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Clarence Clemons, the Big Man

Monday, June 20, 2011 - 10:33 AM

Bruce Springsteen Born to Run

Most of the remembrances of Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen's longtime sax player and friend (perhaps in reverse order of importance), revolve around the times people saw him play live.  But I bet lots of people first saw Clemons in the same place I did - on that iconic photo that wraps around the Springsteen album Born To Run.

I remember picking up the album cover and seeing the picture of Springsteen, holding a guitar, and leaning against someone who was just out of the frame.  But Born To Run was a gatefold album (kids, ask your parents to explain the term "seeds and stems"), and when you opened the album up, the back cover revealed whose back Springsteen was leaning on.  I recall being surprised - not just by the fact that the musician was playing a sax, which I didn't really think of as a rock'n'roll instrument, but by the evident exuberance and affection between the white Springsteen and the black Clemons.  That was just all kinds of cool.  (And it really is a remarkable photo.)

Anyway, I didn't know at first who this sax player was, or why he and no one else from the band was in the shot.  Reading his name was easy enough, but even after listening to the record, figuring out the second part was still tough: after all, the whole band rocked.  I really liked the piano player, Roy Bittan, although I had my doubts about the piano as a rock'n'roll instrument too.  (Gimme a break; I was too young to have heard of Jerry Lee Lewis.)  But over the years, as many of you have already noted in comments online and calls to our listener line, those live performances demonstrated just how central Clemons was to Springsteen's music, and to Springsteen himself, who never tired of bantering with his friend onstage.  That was where we got years of proof of Clemons' role - not just in the sound, but in that joyful, leave-it-all-on-the-floor approach that made the band such a live phenomenon. 

For me, though, it all began with that cover.  How about you?  What's your memory of the late Clarence Clemons?  Leave a comment. 

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