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Great things always tend to end early but some climax way too soon. Saxophonist Clarence Clemons recently passed away from complications after having a stroke, leaving many of his peers in the music community and fans of his work devastated. Not only was the saxophonist 69 years young, he left behind a massive catalog of work that journeyed a lifetime of conjuring.
Clemons made over 40 albums during his life and had an impact on scores of famous musicians. Recently, during a concert in Anaheim, California, rock star Bono told the crowd, “I want you to think of Clarence Clemons. This man just carried music and music carried him until this day.”
Clemons’ early life was just as modest as the music he made. His parents owned a fish market and while they were generally not a wealthy family, they supported their son in all his endeavors. In fact, when he was only 9 his uncle bought him a saxophone for Christmas and his parents in turn supported the young musician’s lessons. After childhood, Clemons attended Maryland State College under both music and football scholarships, but a recruitment offer by the Cleveland Browns was shelved after a car accident. It may have kept him from a career playing football, but it also sparked his interest in music even further.
At the age of 18, The Big Man was already recording music. His first foray was standing in during 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 three members would later play with George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. While still a student at Maryland, he joined his first band The Vibratones who solely played James Brown covers. While still in the group, The Big Man moved to New Jersey were he continued his participation in modest do-gooding, working as a counselor for emotionally disturbed children at the Jamesburg Training School for Boys.
After spending years practicing his craft and gaining a large dose of positive karma, the musician finally caught his long deserved big break. In September 1971 Clemons met Bruce Springsteen for the first time and was inducted into his backing E Street Band. Clarence recently recalled his meeting with Springsteen, an epic moment in music history:
One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I'd heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I'm a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, "I want to play with your band," and he said, "Sure, you do anything you want." The first song we did was an early version of "Spirit In The Night". Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives. He was what I'd been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.
After this historic meeting, Clemons was a part of Springsteen’s famous group. The artist went on to play saxophone on every single Springsteen record, including Springsteen’s famous debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.. Not only did he play with The E-Street Band, Clemons also continued to produce and record with a plethora of other artists and bands including: Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, Zucchero, Ian Hunter, Twisted Sister, Joe Crocker, Luther Vandross, his own various solo albums, and most recently with Lady Gaga on a song called “The Edge of Glory”.
Not only did Clemons participate in creating some of the most popular songs and albums in the last three decades, but he also was an established actor too. With roles in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and appearances on TV shows like Diff'rent Strokes and The Simpsons, the musician had quite the eclectic career. That is why his passing is such a tragedy.
Wherever you are Big Man Clemons, we won’t forget the beautiful noises you made. Here is just a tiny example from a large career in making music:
Rest In Peace.
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