When E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons passed away Saturday, he left millions of fans mourning his presence. But he also left many friends and musical admirers. Rolling Stone spoke to several of them – "Stormin'" Norman Seldin of the Joyful Noyze (one of Clemons' first bandleaders), Bob Weir (who, with the Grateful Dead, played with Clemons several times), Gary U.S. Bonds (who collaborated with Clemons on Bonds' two early Eighties comeback discs Dedication and On the Line), Jackson Browne (who collaborated with Clemons on 1985's "You're a Friend of Mine"), Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello (who played with the E Street Band several times) and Alto Reed (Bob Seger's sax sideman and friend of Clemons) – about Clemons' larger-than-life persona, his continuous generosity and that sound.
I just spoke to him a couple of weeks ago. I hadn't spoken to him in a really long time, and I didn't realize how he was doing. [His death] was a shock. He was so powerful and vibrant. He was the last person you'd think would succumb to a physical ailment. He told me he was on the new Lady Gaga record and how much he admired her and how great it was to be on her record. He told me what a hard-working professional she was. He was so complimentary of her.
I met Clarence when I met the rest of the band. Bruce and I were doing a show together back in the early days. The first time I saw them on stage was at the Roxy in L.A. I still remember when they did "10th Avenue Freeze-Out" and they did this dramatic reenactment of the night Clarence joined the band. It was in this small club that completely accentuated his size. He was so much bigger than the other guys in the band. It was like the heavens opening, or like the sun coming over the mountain. He was such a towering presence but there was also so much love.
He brought the E Street Band the power of friendship, redemptive love and inclusion. He did for one generation – well, several generations now – of American kids what Richard Pryor did. He broke down racial barriers and made it about inclusion. He performed that service just like Pryor did.
He was such a generous guy and he had this enormous smile. I remember going backstage to his dressing room at one of their shows and he called it the Temple of Love. Or maybe it was the Temple of Soul. I think it even said that on the door. There were incense and fabric and all these lights. It really WAS like a temple.
Doing "You're a Friend of Mine" was such a thrill for me to be asked. It probably wasn't a song that was appropriate to have Bruce on. Maybe that would've been too obvious. But I was happy to be on that record. We shot the video at a house in Hollywood. Videos are usually pretty arduous, but this was fun to hang out with Clarence and [Clemons' longtime friend] Narada Michael Walden.
I know what it's like when someone really crucial to a band leaves; I'm thinking of when David Lindley left my band. You can't really find someone to take that place, so you move in another direction. It's gonna be really interesting to see what they do. It'll be interesting to see how those songs get played without Clarence.
NEXT: Stormin' Norman Seldin
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