Before Born To Run turned Springsteen into a superstar, the group faced some lean times. Springsteen's first two albums – Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle – failed to find a mass audience. In 1974, drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter and keyboardist David Sancious quit the band to form the jazz fusion project Tone. Clemons, who was roommates with Carter, was stunned by the defection, but refused to join them on their project, believing firmly in Springsteen's music. On Springsteen's third album, Born to Run, Clemons played two of his most memorable parts on "Thunder Road" and the title track, but his epic solo on the album's final track, "Jungleland," stands as his greatest recorded moment.
Clemons said that he spent 18 hours working on the solo with Springsteen. "The first time I heard the way Bruce built it I couldn't talk," Clemons says in his memoir. "It spoke to my soul. It was the perfect combination of our talents and our abilities and our deep mystical connection. He took what I had played, all those little pieces, and married them to what he heard in his heart, and then put it together in a way that's timeless. Every time I play it I feel that it represents our musical partnership in a way that's beyond words. To me that solo sounds like love."
He's the only member of the band on the cover of Born To Run with Springsteen. "When you open it up and see Clarence and me together, the album begins to work its magic," Springsteen wrote in Clemons' memoir. "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 American begins to work and there is music already in the air."
The huge success of Born To Run turned Springsteen and the E Street Band into superstars. Over the next two decades, Clemons became the most recognizable member of the group – thanks to his massive size, equally huge personality and his onstage role as Springsteen's foil. During the nightly band introductions, Springsteen always saved Clemons for the end. "He crawled out of his little baby crib when he was two years old and found a dusty saxophone in the closet," Springsteen said during a 2000 concert. "I´m talking about the rest is rock and roll, I'm talking about the Minister of soul, the secretary of the brotherhood, the emperor of E Street? Do I even have to say his name? Do I even have to SAY his name!"
"What he brought to the E Street Band was the power of friendship, redemptive love and inclusion," Jackson Browne tells Rolling Stone. "He played such super-charged sax. It made for such emotional, cathartic moments in Bruce’s songs. So really powerful. He had such command of that instrument, and it added to the power of what Bruce was doing. It brought the music back to the origins of rock & roll. It’s almost hard to imagine that music without him."
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