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Clarence Clemons

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Title: Clarence Clemons  
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Subject: E Street Band, Born This Way (album), Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love Express Tour, Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band
Collection: 1942 Births, 2011 Deaths, African-American Players of American Football, African-American Rock Musicians, American Male Actors, American Rock Saxophonists, American Session Musicians, Cardiovascular Disease Deaths in Florida, Deaths from Stroke, E Street Band Members, Grateful Dead, Jersey Shore Musicians, Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks Football Players, Musicians from New Jersey, Musicians from Virginia, People from Norfolk, Virginia, Players of American Football from Virginia, Sportspeople from Norfolk, Virginia
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Clarence Clemons

Clarence Clemons
Clemons performs in the E Street Band's Working On A Dream Tour at the 1st Mariner Arena, Baltimore, November 20, 2009.
Born Clarence Anicholas Clemons, Jr.
(1942-01-11)January 11, 1942
Norfolk County, Virginia (later Chesapeake), U.S.[1]
Died June 18, 2011(2011-06-18) (aged 69)
West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.
Other names The Big Man
Occupation Musician, actor, athlete
Years active 1961–2011
Spouse(s) Victoria Clemons (m. 2008-2011)
Children 4
Musical career
Genres Rock, R&B
Instruments Saxophone
Tin whistle
Labels Columbia
Associated acts E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, Furthur, Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne, Jerry Garcia Band, Narada Michael Walden, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, Aja Kim, Lady Gaga
Notable instruments
Julius Keilwerth SX90R tenor saxophone, SX90R baritone saxophone and SX90II soprano saxophone[2]

Clarence Anicholas Clemons, Jr. (January 11, 1942 – June 18, 2011), also known as The Big Man, was an American saxophonist, musician and actor. He was reported to be 6' 5" (195.5 cm) tall, hence his nickname. From 1972 until his death, he was a prominent member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, playing the tenor saxophone.[3][4]

He released several solo albums and in 1985, had a hit single with "You're a Friend of Mine," a duet with Jackson Browne. As a guest musician he also featured on Aretha Franklin's classic "Freeway of Love" and on Twisted Sister's "Be Chrool to Your Scuel" as well as performing in concert with the Grateful Dead and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. As an actor Clemons featured in several films, including New York, New York and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

He also made cameo appearances in several TV series, including Diff'rent Strokes, Nash Bridges, The Simpsons and The Wire. Together with his television writer friend Don Reo he published his semi-fictional autobiography told in third person, Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales, in 2009.[5] Clemons suffered a stroke on June 12, 2011, and died of complications from it on June 18. Three years following his death, Clemons, along with the rest of the E Street Band, was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


  • Early life 1
  • Music career 2
    • Bruce Springsteen 2.1
    • Solo career 2.2
  • Acting career 3
  • Personal life 4
    • Marriages and family 4.1
    • Philanthropy 4.2
  • Death 5
  • Discography 6
  • Filmography 7
    • Film 7.1
    • Television 7.2
    • Music videos 7.3
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Born in Norfolk County (later the city of Chesapeake), Virginia, Clemons was the son of Clarence Clemons, Sr., a fish market owner,[3] and his wife Thelma.[6][7] He was the oldest of their three children. His grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher and, as a result, the young Clemons grew up in a very religious background listening to gospel music.

When he was nine, his father gave him an alto saxophone as a Christmas present and paid for music lessons. Clemons 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 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 graduated from Crestwood High School (now Crestwood Middle) before attending Maryland State College[3] 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. Clemons also tried out for the Dallas Cowboys.[8] However, the day before, he was involved in a serious car accident which effectively ended any plans of a career in the National Football League.[9][10][11][12] He would eventually be posthumously inducted into the university's Athletics Hall of Fame on February 24, 2012.[13]

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.[14][15] 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.

Music career

Bruce Springsteen

Clemons stage front with the E Street Band, playing his famous "Jungleland" saxophone solo. Nassau Coliseum, March 10, 2008.
Clemons playing his "Born to Run" saxophone solo with house lights up. Hartford Civic Center, April 24, 2009.

The story of how Clemons first met Bruce Springsteen has entered into E Street Band mythology. "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 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.[16][17][18] Clemons recalled their meeting in various interviews:[19]

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.

Well before this meeting, however, Clemons and Springsteen had moved within the same circle of musical acquaintances. Norman Seldin had managed and promoted several local bands, including The Motifs[20] who featured battle of the bands competition at the Matawan-Keyport Roller Drome in Matawan, New Jersey. Springsteen was among the entrants playing with his then band, The Castiles.[21] Billy Ryan, who played lead guitar with The Joyful Noyze,[22] also played in The Jaywalkers with Garry Tallent and Steve Van Zandt. Clemons himself had also played with Tallent in Little Melvin & The Invaders.[23]

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," he called Clemons. 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.[24][25] Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Clemons featured prominently on Springsteen albums.[4] On Born to Run he provided memorable saxophone solos on the title track, "Thunder Road", "She's the One", "Night", and "Jungleland" while Darkness on the Edge of Town featured notable solos on "Badlands" and "The Promised Land". The River saw Clemons feature on songs such as "The Ties That Bind", "Sherry Darling", "I Wanna Marry You", "Drive All Night" and "Independence Day" while Born in the U.S.A. saw solos on "Bobby Jean" and "I'm Goin' Down".[26][27]

At the end of shows, while recognizing members of the E Street Band, Springsteen referred to 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".

Clemons' final recordings with Springsteen and the E Street Band were featured on Springsteen's 2012 album, Wrecking Ball, and previously unreleased material featuring Clemons also appeared on the 2014 release High Hopes. In April 2014, the E Street Band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Clemons' widow accepted on his behalf.

Solo career

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 Top-20 hit single "You're a Friend of Mine", and his saxophone work on Aretha Franklin's 1985 Top-10 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. During the 1980s Clemons also owned a Red Bank, New Jersey, nightclub called Big Man's West. He toured in the first incarnation of Ringo Starr & The All-Starr Band in 1989, singing "You're a Friend of Mine" (dueting with Billy Preston) and an updated rap arrangement of "Quarter to Three." In the mid-1990s, he recorded a Japan-only CD release called Aja and the Big Man "Get It On" with Los Angeles singer/songwriter Aja Kim. At this time he also recorded an instrumental record with Alan Niven producing, 'Peacemaker'. In the 2000s, Clemons along with producer Narada Michael Walden, put together a group called The Temple of Soul, releasing a single called "Anna". He also recorded with philanthropic teen band Creation. Clemons collaborated with Lady Gaga on the songs "Hair" and "The Edge of Glory" from her album Born This Way, providing a saxophone track and solo.[28] Clemons occasionally sat in with the Grateful Dead and as recently as April 2011, sat in on several tunes with the Grateful Dead "spinoff" band Furthur during a concert in Boca Raton Florida. Just days before he suffered a major stroke, he shot a music video with Lady Gaga for "The Edge of Glory".

Acting career

Clarence Clemons

Clemons appeared in several movies and on television, making his screen debut in HBO's crime drama The Wire.[30][31] He appeared in an episode of Brothers and in the "Eddie's Book" episode of 'Til Death as himself.

Personal life

Marriages and family

Clemons was married five times. He had four boys: Clarence "Nick" Clemons III, Charles, Christopher, and Jarod.


Clemons was a strong advocate and supporter of Home Safe, a non-profit organization helping victims of child abuse and domestic violence. Each year, Home Safe serves more than fifteen thousand infants, children and families in south Florida.

From 2005 until his death, Clemons hosted an annual charity event for Home Safe called The Classic Rock & Roll Party. Through these events, Clemons helped raise over $2.5 million for Home Safe. In addition to raising funds for Home Safe programs, Clemons would also personally visit abused children at Home Safe's campuses to give them words of encouragement and practical advice about life.

Clemons's monumental efforts on behalf of Home Safe earned him the President's Volunteer Service Award in 2010.

On October 22, 2009, Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and revitalizing music education in public schools, presented Clemons with the inaugural "Big Man of the Year Award" at the Right to Rock charity benefit. He helped raise money to put musical instruments and curriculum into underfunded public schools across the country. He also performed "Jailhouse Rock" with a student band from the Bronx, in addition to a number with legendary producer, John Colby.


Memorial display for Clarence Clemons at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey, a music venue often associated with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, June 2011

Clemons suffered a stroke on June 12, 2011.[3] He underwent two surgeries after which he was declared in serious but stable condition.[32] According to Rolling Stone magazine, he had been showing signs of recovery.[33] However, Clemons died from complications caused by the stroke on June 18, 2011.[34][35][36] Upon announcement of Clemons' death, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered all state flags to be lowered to half staff in his honor.[37]

Bruce Springsteen said of Clemons: "Clarence lived a wonderful life. 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. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."[38]

Various artists reacted on stage to the death of Clemons.

At their concert in Portsmouth, Virginia, on Sunday, June 19, 2011, Phish covered "Thunder Road" as a tribute to Clemons.[39]

At an Eddie Vedder concert in Hartford, Connecticut on Saturday, June 18, 2011, Eddie wished Clemons well, and shortly thereafter was notified by a sound tech that he had died. Vedder later played a tribute to Clarence during Pearl Jam song "Better Man" changing the lyrics to include, "Can't find a Bigger Man" (paying homage to Clarence's nickname "The Big Man"). During a subsequent performance on the Late Show with David Letterman, Vedder played a ukulele with "Clarence" written across the front of it.

Before singing "Moment of Surrender" at the U2 concert in Anaheim on Saturday, June 18, 2011, Bono paid tribute to Clemons, who had died earlier that day. Bono read lyrics from Springsteen's "Jungleland" near the end of the song, and he repeated them at the song's conclusion.[40] Bono repeated this dedication and tribute during "Moment of Surrender" at the U2 concert in New Jersey on Tuesday, June 21, 2011[41] and again in Baltimore on Wednesday, June 22.[42]

New Jersey rock band Bon Jovi performed "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" as the first encore during their concert in Horsens, Denmark on June 19, 2011. While playing that song photos of Clemons were shown on the giant video screen behind the band.[43][44]

Jimmy Buffett added verses that included Clemons in "The Stories We Can Tell" during his final encore during his concert in June 21, 2011. The rest of the band left the stage and it was Buffett playing and singing alone.

During their set at the 2011 Glastonbury Festival, Brian Fallon, lead singer of the New Jersey rock band, The Gaslight Anthem dedicated their song, "The '59 Sound" to Clemons' memory.[45]

During Southside Johnny's annual July 4 weekend concert at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey, he and Steven Van Zandt spoke of Clemons. Afterwards, Eddie Manion played Clemons' famous "Jungleland" solo while a projector screened showed images of Clemons.

On July 17, 2011, a tribute concert was held at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Bruce Springsteen performed a 45 minute set playing some of Clemons' songs. Clarence's son (Clarence III), who goes by Nick, opened the show with his band, The Nick Clemons Band.

On October 1, 2011, a tribute to Clemons took place at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Traditionally an annual charity event hosted by Clemons, called The Classic Rock & Roll Party, the event paid tribute to Clemons' life and all he did for Home Safe, a non-profit organization helping victims of child abuse and domestic violence.

In January 2012, Clemons' hometown of Norfolk, Virginia paid tribute with memorial concerts, featuring members of the E Street Band. The concert took place at The NorVa concert hall.[46]

In the week that marked a year anniversary of his passing, pop star Lady Gaga dedicated her performances of "The Edge of Glory" to Clemons during her Australian stint of the Born This Way Ball. She was noted in saying that the day he passed was also the day he first watched the film clip for The Edge of Glory. She was also noted in saying that a day doesn't go by that she doesn't think about him and that she misses him so much.

On July 28, 2012, in Gothenburg, Sweden, Springsteen and the E Street Band performed "Jungleland" for the first time on the Wrecking Ball Tour, with Clemons' nephew Jake Clemons playing the saxophone solo and the song being dedicated to Clemons.






Music videos

See also


  1. ^ "Clarence Clemons: A Big Man by Every Definition." Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. June 20, 2011. Retrieved June 21, 2011.
  2. ^ Clemons Sonaré
  3. ^ a b c d Ben Sisario (June 18, 2011). "Clarence Clemons, Springsteen's Soulful Sideman, Dies at 69". The New York Times, A24. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Jon Pareles (June 19, 2011). "The Big Man, Much More Than Springsteen's Sideman". The New York Times, C1. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  5. ^ Billboard,
  6. ^ Staff report (May 25, 1995). Death notice: Clarence A Clemons Sr. The Virginian-Pilot
  7. ^ Carpenter, Brown (February 24, 2006). Local teacher was an active participant in desegregation. The Virginian-Pilot
  8. ^ Sisario, Ben (June 18, 2011). "Clarence Clemons, E Street Band Saxophonist, Dies at 69". The New York Times. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Saxophone player set for Super show
  11. ^ Backstreets No.17 Summer 1986
  12. ^ Marsh, Dave (1981). Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story. p. 277.  
  13. ^ "UMES Announces 2012 Athletic Hall of Fame Class," University of Maryland Eastern Shore Athletics, Thursday, January 26, 2012.
  14. ^ Truth & Soul, Digging in Music History
  15. ^
  16. ^ Brucebase 1970–71
  17. ^ Norman Seldin
  18. ^ Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out lyrics
  19. ^ French Springsteen fansite
  20. ^ The Motifs
  21. ^
  22. ^ Backstreets No.31 Winter 1990
  23. ^ Garry Tallent family tree
  24. ^ Brucebase 1972
  25. ^ Brucebase, On The Tracks: Greetings sessions
  26. ^ Clarence Clemons fansite
  27. ^
  28. ^ Andy Greene (February 18, 2011). "Exclusive: How E Street Band Saxophonist Clarence Clemons Ended Up on Lady Gaga's New Album".  
  29. ^ "Clemons looks for new Boss". Star-News. July 8, 1990. p. 2D. 
  30. ^ "The Wire" Moral Midgetry (2004) – Full cast and crew
  31. ^ "The Wire" Hamsterdam (2004) – Full cast and crew
  32. ^ "Clarence Clemons Suffers From A Stroke". 
  33. ^ Andy Greene (June 13, 2011). "Clarence Clemons Reportedly Showing Signs of Recovery".  
  34. ^ Greene, Andy (June 18, 2011). "E Street Band's Clarence Clemons Dies at 69".  
  35. ^ Clarence Clemons of E Street Band dies. The Journal Gazette. Retrieved 2011-06-22
  36. ^ Clarence Clemons The Daily Telegraph
  37. ^ Gibson, Ginger (June 21, 2011). "Christie orders flags in N.J. be flown at half-staff following death of Springsteen saxophonist Clarence Clemons". New Jersey Online. Advance Digital. Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  38. ^ "'"Bruce Springsteen's Statement on Clarence Clemons Passing: 'Loss is Immeasurable. Retrieved June 20, 2011. 
  39. ^ "Phish Setlist 2011-06-19". 
  40. ^ "U2 Pays Tribute To Clarence Clemons, Who Died Saturday At 69". 
  41. ^ McCall, Tris. "U2 pays tribute to Clarence Clemons at massive New Meadowlands show". New Jersey On-Line LLC. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  42. ^ "Review: U2 at M&T Bank Stadium June 22". 
  43. ^ Clarence Clemons' death provokes music world response, tributes |
  44. ^ "Stars pay tribute to Clarence Clemons – The Marquee Blog". CNN. June 20, 2011. 
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^ Clarence Clemons at the Internet Movie Database
  48. ^

External links

  • Official site
  • The Best of Clarence Clemons – public radio special
  • VH1 site
  • Clarence Clemons at the Internet Movie Database
  • Interview with Chorus and Verse (Jan. 2004)
  • Interview Clarence Clemons on Meeting Bruce Springsteen on YouTube
  • Remembering Clarence Clemons — slideshow.Life
  • Clarence Clemons; database
  • "Remembering Springsteen's Saxman, Clarence Clemons" On Point
  • "Bruce Springsteen's Eulogy for Clarence Clemons". Rolling Stone. June 29, 2011. 
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