Clarence Clemons: 1942-2011

The work of Bruce Springsteen seems almost omnipresent. Only yesterday whilst out shopping, I heard ‘Cover Me’ and ‘Dancing In The Dark’ playing in two different locations.  Most of us know the hits. While Springsteen’s throaty growl can be seen as an acquired taste, the musical arrangements of his songs are meticulously crafted, thanks to his regular band of musicians – The E Street Band.

On Saturday 19th June 2011, that band lost, perhaps, it’s most important member.  Saxophonist Clarence Clemons lost his life after suffering a stroke.  His stroke followed surgery between 2010-2011 for two knee replacements between 2010-11.  A strong man, he joked that he was now “almost totally bionic”.

A member of the band since 1973, first appearing on Springsteen’s often overlooked debut ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ’, Clarence’s sax contributions were often pivotal to the end results.  Think about ‘Born To Run’ – that huge solo, with its hugely rousing, fiery delivery; it’s the number’s most notable thing after Springsteen’s story telling.  Few, if any, musicians would have played the part with even half the gravitas that Clemons bought to it; the same goes for the almost cinematic sax work featured during the epic ‘Jungleland’.  Better still, take 1978’s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’.  As an album, it’s a little light on brass contributions owing to a sometimes darker nature, but when Clemons is there, he’s spectacular, his horn cutting through the arrangements like a beacon in the fog.

The E Street Band will never be the same again.

Outside his work withthe E Street Band, Clemons was also highly prolific.  In addition to a solo career – spanning five studio and two live albums – he also performed a number of Zucchero albums, as well as sessions for Aretha Franklin, Todd Rundgren, The Four Tops, Roy Orbison, Joe Cocker and many others.  His last recorded work can be heard on Lady Gaga’s 2011 release ‘Born This Way’.

Goodbye big man.  Bill and Ted were so right when they proclaimed you to be one of “the three most important people in the universe”.


June 2011