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April 17, 2024

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Rest In Peace Clarence Clemons

When I think of Clarence Clemons and his passing last weekend, I think of how fortunate I was to grow up at the time I did. When I was growing up as a teen in the 80’s in the suburbs of New Jersey we had MTV which, back then, played music videos 24/7. It was the only placewhere a young African American kid could see his music idols of R&B, however, at the same time I was also getting exposed to Rock. So unlike some of my city counter-parts I knew of David Bowie, Billy Joel, Joan Jett and of course Bruce Springsteen. However, watching a Springsteen video wasn’t how I first noticed Clarence Clemons. My first exposure to The Big Man, as his fans knew him, was the video for a song he did with Jackson Browne called “You’re A Friend of Mine”. Here I am watching this video of this big African American man with this overpowering presence playing a sax and laughing while having a good time singing with his friend.

 

His voice was like thunder. Then I thought “Wait a minute, I’ve seen that guy before!” You see I was a kid raised on R&B so the whole Rock world was new to me so I couldn’t place Clarence Clemons just yet. Then it came to me “Dancing in the Dark! That’s the same sax player!” As a member of The E Street Band, Clarence Clemons stood out like that.

The story on how Clarence hooked up with Bruce Springsteen and became a member of the E Street Band is a thing of legend and is almost told as a myth. It even tells like a story of something great to come. It was a stormy night in New Jersey in 1972. Bruce was playing with his band at a nearby bar and Clemons was urged to go check the band out by a mutual friend. When Clarence opened the door the whole thing flew open due to the storm. This caught the bands attention. Clarence says to Bruce “I want to play with your band”. Bruce responded “Sure, you can do anything you want”. Clarence was a college football player and Bruce was a struggling musician and this would be a start to the E Street Band.

 

Clarence Clemons was born January 11, 1942, the oldest of three children. At the age of nine, Clarence’s father gave him a saxophone and that was pretty much all she wrote. Clarence would go on to play in the high school jazz band and be heavily influenced by King Curtis’ work with the Coasters after receiving and album of their recordings. Clarence was also an exceptional football player, and attended Maryland State College on both a music and football scholarship. He eventually caught the eye of the Cleveland Browns who offered him a trial, however, his plans for an NFL career was halted due to a serious car accident he was in the day before.

 

Upon hearing of his friends passing, Bruce entered this statement “Clarence lived a wonderful life. 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 40 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.”

Rest in peace, Big Man. Thank you for helping me appreciate music and broadening my horizons.

 

Kenny Walker Jr.

 

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