Clarence Clemons: Saxophonist with The E Street Band who shaped the sound of Bruce Springsteen

In 1975, the rock photographer Eric Meola took nearly a thousand photographs of Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band for the cover of the album, Born To Run.

The one spread over the front and back of the gatefold sleeve showed Springsteen, guitar in hand, leaning on his saxophonist, Clarence Clemons and it conveyed a wonderful aura of friendship and dependence, which was certainly a feature of the music. Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons were born to run.

Clarence Clemons was born in Norfolk, Virginia on 11 January 1942. His parents owned a fish market and his grandfather was a minister, and the young boy was intrigued by the gospel music he heard in church. Clemons was a good football player and was offered a trial with the Cleveland Browns, but a car accident put paid to that.

While in London making the film, Swing, in 1998, Clemons told me how he became a musician, "My father bought me a saxophone for Christmas when I was nine years old, but I wanted an electric train. I was very disappointed until I heard King Curtis with the Coasters, but I wasn't allowed to play rock'n'roll while my grandfather was around. My father had bought me an alto but I found what I wanted in the tenor."

Clemons trained as a counsellor for disturbed children and although he worked in that capacity until 1970, he played music in his spare time. From 1961 to 1965, he played in the Vibratones, a bar band in New Jersey doing James Brown covers. In the early 70s, he was playing with a New Jersey rock act, Norman Seldin and the Joyful Noyze.

He heard about Bruce Springsteen who, rather than do cover songs, was winning audiences round with his own material. The meeting of Springsteen and Clemons in September 1971 has become legendary, not least because Springsteen told of their meeting in "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out". "It was a magical thing," said Clemons, "He was searching for something and I was searching for something and we found it in each other."

Springsteen's début album Greetings From Asbury Park was released in January 1973. Clive Davis, the head of CBS, wanted to promote Springsteen as "the new Dylan", but Dylan never had Clemons wailing on "Blinded By The Light" and "Spirit In The Night". This was followed later in the year by The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, which included another favourite, "Asbury Park Fourth Of July (Sandy)".

The first two albums built up a following for Springsteen and everything exploded with Born To Run (1975) with intense playing from the E Street Band and full Phil Spector-like orchestrations. "'Born To Run' itself was a very good song when Bruce played it acoustically," said Clemons, "but it came to life when the whole band was playing and the drone of that sax is behind it all. The song had a great message – get out and sort out your life – but I needed a lot of energy to play like that. I almost died playing those long sustained baritone notes. I said, 'That's it, no more cigarettes!'"

Although Born To Run was massively successful, Springsteen found himself in dispute with his manager, Mike Appel. As a result, this passionately creative man was not able to record for three years. Instead he devoted himself to live performance and his shows with the E Street Band could last over three hours. Springsteen would incorporate his favourite covers into the set and the glorious "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" was captured live with a spontaneous rap between Springsteen and Clemons over what they want for Christmas. Its joie de vivre shows Clemons' importance as an on-stage foil for Springsteen.

In 1978, Springsteen released Darkness At The Edge Of Town, which was less showy than Born To Run but similarly intense. Clemons was showcased on the powerful "Badlands".

The E Street Band backed Ronnie Spector on a Billy Joel song, "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" (1977) and they rescued the fading career of Gary US Bonds, like Clemons, a native of Norfolk, Virginia. Clemons played on his albums, Dedication (1981) and On The Line (1982). When Clemons became part of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band in 1990, he performed a rap version of Bonds' hit, "Quarter To Three".

In 1985 Clemons had a US Top 20 hit with "You're A Friend Of Mine", which he made with Jackson Browne. He released several solo albums including Rescue (1983), Hero (1985), A Night With Mr C (1989), Peacemaker (1995) and Brothers In Arms (2008), but described them as "the best kept secret in the rock'n'roll industry". His many sessions included Aretha Franklin, Twisted Sister, Zucchero and Lady Gaga.

In 1984, Springsteen released Born In The USA, a look at his blue collar roots and the nature of patriotism. Clemons was featured on the hit single, "Dancing In The Dark". Clemons only sang backing vocals on Tunnel Of Love (1987). Although Clemons was an important part of Springsteen's live act, Springsteen often found himself writing songs that did not call for horns and eventually he disbanded the E Street Band in favour of other projects. Clemons returned to Springsteen in the last decade and he was featured on The Rising (2002) which Springsteen made in the wake of 9/11.

Clemons appeared in many films, having a role in New York, New York (1977), which was directed by Martin Scorsese. He said, "I found Robert DeNiro was as intense about acting as Bruce was about music, and I learnt a lot from him. He did tell me 'Stay away from television' but I haven't done that." Clemons appeared in The Simpsons, The System and The Wire.

The last years were difficult for Clemons as he had hip, knee and back complaints and even joint replacements was not wholly successful. He wanted to tour but he found it difficult. His autobiography, Big Man: Real Life And Tall Tales, was published in 2009 and on stage in Glasgow, Springsteen introduced him in Glasgow as "the biggest Scotsman you've ever seen."

When I met Clemons in 1998, he told me that he had two weekly residencies in bars in Florida and he enjoyed that as much as playing in stadiums. If someone, anyone, wanted to get up and jam with him, that was fine. There clearly was kindness and humility in this great saxophone player.

Clarence Anicholas Clemons, singer, saxophonist: born Norfolk, Virginia: 11 January 1942; married five times, four sons; died Palm Beach, Florida, 18 June 2011.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Sales, London

£70 - 95K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Milton Keynes

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Bristol

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Birmingham

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game