"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."
Clemons' death came three years after organist Danny Federici, Springsteen's longest-serving musical partner, lost a three-year battle with cancer. Clemons had been in ill health in recent years, suffering back and hip problems. He had double knee-replacement surgery in 2008, and walked for the first time in three months when Springsteen and the E Street Band played the Super Bowl early in 2009. The band's eight-month world tour that year was "pure hell," he told Rolling Stone earlier this year.
Clemons was born January 11, 1942 in Norfolk, Virginia, and played saxophone in high school where he was also a promising football player. A car crash ended his professional sporting dreams, and he went on to become a social worker, family man and barroom rocker. His first meeting with Springsteen was auspicious. Clemons had heard about a hot young rocker on the Asbury Park, New Jersey, scene, and walked into one of his club shows on a bitterly windy night. A gust of wind ripped the door from his hand, and it flew down the street. All eyes turned to Clemons, and Springsteen readily agreed when he asked to sit in with him.
"When I first walked on that stage and hit the first note, I saw things that are happening today, then," he told Reuters in 2009. "I knew that he (Springsteen) was what I was looking for and I was what he was looking for to take that next step to the big time. It was just love, man, at first sight." During sessions for Springsteen's 1975 breakthrough "Born to Run," Clemons spent 16 hours recording his solo on "Jungleland," the nine-minute track that closes the album. "Creating is like religion," Clemons said later of the marathon session.
We'll miss you Big Man...