Ode to The Big Man: Remembering Clarence Clemons

Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen in 1978
Photo Credit
Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Even the best bandleaders sometimes need a good foil onstage. For Bruce Springsteen, that role was filled ably for nearly four decades by Clarence Clemons, the iconic saxophone player in The E Street Band.

Known as "The Big Man" (he stood six feet, six inches), Clemons' wailing horn was not only a fixture of Springsteen's legendary live shows, but the duo's onstage antics were a highlight of each concert. Casual fans know Clemons from the cover of Springsteen's breakthrough album Born to Run, which features The Boss leaning on his sideman; hardcore fans have a favorite moment of seeing Springsteen lifted into the air by Clemons or planting a kiss on his friend's lips. Even the duo's meeting is the stuff of legend: while working in separate bands in Asbury Park, NJ, Clemons went to see Springsteen perform on a stormy night. The door reportedly blew off its hinges as Clarence arrived - a real way to make an entrance - and Clemons ended the night onstage with his soon-to-be-collaborator.

Springsteen broke up The E Street Band in 1988, but put them back together in 1999 - and Clarence Clemons was a member up through his passing in 2011 after complications from a stroke. "Clarence doesn't leave The E Street Band when he dies," Springsteen said in his stirring eulogy for his friend. "He leaves when we die." In honor of The Big Man, here's some of our favorite performances of his.

"Blinded by the Light" (from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., 1973)

Later a hit for Manfred Mann's Earth Band, the first track from Springsteen's first album features Clemons' sax prominently.

"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" (from Born to Run, 1975)

Bruce's third album was a make or break record that luckily checked off the first box. Second track "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" not only helped crystallize his powerful blend of rock and soul, but included some semi-autobiographical lyrics about his friendship with Clemons, who was ready to wail in response.

"Born to Run" (from Born to Run, 1975)

The song that put The Boss on the map - his first Top 40 hit, and the subject of simultaneous magazine covers on TIME and Newsweek - features a kinetic solo from Clemons that races like a rocket down the New Jersey Turnpike.

Read More: November 1975: London is Finally Ready for Bruce Springsteen

"Jungleland" (from Born to Run, 1975)

The closer to Born to Run features Clemons at the arguable peak of his powers, offering an uncaged performance that stays with you long after the needle comes off the record. When played in concert, it was a showcase for his horn above all.

"Be True" (B-side, 1981)

Recorded during the sessions to The River but left off that sprawling double album, the taut rocker "Be True" has a catchy melody that recalls Bruce's heroes like Roy Orbison and ends with a ripper of a solo from Clemons.

"Bobby Jean" (from Born in the U.S.A., 1984)

A surprising deep cut from an album that had seven Top 10 hits, "Bobby Jean" is a tribute to another absent E Street Band member - temporarily departed guitarist Steven Van Zandt - which also climaxes with an emotional solo from The Big Man.

Read More: June 1984: Bruce Springsteen Releases 'Born in the U.S.A.'

"Land of Hope and Dreams" (from Live in New York City, 2000)

One of the highlights of The E Street Band's reunion tour, this newly-written song touches on Springsteen's most treasured subjects: the act of working together in good faith to achieve great things for every man, woman and child. Clarence's solo was so integral to the song that, when finally offering a studio version on 2012's Wrecking Ball, Springsteen made sure a rendition from a previous live performance was included - a fitting tribute to a fallen legend.

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