Clarence Clemons dies at age 69

Clarence Clemons, the giant of a man who was one of the most famous saxophone players in popular music, has died at age 69, one week after suffering a massive stroke. Clemons was known principally as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, but also had a solo career that included the 80's hit duet with Jackson Browne, "You're a Friend of Mine."

Clarence Clemons, the giant of a man who was one of the most famous saxophone players in popular music, has died at age 69, one week after suffering a massive stroke. Clemons was known principally as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, but also had a solo career that included the 80's hit duet with Jackson Browne, "You're a Friend of Mine."

Clemons was the son of Clarence Clemons, Sr., a fish market owner, and his wife Thelma. He was the oldest of their three children. His grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher and, as a result, the young Clemons grew up listening to gospel music. When he was 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. His uncle also influenced his early musical development when he bought him his first King Curtis album. Curtis, and his work with The Coasters in particular, would be become a major influence on Clemons and led to him switching to tenor saxophone. As a youth Clemons also showed potential as a football player, and he attended Maryland State College on both music and football scholarships. He played as a lineman on the same team as Emerson Boozer and attracted the attention of the Cleveland Browns, who offered him a trial. However, the day before he was involved in a serious car accident which effectively ended any plans of a career in the NFL.

At age 18, Clemons 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 Clemons also joined his first band, The Vibratones, which played James Brown covers and stayed together for about four years between 1961 and 1965. While still playing with this band he moved to Newark, New Jersey where he worked as a counselor for emotionally disturbed children at the Jamesburg Training School for Boys between 1962 and 1970.

Clemons and Springsteen met for the first time in September 1971. At the time Clemons was playing with Norman Seldin & The Joyful Noyze at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Seldin was a Jersey Shore musician/entrepreneur who, as well as playing piano and leading various bands, had his own record label, Selsom Records. In 1969 Clemons had recorded an eponymous album with this band. In 2008 tracks from this album were reissued on an anthology, Asbury Park — Then And Now, put together by Seldin. It was Karen Cassidy, lead vocalist with The Joyful Noyze, who encouraged Clemons to check out Springsteen who was playing with The Bruce Springsteen Band at the nearby Student Prince.

In July 1972, Springsteen began recording his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and during breaks from recording, he jammed with Clemons and The Joyful Noyze on at least two occasions at The Shipbottom Lounge in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. When Springsteen then decided to use a tenor saxophone on the songs "Blinded By The Light" and "Spirit In The Night" it was Clemons he called. By October Springsteen was ready to tour and promote Greetings… and he put together a band featuring Clemons, Tallent, Danny Federici and Vini Lopez. Clemons played his last gig with Norman Seldin & The Joyful Noyze at the Club Plaza in Bayville, New Jersey on October 21, 1972. Four days later Clemons made his debut with the formative E Street Band at an unadvertised, impromptu performance at The Shipbottom Lounge. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Clemons featured prominently on Springsteen albums.

Outside of his work with the E Street Band, Clemons recorded with many other artists and had a number of musical projects on his own. The best known of these are his 1985 vocal duet with Jackson Browne on the hit single "You're a Friend of Mine", and his saxophone work on Aretha Franklin's 1985 hit single "Freeway of Love". He was managed briefly in the 1980s by former Crawdaddy editor Peter Knobler, whose wedding Clemons played with his band, Clarence Clemons & the Red Bank Rockers. In the mid-1990s, he recorded a Japan-only CD release called Aja and the Big Man "Get It On" (on the now-defunct Dream Train Records) with singer/songwriter Aja Kim (formerly of the tribute band The Iron Maidens). In the 2000s Clemons worked with a group called The Temple of Soul, and he also recorded with philanthropic teen band Creation. During the 1980s Clemons owned a Red Bank, New Jersey nightclub called Big Man's West. Clemons collaborated with Lady Gaga on the song "Hair", "The Edge of Glory" and "Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)" from her album Born This Way, providing a saxophone track and solo.

Portions of this article are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Clarence Clemons

 

Leave a comment!