A Coda: Clarence Clemons

Coda: “A concluding section or passage, extraneous to the basic structure of the composition but added in order to confirm the impression of finality.” Harvard Dictionary of Music.

Can you imagine the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band without Clarence Clemons’ saxophone?

Songs such as “Spirit In The Night,” “Incident On 57th Street” or “Jungleland.”

I seem to remember Bruce being quoted once as saying something like “Clarence always plays the solo you want to hear.”

When Clarence Clemons’ tenor sax took centerstage in a Bruce Springsteen song; his tone color, his phrasing, his dynamics, his melodic sensibility, always combined to create the solo that perfectly fit the song. His “voice” served not only as an extension of Bruce’s voice but carried the melody to a level of intensity and expressiveness and glory that Bruce-the-vocalist could only dream of. 

But, however essential and glorious Clarence Clemons’ saxophone was to the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, my other favorite music by the Big Man was on an album he put out under his own name in October of 1983.

“Rescue” by Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers is an album of foot-tapping, butt-shaking, rock-and-rollin’ party music. When I put this one on the stereo, the songs just leap out of the speakers and fill the room with all of the excitement and energy of his other band’s records, but with no time for the angst or gravity. And, in every one of the eight songs, when lead vocalist J.T. Bowen has had his say, Clarence takes over and produces the kind of extended, perfectly-tailored solo,  overflowing with the same soulfull, exuberant, joyfully-melodic lines and thick, luxurious tone that made him the beloved player that he was and will always be.

Songs like “Jump Start My Heart,” “Money to The Rescue” and “Resurrection Shuffle” are guaranteed to jump, rescue and resurrect not only your heart, but your spirits and your feet as well. 

Thankfully, I had the good fortune to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform live several times. Whether the venue was Boston’s Music Hall (now the Wang Center), the old Boston Garden or Fenway Park; Clarence Clemons, the Big Man, was an irreplaceable part of the show. When he stepped into the spotlight and his tenor saxophone took flight, he commanded the attention of everyone in the room, and never failed in giving a performance that was visually and musically unforgetable.

So. Can you imagine the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band without Clarence Clemons’ saxophone?

Take just one song. “Jungleland.”

Clarence’s solo is a classic, created, as the legend goes, in a marathon 16-hour recording session; but the arrangement makes you wait for it.

Listen.

After Suki Lahav plays her violin, accompanied by Roy Bittan on piano; after Bruce sings and then adds his electric guitar to the explosive entrance of Garry Tallent’s bass guitar and Max Weinberg’s drums; then, after crescendo and decrescendo, all the intense epic swirl, Bruce, in a hushed voice, sings “Just one look and a whisper, and they’re gone…”

Then: Clarence Clemons plays.

Listen.

Clarence  Anicholas Clemons, born January 11, 1942 in Norfolk, Virginia, passed away on Saturday, June 18, 2011 in Palm Beach, Florida.

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One Response to A Coda: Clarence Clemons

  1. TPS says:

    Fortunately we have many many recordings in which to enjoy hearing the love and collaboration between Bruce and The Big Man.

    I cannot imagine the E Street Band being able to go on without him.

    The show you and I saw at the Music Hall was one of the best, of all the shows I’ve ever seen. That’s the way I’ll always remember him.

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