Monday, June 20, 2011

R.I.P. Clarence Clemons

Clarence "The Big Man " Clemons


Seems like I'm always writing obituaries these past few weeks of music greats..What's going on? Phoebe Snow, Gil Scott Heron and now the "Big Man", Clarence Clemons. I had heard that he suffered a massive stroke last Tuesday and now on the eve of Fathers Day , I hear the sad news that he has passed on from complications from that stroke.. He was 69.

He was the mainstay of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band...but music heads like me know that he played that big beautiful warm sounding Saxophone for just about everybody...He made playing the sax look so effortless and so easy...I mean, wow...He just was so cool.

The Big Man as he was affectionately called 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 Clarence Clemons also showed some 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, Clarence 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 "Stingray" Davis, Eddie"Maggot Brain" Hazel and Billy "Bass" Nelson, all of whom would later play for George Clinton's 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. He also fathered a son, Chuck Totlis in 1972.

Then he met the man who would change his life..."The Boss" The story of how the Big Man first met Bruce Springsteen has entered into E Street Band folklore. In concerts Bruce Springsteen would introduce "The E Street Shuffle" with a monologue about how they met and the event was also immortalized in "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out".

They allegedly met for the first time in September 1971. At the time Clarence Clemons was playing with Norman Seldin & The Joyful Noyze at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Norman 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 Norman Seldin. It was Karen Cassidy, lead vocalist with The Joyful Noyze, who encouraged Clemons to check outthis kid,Bruce Springsteen who was playing with The Bruce Springsteen Band at the nearby Student Prince.

According to Clarence Clemons-

"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."

In July 1972, Springsteen began recording his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey and during breaks from recording, he jammed with  Clarence Clemons and The Joyful Noyze on at least two occasions at The Shipbottom Lounge in Point Pleasent, New Jersey. When Springsteen then decided to use a tenor saxophone on the songs "Blinded By The Light" and "Spirit of 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 Ship bottom Lounge.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Clemons featured prominently on Bruce Springsteen's albums. On Born to Run he provided memorable saxophone solos on the title track, "Thunder Road" and "Jungleland" while Darkness on the Edge of Town featured another notable solo on "Badlands". The River sawClarence Clemons feature on songs such as "The Ties That Bind", "Sherry Darling", "I Wanna Marry You" and "Independence Day" while Born in the U.S.A. saw solos on "Bobby Jean" and "I'm Goin' Down".

At the end of shows, while recognizing members of the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen referred to Clarence Clemons as "The Biggest Man You Ever Seen". He sometimes changed this depending on where the E Street Band performs — at their 2009 concert in Glasgow he introduced Clemons as "the biggest Scotsman you've ever seen".

There is going to be a big void now...Not only in Bruce Springsteen's E. Street Band...but in the music world..
Below if you care to listen are some of his most memorable solos...

Thanks Big Man...Thanks for everything...I know you're in heavy with Micheal Jackson, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Teena Marie, Rick James,Luther Vandross, Gerald Levert, et al...What a kick ass band that must be!


Jazzy said...

He will be missed...Thanks for posting this fam!

Sean said...

Can't believe I missed this post..A very good one too Bruh!

Jeremiah said...

Pretty helpful material, much thanks for this article.
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