When it was reported last week that Clarence Clemons had suffered a massive stroke, it didn't sound good. Though reports had him improving, Bruce Springsteen's "Big Man" had suffered from poor health for years. When it was reported that he passed this Saturday night, June 18th, at the age of 69, it wasn't what you'd call unexpected, but it hurt all the same.
You don't have to like Bruce Springsteen's music to like Clarence Clemons. He was a larger than life presence in the music world who often won "Best Jazz Musician" and "Best Saxophonist" in rock magazine readers' polls. While casual Springsteen fans might have trouble coming up with the names Garry Tallent or Roy Bittan, they all know Clarence by name.
Let's give him ten.
For the record, he also played on Aretha Franklin's hit "Freeway of Love" and on Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory," released eight albums under his own name and had a hit with Jackson Browne with "You're A Friend Of Mine." He published his autobiography Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales in 2009. He also recorded with Greg Lake, Joe Cocker, Jim Carroll, Great White, Luther Vandross and Zucchero.
Rest in Peace, Clarence. Springsteen's live show just changed forever.
10) "Quarter To Three": Bruce knew people liked Clarence. He knew he had a good thing going. He also knew the saxophone had limited but strategic utility in his music. Nowhere better than on the Gary "U.S." Bonds hit "Quarter to Three" that often closed his shows.
9) "Drive All Night": One of Springsteen's hilariously corny tunes, "Drive All Night" is also everything his fans love about him. The melodrama is palpable. But nothing clears out the sinuses better than Clarence's sax solo.
8) "Bobby Jean": The tune is said to be Bruce's tribute and goodbye to Miami Steve who was leaving the group to become Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. But it's also the place for Clarence to drop the tambourine and play the sax.
7) "Sherry Darling": Springsteen always liked his retro-numbers and this clowning tune is one of his best. Made all the better by the frat-rock sound highlighted by Clarence and his horn.
6) "Prove It All Night": The Darkness on the Edge of Town album is largely a guitar record, but this tune trades solos between sax and guitar. Clarence could've gone looking for work elsewhere, but he understood his role and took it in stride.
5) "Thundercrack": A tune from the early band that didn't see release until the Springsteen organization put out Tracks, it's one of those workouts where you feel it really was a band and not just a singer-songwriter with hired guys.
4) "Rosalita": The definitive moment from the early band. An anthem made better because it all eventually happened.
3) "Born to Run": Clarence was on the album cover and he played on the song, which alone would be reason to remember him. Musicians dream of being part of something this iconic.
2) "Spirit in the Night": Bruce's first album was a mess. (I like mess). You can practically hear the surf and smell the ocean. And the humidity, the Southern Comfort and feel the cheap plastic seats of an old car.
1) "Jungleland": Here we have it. The ultimate track. What song brought out the West Side Story of the band more than this one? It was pure theater and pure Clarence. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" tells the story of how Clarence joined the band, but this track showed why he stayed.
Clarence Clemons photos by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images