The news today of the death of saxophonist Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band wasn’t a shock, given that he’d suffered a stroke a week ago; the lack of surprise doesn’t make it any less of a loss to those of us who grew up listening to Clemons’ wailing solos on classic Springsteen albums, however.
As a middle-schooler more into music already than much else, having my cousins turn me on to the already well-established Springsteen was nothing short of a revelation. Obsessive collecting followed for years, including live bootlegs when one still had to find them on vinyl at a flea market. It was listening to those live shows that revealed the personality and importance of Clarence Clemons to me, as he was the onstage foil and a balancing presence that lent both levity and musical emotion. Listen to the solo he takes on “Jungleland,” or the story of how he and Springsteen met (a tale that typically preceded the semi-autobiographical “E Street Shuffle” in concert) for examples.
As an adult, I’ve seen Bruce and the E Street Band a handful of times in person, from a 1988 Chapel Hill show where I was all the way across the arena to a couple of the recent tours in the general admission, standing room only pit in front of the stage. Even though his role was not as prominent on many of the newer songs, I’m having a hard time imagining a concert without Clarence as a part of the E Street Band–The lights are definitely out on E Street tonight.
Here’s a few clips of the Big Man in action:
Amazing 1978 live performance of “Jungleland”:
An inspiring 2007 version of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”:
Clemon’s Top 20 hit duet with Jackson Browne in the 80’s:
And to sum it all up, here’s Springsteen himself introducing Clemons on a recent tour: