Saxophonist Clarence Clemons, the "Big Man" of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, died on Saturday of complications from a stroke he suffered earlier this month.
Clemons was born in Virginia and played football at Maryland State College before becoming injured in a car accident. Working as a youth counselor in New Jersey, he became involved in the Jersey Shore music scene; in 1971, he wound up in a bar in Asbury Park:
Mr. Clemons's first encounter with Mr. Springsteen has become E Street Band lore. In most tellings, a lightning storm was rolling through Asbury Park one night in 1971 while Mr. Springsteen was playing a gig there. As Mr. Clemons entered the bar, the wind blew the door off its hinges, and Mr. Springsteen was startled by the towering shadow at the door. Then Mr. Clemons invited himself onstage to play along, and they clicked.
"I swear I will never forget that moment," Mr. Clemons later recalled in an interview. "I felt like I was supposed to be there. It was a magical moment. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we fell in love. And that's still there."
Springsteen was fond of that story, and its retelling, usually during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," was a ritual part of the band's live shows even recently, when Clemens was too sick to spend much time on stage. "He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music," Springsteen said in a statement. "His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."
While Clemens will likely be remembered best for his immeasurable contribution to Springsteen's sound (such as in "Jungleland," above), he also played with Aretha Franklin and Twisted Sister, and had a top 20 hit with Jackson Browne in 1985 called "You're a Friend of Mine." And, as you might have realized thanks to the video, Clemons provided the solo for Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory." R.I.P.