Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011

Sometimes when he would introduce the members of his band at a concert, Bruce Springsteen would talk about his early days, and joke about how he realized that the band he was putting together "needed something. Something… big." Of course, the person he was getting ready to introduce was his legendary saxophone player Clarence Clemons, who passed away yesterday at age 69 as a result of a stroke he suffered the week before. At the time when Clemens and Springsteen met at a club in Asbury Park, New Jersey in 1971, the saxophone had become something of a lost art in rock and roll. It had been a common lead instrument in the 1950s, but as rock music evolved in the sixties to be performed mostly by relatively small-sized and self-contained bands, the electric guitar became completely dominant. Some larger bands used a sax as part of a horn section, but the days of the sax solos in rock songs appeared to be over. Springsteen realized that the sax would bring an element to his sound that no other band at the time had, and Clemons was the right man in the right place at the right time.

You can make the argument that Clemons is the most famous backing musician in all of rock. Certainly, he was the primary reason that the members of The E Street Band became household names themselves. He could be delicate and jazzy sometimes, like on "Spirits in the Night" off of Springsteen's 1973 debut LP Greetings from Asbury Park, N. J., but he left his indelible mark on the songs where his part called for some muscle. His value was not lost on Springsteen; the cover shot of the 1975 LP Born to Run, which shows Springsteen leaning on Clemons, says everything about their professional relationship that you really need to know. That album has become iconic arguably as much for Clemons' sax solos on "Thunder Road," "Born to Run," and "Jungleland" as for Springsteen's writing.

While most of Clemons' professional work has revolved around Springsteen and the E Street Band, he did make a couple of solo recordings, and had a hit duet with Jackson Browne called "You're a Friend of Mine." He also toured with Ringo Starr, made a guest appearance on Joe Cocker's cover of Ray Charles' "Unchain My Heart," and most recently made an appearance on Lady Ga Ga's new record. He had been performing live with Springsteen through their last tour, which ended in November 2009. Springsteen will almost certainly perform live again, most likely with the remainder of the E Street Band in tow, but the passing of Clarence Clemons has left a void that will not be filled.

Clemons, Springsteen, and The E Street Band grinding through "Rosalita"

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