- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2017

Given that his uncle was the late Clarence Clemons, who played beside Bruce Springsteen for decades until his death in 2011, it’s somewhat mysterious that Clemons‘ nephew, Jake Clemons, was more or less forbidden from listen to rock ‘n’ roll growing up.

Rather, he has vivid memories of Lawrence Welk’s constant presence on the family television.

“My dad was band director of the Marine Corps and a very strict Southern Baptist as well,” Mr. Clemons told The Washington Times, adding that it was gospel music, classical and marches that pervaded his family home in Virginia Beach.

Clarence was very much the rebel in his family. And my dad was very much not, let’s put it that way,” Mr. Clemons, 37, said with a laugh.

Before taking over his uncle’s spot in the E Street Band in 2012, Mr. Clemons had founded his own act, which will perform at Baltimore Soundstage in Baltimore Monday and Jammin Java in Vienna, Virginia, Tuesday.

Mr. Clemons‘ new album, ” Fear + Love,” bears the stamp of not only rock, but country on songs like “Janine” and “Burning.”

“I don’t write for the sake of a record, I write to practice,” Mr. Clemons said. “Paramount for me, more so than the flow of the songs, is the message: How the story is being told.”

Mr. Clemons said he aims to reach his listeners with “Fear+Love,” but, “at the end of the day, it comes down to just being honest about who I am and what I do.”

“I wasn’t initially into rock ‘n’ roll. I had to learn how to appreciate it,” Mr. Clemons said, adding that he also gravitated to hip-hop and even Chinese opera. “If there’s something that I don’t love, then I force myself to listen to it until I can understand it.”

In addition to the saxophone, Mr. Clemons also plays, guitar, the drums, bass, piano and sings in his ensemble.

“I’m playing guitar probably 90 percent of my live shows,” Mr. Clemons said, adding it would be difficult for him to be a bandleader while blowing his sax. “It’s funny, I thought on a few occasions of actually hiring a sax player,” he said.

Before Mr. Clemons attended the Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk as a young man, he attended his first rock concert, seeing his uncle beside The Boss, when he was eight.

“We went to that show [because] my [parents] wanted to be supportive” of Clarence. “But they were also very clear that [rock ‘n’ roll] was not something to necessarily be excited about.”

But Jake Clemons was hooked as he beheld what he describes as “connectedness” among the concertgoers.

“That’s‘s what drew me into wanting to be a musician,” Mr. Clemons says now, adding that his older brother’s record collection also influenced that desire.

And yet the shadow of his uncle was ever present in the arguments Mr. Clemons had with his father, who died in 2014. Rock ‘n’ roll was going to be Mr. Clemons‘ life, and in a way even he never dared dream.

“I was very uncertain and unsure how I felt about it for a lot of reasons,” Mr. Clemons said of being asked by Mr. Springsteen to replace Clarence in the E Street Band upon “The Big Man“‘s passing in 2011. “Despite that he had talked to me for years about stepping in for him, I had consistently dismissed that primarily because he was never going to go anywhere.”

And yet Clarence did go away. Mr. Springsteen was adamant that his nephew step in. Mr. Clemons admits not only to hesitation, but also to fear.

“And beyond that, I was also just starting to pick up some steam with my own solo career at the time,” Mr. Clemons said.

When Clarence had his stroke, Jake flew to Clarence’s home in Florida to be with him in his final days.

“Playing my instrument again after he passed away seemed like it would be impossible. I had lost so much,” Mr. Clemons said.

However, the next few months would bring Mr. Clemons peace not only with losing his relative, but assuming his place beside Mr. Springsteen.

“I felt this immense connection with Clarence that I had never felt before,” he said. “I felt him in my breast and through my instrument. That was the beginning of my healing.”

That healing has given Mr. Clemons some perspective on his own journey, which includes continuing on not only with the E Street Band but with his own five-piece, which is touring to support “Fear+Love.”

“Jammin Java is a venue that I went to for the first time probably 17 years ago,” Mr. Clemons recalls of the then-new performance hall in Vienna, adding that he saw Andy Zipf there at the time. Things have now come full circle as Mr. Zipf’s band, The Coward’s Choir, will open for Mr. Clemons Tuesday evening.

“For me I’m seeking a transformative moment. I want to feel connected to the entire room,” Mr. Clemons said of fronting his own group. “I grew up [watching] live performances of E Street, so there’s a similar sense … to what I do as a solo artist as well. Obviously the music is very different, but the sense for the evening, I would say, is similar.

“But at the end of the day,” he said, “it comes down to just being honest about who I am and what I do, and letting that speak for itself.”

Jake Clemons plays Baltimore Soundstage in Baltimore Monday at 8 p.m. And Tuesday at Jammin Java in Vienna, Virginia. Tickets for both shows are available at Ticketfly.com.

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