Springsteen saxophonist Clarence Clemons dies

Sun Jun 19, 2011 8:04pm EDT
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Clarence Clemons, the burly saxophone player who played a crucial role in shaping Bruce Springsteen's early sound, died on Saturday, six days after suffering a stroke at his Florida home. He was 69.

"It is with overwhelming sadness that we inform our friends and fans that at 7:00 tonight, Saturday, June 18, our beloved friend and bandmate, Clarence Clemons passed away," Springsteen said on his website, adding the cause was complications from Clemons' stroke last Sunday.

"His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years," Springsteen added.

Clemons, dubbed the "Big Man," started working with Springsteen in 1971 and was a charter member of the backing group that came to be known as the E Street Band.

His gritty, evocative saxophone solos powered such notable Springsteen songs as "Born to Run," "Jungleland," "Prove It All Night," "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," and "Badlands."

On stage, Clemons proved a worthy foil for Springsteen and his bandmates. In a 1975 concert review, Rolling Stone said Clemons betrayed an "ominous cool" in contrast to guitarist Steven Van Zandt's "strange hipster frenzy."

"Clarence was the big black saxophone player who completely represented the tradition of rock 'n' roll and R&B," Van Zandt told Britain's Mojo magazine in 2006.

Alongside Van Zandt, Clemons personified the E Street Band, and he took it hard when Springsteen broke up the group for a decade in 1989. But by then, Clemons was being used less in the studio. On stage, he was often reduced to playing tambourine or engaging in crowd-pleasing theatrics, like kissing Springsteen during the live staple "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)."   Continued...

<p>Musician Clarence Clemons poses for a portrait while promoting his new book "Big Man" in New York October 21, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>