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Clarence Clemons

Background information
Also known as The Big Man
Born January 11, 1942 (1942-01-11) (age 68)
Origin Norfolk, Virginia
Genres Rock
Instruments Saxophone
Associated acts E Street Band
Bruce Springsteen
Aretha Franklin
Jackson Browne
Narada Michael Walden
Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band
Aja Kim
Notable instruments
Julius Keilwerth SX90R tenor saxophone, SX90R baritone saxophone and SX90II soprano saxophone[1]

Clarence Clemons (born January 11, 1942, Norfolk, Virginia), known by fans as The Big Man, is an American musician and actor. Since 1972 he has been a prominent member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, playing the saxophone. He has also released several solo albums and in 1985 had a hit single with "You're a Friend of Mine", a duet with Jackson Browne. As a guest musician he has also featured on Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love" and on Twisted Sister's "Be Chrool to Your Scuel" as well as performing in concert with The Grateful Dead and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. As an actor Clemons has featured in several films, including New York, New York and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. He also made cameo appearances in several TV series, such as Diff'rent Strokes, Nash Bridges, The Simpsons and The Wire. Together with his television writer friend Don Reo he published his autobiography, Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales, in 2009.[2]


Early years

Clemons is the son of Clarence Sr., a fish market owner, and his wife Thelma. He is the oldest of their three children. His grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher and, as a result, the young Clemons grew up listening to Gospel music. When he was nine, his father gave him an alto saxophone as a Christmas present and paid for music lessons. He later switched to baritone sax and played in a high school jazz band. His uncle also influenced his early musical development when he bought him his first King Curtis album. Curtis, and his work with The Coasters in particular, would be become a major influence on Clemons and led to him switching to tenor saxophone. As a youth Clemons also showed potential as an American football player, and he attended Maryland State College on both music and football scholarships. He played as a lineman on the same team as Emerson Boozer and attracted the attention of Cleveland Browns who offered him a trial. However, the day before he was involved in a serious car accident which effectively ended any plans of a career in the NFL. [3][4][5][6]. While just 18 Clemons had one of his earliest studio experiences, recording sessions with Tyrone Ashley's Funky Music Machine, a band from Plainfield, New Jersey that included Ray Davis, Eddie Hazel and Billy Bass Nelson, all of whom would go onto play with Parliament-Funkadelic. These sessions were eventually released in 2007 by Truth and Soul Records as Let Me Be Your Man. [7][8] While at Maryland State College Clemons also joined his first band, The Vibratones, which played James Brown covers and stayed together for about four years between 1961 and 1965. While still playing with this band he moved to Newark, New Jersey were he worked as a counsellor for emotionally disturbed children at the Jamesburg Training School for Boys between 1962 and 1970. During this period, Clemons also married for the first time and fathered two sons, Clarence III and Charles.Template:RacT He is legally blind in one eye. Clemons stated "It's not something you can replace. If it goes out, that's it."[9]

Bruce Springsteen

Clemons stage front with the E Street Band, playing his famous "Jungleland" saxophone solo. Nassau Coliseum, March 10, 2008.
Clemons playing his "Born to Run" saxophone solo with house lights up. Hartford Civic Center, April 24, 2009.
Clemons playing his saxophone part on "Night" early in a show. Estadio José Zorrilla, Valladolid, Spain, August 1, 2009.

The story of how Clemons first met Bruce Springsteen has entered into E Street Band folklore. In concerts Springsteen would introduce "The E Street Shuffle" with a monologue about how they met and the event was also immortalized in "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out". They allegedly met for the first time in September 1971. At the time Clemons was playing with Norman Seldin & The Joyful Noyze at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Seldin was a Jersey Shore musician/entrepreneur who, as well as playing piano and leading various bands, had his own record label, Selsom Records. In 1969 Clemons had recorded an eponymous album with this band. In 2008 tracks from this album were reissued on an anthology, Asbury Park - Then And Now, put together by Seldin. It was Karen Cassidy, lead vocalist with The Joyful Noyze, who encouraged Clemons to check out Springsteen who was playing with The Bruce Springsteen Band at the nearby Student Prince. [10][11][12] Clemons has recalled their meeting in various interviews.[13]

One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I'd heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I'm a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, "I want to play with your band," and he said, "Sure, you do anything you want." The first song we did was an early version of "Spirit In The Night". Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives. He was what I'd been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.

Well before this meeting, however, Clemons and Springsteen had moved within the same circle of musical acquaintances. Norman Seldin had managed and promoted several local bands, including The Motifs [14] who featured Vinnie Roslin, later to play with Springsteen in Steel Mill. On April 22, 1966 Seldin had also organised a battle of the bands competition at the Matawan-Keyport Roller Drome in Matawan, New Jersey. Springsteen was among the entrants playing with his then band, The Castiles. [15] Billy Ryan, who played lead guitar with The Joyful Noyze, [16] also played in The Jaywalkers with Garry Tallent and Steve Van Zandt and Clemons himself had played with Tallent in Little Melvin & The Invaders [17].

In July 1972, Springsteen began recording his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and during breaks from recording, he jammed with Clemons and The Joyful Noyze on at least two occasions at The Shipbottom Lounge in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. When Springsteen then decided to use a tenor saxophone on the songs "Blinded By The Light" and "Spirit In The Night" it was Clemons he called. By October Springsteen was ready to tour and promote Greetings… and he put together a band featuring Clemons, Tallent, Danny Federici and Vini Lopez. Clemons played his last gig with Norman Seldin & The Joyful Noyze at the Club Plaza in Bayville, New Jersey on October 21, 1972. Four days later Clemons made his debut with the formative E Street Band at an unadvertised, impromptu performance at The Shipbottom Lounge. [18][19] Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Clemons featured prominently on Springsteen albums. On Born to Run he provided memorable saxophone solos on the title track, "Thunder Road" and "Jungleland" while Darkness on the Edge of Town featured another notable solo on "Badlands". The River saw Clemons feature on songs such as "The Ties That Bind", "Sherry Darling", "I Wanna Marry You" and "Independence Day" while Born in the U.S.A. saw solos on "Bobby Jean" and "I'm Goin' Down". [20][21]

At the end of shows, while recognizing members of the E Street Band, Springsteen refers to Clemons as "The Biggest Man You Ever Seen."

Solo career

Outside of his work with the E Street Band, Clemons has recorded with many other artists and has had a number of musical projects on his own. The best known of these are his 1985 vocal duet with Jackson Browne on the hit single "You're a Friend of Mine", and his saxophone work on Aretha Franklin's 1985 hit single "Freeway of Love". In the mid-1990s, he recorded a Japan-only CD release called Aja and the Big Man "Get it On" (on the now-defunct Dream Train Records) with singer/songwriter Aja Kim (formerly of the tribute band The Iron Maidens). In the 2000s Clemons has been working with a group called The Temple of Soul, and has also recorded with philanthropic teen band Creation. During the 1980s Clemons owned a Red Bank, New Jersey nightclub called Big Man's West.

Acting career

Clemons has appeared in movies and on television making his debut in Martin Scorsese's 1977 musical, New York, New York in which he played a trumpet player. He can be seen as one of the Three Most Important People In The World in the 1989 film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. In 1985, Clemons was a special guest star in Diff'rent Strokes episode "So You Want to Be a Rock Star", in which he played the role of Mr. Kingsley, a young saxophonist helping Arnold Jackson to learn to play his sax. He has also been a guest voice in an episode of The Simpsons. In 1990, he co-starred in the pilot episode of Human Target, a Rick Springfield action series intended for ABC.[22] He also played the role of Jack in Swing starring opposite Lisa Stansfield and Hugo Speer, directed by Nick Mead. He appeared alongside Michael McKean and David Bowe as a miner in one episode of musician "Weird Al" Yankovic's children's television show The Weird Al Show. He appeared in an episode of Damon Wayans' television show, My Wife And Kids as a musician and performed an original composition, co written with bassist, Lynn Woolever, called "One Shadow In The Sun". Clemons twice appeared as a Baltimore youth-program organizer in HBO's crime drama The Wire.[23][24] He appeared in an episode of the Brothers and in the "Eddie's Book" episode of 'Til Death as himself.


  • Clarence Clemons
    • Hero (1985)
    • A Night With Mr. C (1989)
    • Peacemaker (1995)
  • Clarence Clemons Temple of Soul
    • Live in Asbury Park (2002)
    • Live in Asbury Park Part II (2004)
  • Clarence Clemons & The Red Bank Rockers
    • Rescue (1983)
  • Aja and The Big Man
    • Get It On (1995)
  • Gary U.S. Bonds
    • Dedication (1981)
    • On The Line (1982)






On October 22, 2009, Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and revitalizing music education in public schools, presented Clarence with the inaugural "Big Man of the Year Award" at the Right to Rock charity benefit. He helped raise money to put musical instruments and curriculum into underfunded public schools across the country. He also performed "Jailhouse Rock" with a student band from the Bronx, in addition to a number with legendary producer, John Colby.

See also

List of saxophonists


External links

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