Saturday, June 18, 2011

Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band Dies of Stroke Complications

Bruce Springsteen introducing Clarence "Big Man" Clemons in concert.

It's a sad day from the Jersey Shore to the rest of the rock and roll world: Clarence Clemons, the "Big Man" who anchored Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band for decades, died Saturday from complications of a stroke he suffered last weekend.

Though he was nearing the age of 70 (I didn't realize he was quite that old) and had suffered a number of injuries, Clemons had been planning on joining the E Street Band on its next tour, planned for 2012. Clemons had played with Springsteen for 40 years, and his importance to the singer and the band was evident from the cover of the breakthrough album "Born to Run": Clemons is the only member of the band to appear with Springsteen, with the scruffy young singer holding his guitar and leaning on the Big Man, who is blowing his sax.

For more details about Clarence Clemons and his life, see this detailed article from's Tris McCall. (I found the introduction video above at the article as well.) You can find the New York Times obituary here and an L.A. Times blog post here.

As the article mentions, Clemons remained a force and kept playing, with Springsteen and with other projects, right up until the end, despite numerous health setbacks. (Besides knee replacements, he apparently also had had spinal operations.) Recently he had played on Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" album, and had performed with her on an American Idol episode. Clemons can also be seen playing his sax in Gaga's just-released video for "The Edge of Glory."

Statement on Bruce Springsteen's website on the passing of Clarence Clemons:
It is with overwhelming sadness that we inform our friends and fans that at 7:00 tonight, Saturday, June 18, our beloved friend and bandmate, Clarence Clemons passed away. The cause was complications from his stroke of last Sunday, June 12th.

Bruce Springsteen said of Clarence: 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.
It's not uncommon for musicians to pass away, of course, and Clarence Clemons lived a longer life than many of them. But this one hits me harder than almost all others, not only because he was such a key member of the band but because I've followed Springsteen's career (and that of Clemons) for so long.

I first heard of Bruce Springsteen in 1973 and saw him for the first time at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, where he was a late replacement for Boz Scaggs, the second of three acts on the bill. (The headlining act was... Anne Murray, yes, the Canadian singer known for the pop hit "Snowbird.")

Rest in peace, Big Man. You gave a lot of people a lot of enjoyment over the years, and for those of us in the NYC/NJ area who knew of you before "Born to Run," we got to enjoy your playing a little longer than other people. Thanks for all the great music.

What are your favorite memories of or stories involving Clarence Clemons?

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