By Russ: So much great material already describes Bruce Springsteen so I will just cover how he got started, his relationship with his saxophonist, Clarence Clemons, and touch on some of his biggest hits.
Springsteen was a prolific songwriter, with “More words in some individual songs than other artists had in whole albums”, as his future record label would describe his ability.
Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen (born September 23, 1949)
Clarence Clemons (January 11, 1942 – June 18, 2011)
“The Big Man”
1971 / Bruce Springsteen with Dr Zoom & The Sonic Boom – Southside Shuffle, a.k.a. Pretty Little Woman at the Newark State University, Union NJ
1972 / Bruce Springsteen Live at the Gaslight Club / Henry Boy /
1973 / Bruce Springsteen/ Spirit In The Night / playing piano
1973 / Bruce Springsteen performs “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” @ the Ahmanson Theater in LA /
1978 / Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Full Concert /
2007 / Brilliant Disguise /
1973 / Blinded By The Light /Manfred Mann covered this song later and it became a huge hit, mainly because he changed one line from “cut loose like a deuce” to “revved up like a deuce” – this is one of the most misheard lines due to mispronunciation – with a lisp, the S sound in “deuce” comes across as “SH” and people claim Mann was singing about feminine hygiene products.
1974 / Born To Run /Born To Run album /
1980 / Hungry Heart / The River album /
1984 / Born In The U.S.A. / Born In The U.S.A. album/
1984 / I’m On Fire /Born In The U.S.A. album/
1984 / Glory Days /Born In The U.S.A. album/
1984 / Dancing In The Dark /Born In The U.S.A. album/
1984/ My Hometown /Born In The U.S.A. album/
2016 / Tribute to Prince at Barlays Centre on April 23
Springsteen was inspired to take up music at the tender age of seven after seeing Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show. That was in 1956. Growing up in New Jersey and hearing on the radio another New Jersey singer, Frank Sinatra, also inspired Springsteen’s style of songwriting, which was developed in his youth after his mother bought him his first guitar for $18.
1964 was another important year for Springsteen, having seen The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Thereafter he started playing for audiences, first at a trailer park on New Jersey Route 34 and then at a local Elks Lodge.
In 1965, Springsteen’s mother took out a loan to buy her 16-year-old son a $60 Kent guitar, an act he subsequently memorialized in his song “The Wish”.
Springsteen acquired the nickname “The Boss” during this period; when he played club gigs with a band he took on the task of collecting the nightly pay and distributing it among his band mates. The nickname also reportedly sprang from games of Monopoly that Springsteen would play with other Jersey Shore musicians.
Springsteen is not particularly fond of this nickname, due to his dislike of bosses in general, yet he seems to have since given it a tacit acceptance. Previously he had the nickname “Doctor”.
Springsteen sought to shape a unique and genuine musical and lyrical style: “Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom” (early- to mid-1971), “Sundance Blues Band” (mid-1971), and the “Bruce Springsteen Band” (mid-1971 to mid-1972). Musical genres explored included blues, R&B, jazz, church music, early rock ‘n’ roll, and soul.
Early publicity campaigns, brought his skill to the attention of several people who were about to change his life: managers Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, and Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond, who, under Appel’s pressure, auditioned Springsteen in May 1972
Springsteen signed a record deal with Columbia Records in 1972 with the help of John Hammond, who 10 years earlier had signed Bob Dylan to the same label. Springsteen brought many of his New Jersey–based colleagues into the studio with him, thus forming the E Street Band (although it would not be formally named as such for several more years).
Enter Clarence Clemons…
When Springsteen decided to use a tenor saxophone on the songs “Blinded by the Light” and “Spirit in the Night,” he called Clemons.
Clarence Clemons, who at the age of nine received as a Christmas present his first saxophone in lieu of a train set, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, on January 11, 1942. His early love of football nearly led to another career, but, influenced by legendary players such as King Curtis and Junior Walker, it was the sax in which Clarence found his true calling.
The story of how Clemons first met Bruce Springsteen has entered into E Street Band mythology. “The E Street Shuffle” with a monologue about how they met and the event was also immortalized in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”. They allegedly met for the first time in September 1971. At the time Clemons was playing with Norman Seldin & the Joyful Noyze at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Seldin was a Jersey Shore musician/entrepreneur who, as well as playing piano and leading various bands, had his own record label, Selsom Records. In 1969, Clemons had recorded an eponymous album with this band. In 2008, tracks from this album were reissued on an anthology, Asbury Park — Then And Now, put together by Seldin. It was Karen Cassidy, lead vocalist with the Joyful Noyze, who encouraged Clemons to check out Springsteen, who was playing with the Bruce Springsteen Band at the nearby Student Prince. Clemons recalled their meeting in various interviews:
One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I’d heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I’m a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, “I want to play with your band,” and he said, “Sure, you do anything you want.” The first song we did was an early version of “Spirit in the Night”. Bruce and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other’s lives. He was what I’d been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.
The original E Street lineup included
- Garry Tallent (bass),
- Clarence Clemons (saxophone),
- Danny Federici (keyboards, accordion),
- Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez (drums) and
- David Sancious (keyboards).
The band took its name from the street in Belmar, New Jersey, where David Sancious’ mother lived. She allowed the band to rehearse in her garage The Sancious house was at 1107 E Street with the garage squeezed between the house and the southside fence.
1973 – Springsteen’s debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.“, released in January, established him as a critical favorite though sales were slow.
By October Springsteen was ready to tour and promote his debut album and he put together a band featuring Clemons, Tallent, Danny Federici and Vini Lopez. Springsteen had put together other backing bands during his career, but the E Street Band has been together more or less continuously for the past four decades.
Even after Springsteen gained international acclaim, his New Jersey roots showed through in his music, and he often praised “the great state of New Jersey” in his live shows. Drawing on his extensive local appeal, he routinely sold out consecutive nights in major New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York venues. He also made many surprise appearances at The Stone Pony and other shore nightclubs over the years, becoming the foremost exponent of the Jersey Shore sound.
Because of Springsteen’s lyrical poetry and folk rock–rooted music exemplified on tracks like “Blinded by the Light” and “For You”, as well as the Columbia and Hammond connections, critics initially compared him to Bob Dylan. “He sings with a freshness and urgency I haven’t heard since I was rocked by ‘Like a Rolling Stone'” wrote Crawdaddy magazine editor Peter Knobler in Springsteen’s first interview/profile in March 1973. Crawdaddy discovered Springsteen in the rock press and was his earliest champion
Music critic Lester Bangs wrote in America’s Rock n Roll magazine, Creem, in 1975 that when Springsteen’s first album was released
“… many of us dismissed it: he wrote like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, sang like Van Morrison and Robbie Robertson, and led a band that sounded like Van Morrison’s”.
The track “Spirit in the Night” especially showed Morrison’s influence, while “Lost in the Flood” was the first of many portraits of Vietnam veterans, and “Growin’ Up”, his first take on the recurring theme of adolescence.
1975 – Born to Run was Springsteen’s third studio album. As his effort to break into the mainstream, the album was a commercial success, peaking at number three on the Billboard 200 and eventually selling six million copies in the United States. Two singles were released from the album: “Born to Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out“; the first helped Springsteen to reach mainstream popularity.
Ever conscious of iconography, especially on “Born to Run,” the album that was to be his unabashed, arduously recorded attempt at rock greatness, Springsteen didn’t lightly choose its cover image. It shows him leaning on a shoulder that, when the album is unfolded, belongs to Clarence Clemons!
1980 – The River was his fifth studio album, released on October on Columbia Records. Springsteen’s sole double album, The River was a mix of the frivolous next to the solemn songs. One of its hit tracks was “Hungry Heart”.
Rolling Stone ranked The River at number 253 on their list of the greatest albums of all time.
1984 – Born in the U.S.A. was his seventh studio album, released in June by Columbia Records. It was written by Springsteen and recorded with his E Street Band. When this album was first released, it was met with positive reviews and massive commercial success.
It produced seven top-10 hit singles and was promoted with a worldwide concert tour by Springsteen. Born in the U.S.A. became his most commercially successful album and one of the highest-selling records ever, having sold 30 million copies by 2012. It has also been cited by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time.
There was a very strong iconic bond between Springsteen and Clemons.
Mr. Clemons’s presence was always as significant as his sound. He was, in his resonantly matter-of-fact nickname, the Big Man, 6 feet 4 inches and built like the football player he might have been but for knee troubles. He was by far the E Street Band’s flashiest dresser, in eye-popping suits and broad-brimmed hats; Mr. Springsteen gleefully let himself be upstaged by a sideman he’d never place in the background. They were by all accounts dear friends, even soulmates; Mr. Clemons often described their relationship as nothing less than love (but of a nonsexual kind). Onstage, with thousands of spectators, Mr. Springsteen would bow at his feet or hold him in a close hug, presenting him as a muse, not an employee.
Of course Mr. Clemons was the band’s abiding African-American musician, who kept the E Street Band multiracial after the early departure of a keyboardist, David Sancious, also African-American. Along with the sound his saxophone brought to the songs — of soul and R&B, of urban sophistication and wildness — Mr. Clemons’s imposing figure declared that the E Street Band was sharing rock ’n’ roll’s black heritage, not plundering it. In America’s long, vexed cultural history of race, his bond with Mr. Springsteen made Mr. Clemons a symbol of unity and reconciliation.
Clemons last performed with Springsteen and the E Street Band in December of 2010 at Asbury Park’s Carousel House for a special web broadcast taping. He can be heard on two songs on Lady Gaga’s new album Born This Way, and played on stage with her last month during the American Idol season finale.
Clarence died on June 18, 2011, following complications from a massive stroke suffered just six days before. In his eulogy, Bruce asked, “How big was the Big Man? Too big to die.”