Clarence Clemons, the man who rocked and rolled with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band since 1972 and laced Lady Gaga with some soul on her latest album, died last night from complications following a severe stroke. Fans and friends alike held their breath as news spread fast that Clemons was in a Palm Beach, Florida, hospital struggling for his life.
The six-plus 250-pound musician, who has worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Ringo Starr and even played the sax with former presiden Bill Clinton at his 1993 inauguration ball, was a huge star who is often described as Springsteen’s musical right hand man. The bond was evident from their live performances and captured in the cover artwork of The Boss’s legendary 1975 album Born to Run, where Springsteen is seen leaning on the shoulder of the sax great.
Clemons, who comes from a church background where gospel was the truth, said he always knew he wanted to rock. The Norfolk, Virginia, native received his first saxophone when he was 9-years-old for Christmas instead of the electric train set he had asked for. Good thing because he landed a music and football scholarship to Maryland State College. Before injuring his knee, he even tried out to play for the Dallas Cowboys. Fate, however, had different plans for The Big Man, who met Springsteen after hitting up the Jersey Shore’s music scene in the '70s. Although being the only Black man on an all-white rock band wasn’t typical, the two had a music bond much akin to that of brothers.
Without Clemons, the New Jersey superstar may have been a different kind of rocker. “With Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music,” Springsteen tells The New York Times. “His life, his memory and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”
For fans wanting more of the late great, he can be seen playing alongside Lady Gaga in her latest video “Edge of Glory” and heard on various tracks of her new album, Born this Way.
(Photo: Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup)