Sunday, June 19, 2011

Goodbye Clarence!

I found out last night that Clarence Clemons, the Big Man and saxophonist for The E Street Band, passed away at age 69. And, right now, I'm not even sure what to say.

I first fell in love with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in my mid-teens. And one of the most charismatic and imposing figures on the stage when that band played was Clarence Clemons. Just to see this giant black man stand side by side next to a skinny little white boy and play their music like their lives depended on it was always inspirational. Honestly, it's one of the reasons that the OilCan Drive line up is the way it is. One big giant imposing black guy next to a skinny white guy on stage playing music. That comes from watching Clarence and Bruce.

The first time I saw Springsteen play live was 1993 in the New Jersey Meadowlands during the period when he was taking a break from the E Street Band and playing with some L.A. musicians. It was a great show however it was Bruce without the best backing band in the land (who I would later see him perform with in Denver more than a few times in years later.) But, being New Jersey, and being a special show, when Springsteen broke into Tenth Avenue Freeze Out and sang the line, "and the Big Man joined the band..." Clarence, in all his glory with a saxophone wrapped around his neck, walked out onto the stage.

I have never heard a crowd scream so loudly in all of my life.

The place was shaking, the crowd was on their feet, and the yells were so loud that they actually drowned out the music.

That is how much Clarence was loved.

I wanted to show you something as my way of giving a very small tribute to the Big Man on the saxophone. I would have put it up on my website but there seems to be a problem with the servers at the moment and my site has been down for a few days. So, I figured I'd make a quick movie and put a private link to it on YouTube.

About a year ago I had the idea of having OilCan Drive do a cover version of Bruce Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark. The drum beat was easy enough and there were more than enough websites out there that helped me figure out the basic guitar chords and lyrics. But, the problem I had was at the end of the song was when Clarence breaks into a sweet sax riff as Bruce starts dancing with Courtney Cox. There are no tabs on the web that show you how to transcribe a saxophone solo onto guitar. Believe me, I looked.

So, I had to figure it out for myself.

Here is the original video where you can see Clarence in all of his 80's glory:

And below is the raw recording, with the tempo at a slower speed, of me trying to mimic Clarence's sax riff. It's not much of a tribute but it shows that I loved this guy and his work enough to sit down for a few hours and try to figure out what he was doing and how he was doing it.

And, for a musician, maybe that is tribute enough.

Goodbye, Clarence, and God speed. You will be missed!


rob! said...

I'll never forget the time we saw the Boss in concert, and he brought out the E Street Band one by one.

When he got to the "big man joined the band" line in "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out", Clarence came out, and the crowd went NUTS. A really memorable moment in a memorable show.

RIP Clarence!

Sean Tiffany said...

It was a great show and thanks for going with me, Robbo.

I remember clearly being so excited that I actually won Bruce Springsteen tickets from one of the largest radio stations in New York City and then feeling awful when I couldn't get anyone to go with me to the show. You know you feel very low and alone when it's hard to find someone to go to a free Bruce Springsteen concert with you.

So, thanks for going with me, Robbo. We did have a great time!