(Adds confirmation, Springsteen statement)
By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES, June 18 Clarence Clemons, the
burly saxophone player who played a crucial role in shaping
Bruce Springsteen's early sound, died on Saturday, six days
after suffering a stroke at his Florida home. He was 69.
"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."
"Clarence was the big black saxophone player who completely
represented the tradition of rock 'n' roll and R&B," Van Zandt
told Britain's Mojo magazine in 2006.
Alongside Van Zandt, Clemons personified the E Street Band,
and he took it hard when Springsteen broke up the group for a
decade in 1989. But by then, Clemons was being used less in the
studio. On stage, he was often reduced to playing tambourine or
engaging in crowd-pleasing theatrics, like kissing Springsteen
during the live staple "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)."
He also dabbled in acting, enjoyed a solo hit single with
Jackson Browne, 1985's ""You're a Friend of Mine," toured with
Ringo Starr and even played on two tracks on pop singer Lady
Gaga's new album.
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 Jan. 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
"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. "I was willing to relinquish myself to him
(Springsteen). I've had people say to me, 'That sax solo saved
my life.' So I did my job."
Clemons was used more sparingly in later years as
Springsteen opted to emphasize the guitars (1978's "Darkness on
the Edge of Town") or recorded largely solo (1982's "Nebraska"
and 1987's "Tunnel of Love").
In 2009, he published his memoir, "Big Man: Real Life and
Tall Tales," co-written with his friend Don Reo.
(Additional reporting by Christian Wiessner; Editing by Peter