Clarence Clemons dies of complications of stroke at age 69

Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen as they appear on 1975's Born To Run
Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen as they appear on 1975's Born To Run

Clarence Clemons - the Big Man with the big sound, the legendary saxophonist for Bruce Springtseen And The E Street Band - died today, 18 June, following a massive stroke that he suffered on 12 June at his home in Florida. He was 69 years old.

"Clarence lived a wonderful life," Springsteen said in a statement. "He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. 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.

"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. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."

With his huge physique to match his equally outsized personality, Clemons was the perfect onstage foil for The Boss. Springsteen recognized Clemons' importance early on: He always made it a point to introduce the saxophonist last during concerts. In addition, he featured Clemons on the cover of his breakthrough album, Born To Run, in 1975.

Of that black-and-white image that is now iconic in the world of rock 'n' roll, Springsteen wrote in Clemons' 2009 memoir, "When you open it up and see Clarence and me together, the album begins to work its magic. Who are these guys? Where did they come from? What is the joke they are sharing? A friendship and a narrative steeped in the complicated history of America begins to work and there is music already in the air."

As much as he became the spiritual center of the E Street Band, Clemons was a musician first and foremost, and his solos on landmark songs such as Born To Run, Thunder Road and Jungleland complemented Springsteen's sprawling, dramatic narratives. When the spotlight hit Clemons on stage and be blew a soaring, majestic passage, it was a time for celebration, a cue for the audience to jump up and raise their fists.

In addition to his work with the E Street Band, Clemons was in demand as a session musician, playing on albums by Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison, Joe Cocker, Joan Armatrading, Ian Hunter and countless others. In 1989, he joined the inaugural version of Ringo Starr And His All Starr Band. More recently, Clemons played sax on two songs on Lady Gaga's album Born This Way. His last live appearance, in fact, was with Gaga on the season finale of American Idol.

Beset by health problems during the past few years, enduring spinal surgeries, as well as hip and knee replacements, Clemons never missed a concert, performing with Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band until the end of the Working On A Dream Tour in November 2009.

Clemons adored being on stage, and he was hoping to hit the road with Springsteen in 2012. Whether his death spells the end of the E Street band is anyone's guess, but it's hard to fathom the group without the wailing sax and irrepressible spirit of the Big Man - a true musical giant.

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.