Clarence Clemons, sax player for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, dead at 69
Clarence Clemons, whose growling saxophone, large stature and booming personality were core elements of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band for nearly four decades, died Saturday night (6/18) of complications from a recent stroke. He was 69.
News of Clemons' death was confirmed via Springsteen's official website, which reported, "with overwhelming sadness," that the sax player died at 7 p.m. ET. Clemons had been hospitalized in Palm Beach, FL, since he suffered a serious stroke on June 12.
"Clarence lived a wonderful life," Springsteen said in a statement. "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."
A native of Virginia, Clemons began playing the saxophone when he was 9 years old. He moved to New Jersey and was working as a child counselor at a reform school and playing in another band when he first met Springsteen in 1971. Clemons explained in a 2009 radio special to promote his book "The Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tails," that a friend told him about Springsteen, and he went to see him play at an Asbury Park, NJ, bar on a blustery, stormy night.
"I walked into the club and opened the door, and the wind actually tore the door out of my hand and blew it down the street," Clemons said. "So all the bouncers go running down the street after the door, and I'm standing there with this lightning and thunder behind me, and I walk in. You know, a black guy walkin' into a white club -- it's like, 'whoa, wait a minute.'... I found out who Bruce was, and I walked over and said I want to sit in. He said, 'Sure,' you know. 'Whatever you want to do.' So I sat in, and it was a magical moment. I swear, I will never forget that moment.... All of my answers -- all of those bands I'd played with, all of the things I was searching for and all of the things I wanted to do -- was right there."
The two immediately hit it off, and Clemons soon became a regular during Springsteen's club appearances. He played on two of the best-known tracks on Springsteen's 1972 debut album -- "Spirit of the Night" and "Blinded by the Light" -- and later co-founded Springsteen's E Street Band.
Clemons also was an in-demand studio musician who appeared on tracks by Aretha Franklin, Joe Cocker, Roy Orbison, Janice Ian, Gary "U.S." Bonds, Greg Lake and Zuccero, among many others. He was a prominent guest on Lady Gaga's new "Born This Way" album, and his last public performance apparently was his June 12 "American Idol" appearance with Gaga.
Clemons' 260-pound body began to wear down in recent years, and the pain of chronic hip and knee ailments forced him to sit down (on a throne during one tour) at times during Springsteen's marathon performances. Still, Clemons recently told Peter Ames Carlin, who is working on a new Springsteen biography, that he had no regrets.
"It ain't about the money, man," Clemons is quoted as saying on Carlin's website. "It's the love for what I do. People come to the show for more than a party. They're looking for some kind of spiritual stability. You can feel the power; all that focus.
"With all that pain and agony I went through on the last tour -- I'd do it again. There's something about being on stage. I call it the Healing Floor. I do all this shit up there and then I think back later and say, 'How the hell did I do that?' But it's what I'm supposed to do. It revives me."