In Memoriam: Clarence Clemons (1942-2011)

He was the spirit of the E Street Band, and the oaken staff that Bruce Springsteen leaned on.

Clarence Clemons — the Big Man with the big horn — died yesterday of complications from a stroke he suffered last weekend. He was 69.

“Clarence lived a wonderful life,” Bruce Springsteen said in a statement [Saturday.] “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.”
- New Jersey Star-Ledger


He was working as a youth counselor in Newark when he began to mix with the Jersey Shore music scene of the late 1960s and early ’70s. He was older than Mr. Springsteen and most of his future band mates, and he often commented on the oddity — even the liability — of being a racially integrated group in those days.

“You had your black bands and you had your white bands,” he wrote in his memoir, “and if you mixed the two you found less places to play.”

But the match was strong from the start, and his saxophone soon became a focal point of the group’s sound. In an interview with The New York Times in 2005, Jon Landau, Mr. Springsteen’s manager, said that during the recording sessions for “Born to Run,” Mr. Springsteen and Mr. Clemons spent 16 hours finessing the jazzy saxophone solo on that album’s closing song, “Jungleland.”
- New York Times

Reaction came from across the entertainment industry.

“Clarence Clemons was an electric, generous, sweet spirit. Taught me how to look cool with a sax. Goodbye Big Man,” tweeted actor Rob Lowe.

Added Questlove, drummer for the Roots: “RIP Clarence Clemons. A True Legend. Will be absolutely missed.”

An original member — and the oldest member — of the E Street Band, Clemons also performed with the Grateful Dead, the Jerry Garcia Band, and Ringo Starr’s All Star Band. He recorded with a wide range of artists including Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and Jackson Browne. He also had his own band called the Temple of Soul.

The stage “always feels like home. It’s where I belong,” Clemons, a former youth counselor, said after performing at a Hard Rock Cafe benefit for Home Safe, a children’s charity, in 2010.
- NPR