Clarence Clemons, the longtime saxophonist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, has passed away.
Clemons had suffered a massive stroke on June 12th. While initial signs had been hopeful after his hospitalization and two subsequent brain surgeries, he reportedly took a turn for the worse later in the week. He was 69.
Clemons – known affectionately to fan and friends as the Big Man – was the heart and soul of the E Street Band. His playing on tracks like “Born To Run,” “Thunder Road,” “Jungleland,” “Dancing In The Dark” and countless more represent some of the most famous sax work in the history of rock & roll. “The story I have told throughout my work life I could not have told as well without Clarence,” Springsteen wrote in the introduction to Clemons’ 2009 memoir Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales.
Clemons soon became part of Springsteen’s backing band (not yet known as the E Street Band), and when Bruce recorded his debut LP Greetings From Asbury Park in the summer of 1972, Clemons was brought in for the sessions. Over the next two decades, Clemons became the most recognizable member of the E Street Band – for his massive size, equally huge personality and his onstage role as Springsteen’s foil.
He’s the only member of the band on the cover of Born To Run with Springsteen. “When you open it up and see Clarence and me together, the album begins to work its magic,” Springsteen wrote in Clemons’ memoir. “Who are these guys? Where did they come from? What is the joke they are sharing? A friendship and a narrative steeped in the complicated history of America begins to work and there is music already in the air.”
I’ve had the good fortune to see Springsteen perform a few times, and the affection between him and Clemons was always apparent. He’d introduce Clemons last, and usually referred to him as “the next President of the United States of America”. Here’s how I’ll always think of him:
He’s the second member of the E Street Band to pass away, following Danny Federici in 2008. Rest in peace, Clarence Clemons.