jersey Shore. The story about how Scooter met the Big Man is legendary. Here’s how Clarence tells it…
“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.”
Yes, everything changed when the
Big Man joined the band.
The E Street Band found its soul. It’s impossible to imagine certain Springsteen tunes without Clarence. Badlands, Rosalita, Bobby Jean to name a few. But his solo in Jungleland is legendary, epic, and nothing short of absolute perfection. Sheer brilliance!!!!
Clarence was fully aware of the impact the sax solo had on his fans. His reaction in his own words…
“Jungleland has a spiritual connotation and that’s the part I brought in, that made my space you know, this is what I brought to the table.”
“Sixteen hours of standing in front of a microphone working out every note.”
“The Jungleland thing was the most intricate collaboration in the history of my life with Bruce Springsteen.”
“When I finished it and listened to it and they put it together, it was like, WOW, this is really great.”
“ I have people coming and tell me, ‘man that Jungleland solo saved my life’ or ‘the solo of this song brought me out of a place I was in, that was so bad.’ I feel like I’ve done my job, I’m doing my job.”
Clarence most certainly did his job night after night for the E Street Band. His presence is incredibly missed by his fans and fellow band mates. After his death in June of 2011, Bruce said of the Big Man: “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.”
His memory and his music live on. The theme from the 2012 Wrecking Ball tour says it all…”If you’re here, and we’re here, then they’re here.” Clarence is always with E Street Nation.
Thankfully Jake Clemons is keeping the Clemons tradition alive. He definitely had big shoes to fill… but the Big Man’s nephew has filled them quite well. Jake is the new sax player in the E Street Band and he’s phenomenal. Those Clemons musical genes are STRONG. Last summer, I was lucky enough to see Jake perform the Jungleland solo in concert. I was brought to tears. Just amazing! Uncle Clarence was undoubtedly beaming with pride looking down on him.
A change was made uptown
And the Big Man joined the band
My Big Man Thomas…
When it comes to playing an instrument, I believe you’re either musically inclined or you’re not. Somehow my son Thomas inherited a music gene. I’m still perplexed as to where it came from… but I have no problem welcoming it. Amen and Praise the Lord because Thomas is definitely musically inclined! I’m amazed every single time I watch him play the saxophone. Sheet music is terrifying to me. It looks like four different languages rolled into one. Thomas however, isn’t intimidated at all and can read it! I’m so proud of him. He may not sound like Clarence yet…but there’s promise. FOR SURE! He deserves the biggest shout out! Bravo Thomas!
Obviously, when Thomas expressed interest in learning a musical instrument, I was over the moon. I’ll admit that I may have had a little bit of an influence over him. Hmmmmmmm …wonder if pointing out how much Clarence’s sax playing enhances the sound of the E Street Band…wonder if that had anything to do with it??? LOL
Big Man Clarence lives on in Big Man Thomas. Yes, my son’s nickname is Big Man. Thomas plays the saxophone and plays football. He has the strength of a bull. Like Clarence, he’s a lineman and is dangerous on a football field. Don’t mess with Big Man Thomas! I will always think of Clarence whenever I listen to my son play the saxophone. The Big Man’s memory and legacy will always be in my heart. Miss you Clarence! Rest in Peace.