E Street Band sax player Clarence Clemons dies

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“Asbury Park is crying right now,” he said. “It’s like the whole city is one big teardrop. Our Pied Piper is gone.”

Reaction came from across the entertainment industry.

Clarence Clemons was an electric, generous, sweet spirit. Taught me how to look cool with a sax. Goodbye Big Man,” tweeted actor Rob Lowe.

Added Questlove, drummer for the Roots: “RIP Clarence Clemons. A True Legend. Will be absolutely missed.”

An original member _ and the oldest member _ of the E Street Band, Clemons also performed with the Grateful Dead, the Jerry Garcia Band, and Ringo Starr’s All Star Band. He recorded with a wide range of artists including Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and Jackson Browne. He also had his own band called the Temple of Soul.

The stage “always feels like home. It’s where I belong,” Clemons, a former youth counselor, said after performing at a Hard Rock Cafe benefit for Home Safe, a children’s charity, in 2010.

Born in Norfolk, Va., Clemons was the grandson of a Baptist minister and began playing the saxophone when he was 9.

“Nobody played instruments in my family. My father got that bug and said he wants his son to play saxophone. I wanted an electric train for Christmas, but he got me a saxophone. I flipped out,” he said in a 1989 interview with the AP.

He was influenced by R&B artists such as King Curtis and Junior Walker. But his dreams originally focused on football. He played for Maryland State College, and was to try out for the Cleveland Browns when he got in a bad car accident that made him retire from the sport for good.

His energies then focused on music.

In 1971, Clemons was playing with Norman Seldin & the Joyful Noise when he heard about rising singer-songwriter named Springsteen, who was from New Jersey. The two hit it off immediately and Clemons officially joined the E Street Band in 1973 with the release of the debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park.”

Clemons emerged as one of the most critical members of the E Street Band for different reasons. His burly frame would have been intimidating if not for his bright smile and endearing personality that charmed fans.

“It’s because of my innocence,” he said in a 2003 AP interview. “I have no agenda _ just to be loved. Somebody said to me, `Whenever somebody says your name, a smile comes to their face.’ That’s a great accolade. I strive to keep it that way.”

But it was his musical contributions on tenor sax that would come to define the E Street Band sound.

“Since 1973 the Springsteen/Clemons partnership has reaped great rewards and created insightful, high energy rock & roll,” declared Don Palmer in Down Beat in 1984. “Their music, functioning like the blues from which it originated, chronicled the fears, aspirations, and limitations of suburban youth. Unlike many musicians today, Springsteen and Clemons were more interested in the heart and substance rather than the glamour of music.”

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