to the city / All the little pretties raise their hands. — “10th AVENUE FREEZE OUT”
I am old enough and fortunate enough to have seen Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band
early on, including two shows at a small club in 1973. While Bruce was the main attraction,
Clarence Clemons dominated the tiny stage. Many years later, I saw the band again at a huge outdoor stadium and Clarence still dominated the stage.
Clemons was not a saxophone virtuoso by any means, but his muscular style of playing, influenced by doo-wop and soul, drove and elevated other band members, and he had a perfect sense of timing; that is, when to blow and when not to blow. “Jungleland” is without a doubt his signature song.
At first glance, the backgrounds of Clemons and Springsteen could not be more different. Look a little more closely and they were very similar, if bifurcated by race, and it is obvious why the Big Man and the Little Man grew so close over the years: Blue collar sensibilities wedded to acute social consciousness.
Asked to explain his popularity, Clemons nailed it: “Somebody said to me, ‘Whenever someone says your name, a smile comes to their face.’ That’s a great accolade. I strive to keep it that way.”
May Clarence Clemons e rest in peace.