One of Rock and Roll's great sidemen, Clarence Clemons, died Saturday at age 69. The legendary E Street Band saxophonist whose huge presence and bigger sound passed away in a Florida hospital after suffering a stroke last week.
The Big Man's tight bond with Bruce Springsteen for four decades made him one of the most revered figures in the rock world. His distinctive solos on hits like"Jungleland" and "Thunder Road" are considered some of the most recognizable sax riffs in rock 'n' roll history.
"He carried with him a love of people that made them love him," said Springsteen. "He created a wondrous and extended family."
Clemons cut a big figure onstage and the gridiron as well. "Glory Days" could almost be autobiographical.
Most E Street fans probably didn't know that the burly Clemons was a pretty good athlete and a star football player. The 6-foot-4 Clemons excelled in the sport and earned a scholarship to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and, later, a tryout with the Cleveland Browns. Injuries he suffered in a serious automobile accident shelved his plans for an NFL career.
His derailed football career gave Clemons time to concentrate on his saxophone playing and the rest is rock 'n' roll history.
Clemons might not have made the Cleveland Browns roster, but he's been immortalized in Cleveland's Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
The E Street band also played the Super Bowl in 2009. It was the first time Clemons walked on stage after knee replacement surgery in 2008.
Even the first meeting between Clemons and Springsteen is a legendary rock 'n' roll fable. As Clemons and Springsteen tell it, Clemons, the son of a Virginia fish salesman, burst into an Asbury Park bar when a blast of thunderous wind blew the door open in 1971. The grand entrance gave the impression Clemons ripped the door open.
The dramatic first encounter was the basis for the song "Tenth Avenue Freezeout."
"I will never forget that moment," Clemons recollected later. "I felt like I was supposed to be there. It was a magical moment. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we fell in love. And it's still there."
After that stormy night, Clemons became a regular E Street Band member and, possibly, it's most recognizable and popular member.
Clemons blistering sax solos were the highlights of E Street shows and he never disappointed--whether it was in front of 70,000 in the swamps of Jersey, aka the Meadowlands, or one of the mythical shows at the Stone Pony rock club.
"His loss is immeasurable...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," said the Boss last night. "His life, his memory and his love will live on in that story and in our band."
Clarence Clemons will live on in his music but "Spirit in the Night" just took on a whole new meaning.