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Exclusive: How E Street Band Saxophonist Clarence Clemons Ended Up on Lady Gaga's New Album

"She came running down the hall," Clemons says. "She was like 'Big Man!' I was like 'Holy shit, man. Damn!'"

February 18, 2011 2:20 PM ET
Exclusive: How E Street Band Saxophonist Clarence Clemons Ended Up on Lady Gaga's New Album
Larry Marano/Getty(Clemmons), James Devaney/WireImage(Gaga)

Three weeks ago E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons was putting together an exercise machine in his Florida house when his wife told him that Lady Gaga's people were on the phone. "They said to me, 'Lady Gaga wants you to play on her album,'" Clemons says. "This is on a Friday afternoon at 4:00 pm. I said, 'When do you want me to do it? I'm free Monday or Tuesday.' They go, "No, she needs you RIGHT NOW in New York City." Clemons dropped what he was doing and started driving to the airport. "I almost got a ticket I drove so fast," says Clemons. "It was wild. I was so excited. I'm a Gaga-ite."

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Clemons arrived at the Manhattan studio at midnight with his saxophone, not quite sure what to expect. "She came running down the hall," Clemons says. "She was like 'Big Man!' I was like, 'Holy shit, man. Damn!'" Gaga wanted him to play saxophone on multiple tracks, including the in-progress song "Hair." In a recent interview with Ryan Seacrest, Gaga talked about the song. "It's uptemo, but it's sort of got this Bruce Springsteen vibe to it," she said. "I actually had Clarence Clemons come in. He played saxophone. It's really interesting, because it's putting saxophone on this really huge electronic record." She also gave Seacrest a bit of the lyrics: "Whenever I dress cool my parents put up a fight / And if I'm a hotshot Mom will cut my hair at night / And in the morning I'm shorn of my identity / I scream, "Mom and Dad, why can't I be who I want to be?"

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Before Clemons started work on the song, she explained the lyrics to him. "It made so much sense," he says. "It's a story about growing up." She gave him very few instructions about how to play on the song. "She said 'we'll put the tape on and you just play,'" Clemons says. "She said to me, 'Play from your heart. Play what you feel.' It was all very pure."

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By 3:00 am, after just a few takes, they were done. "I play sax through the whole song and I have a solo," says Clemons. "I'm surprised I'm getting paid for this. I would have done it for free. I can never believe something that feels so good earns me money." Clemons was a huge Gaga fan before the session, but now he loves her even more. "She's the real deal," he says. "All the craziness and stuff, there's a purpose to all of it. She has no boundaries ... It's a day I'll never forget. I always wait for Bruce to call and say 'come do this' and it's real exciting for me.  I never saw this happening, though.'"

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This article has been updated.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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