E Street Band sax player Clarence Clemons dies

(AP) - Clarence Clemons, thelarger-than-life saxophone player for the E Street Band who was oneof the key influences in Bruce Springsteen's life and music throughfour

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - (AP) - Clarence Clemons, thelarger-than-life saxophone player for the E Street Band who was oneof the key influences in Bruce Springsteen's life and music throughfour decades, has died. He was 69.

For interviews with Clarence Clemons, go to channel 612 on your digital cable box and select iO Extra.

Clemons was hospitalized about a week ago after suffering astroke at his home in Singer Island, Fla. He died of complicationsfrom the stroke, spokeswoman Marilyn Laverty said Saturday.

Known as the Big Man for his imposing 6-foot-5-inch, 270-pluspound frame, Clemons and his ever-present saxophone spent much ofhis life with The Boss, and his booming saxophone solos became asignature sound for the E Street Band on many key songs, including"Jungleland," a triumphant solo he spent 16 hours perfecting, and"Born To Run."

In recent years, Clemons had been slowed by health woes. Heendured major spinal surgery in January 2010 and, at the 2009 SuperBowl, Clemons rose from a wheelchair to perform with Springsteenafter double knee replacement surgery.

But his health seemed to be improving. In May, he performed withLady Gaga on the season finale of "American Idol," and performedon two songs on her "Born This Way" album.

Clemons said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press thenthat he was winning his battles - including severe, chronic painand post-surgical depression. His sense of humor helped.

"Of all the surgeries I've had, there's not much left tooperate on. I am totally bionic," he said.

"God will give you no more than you can handle," he said inthe interview. "This is all a test to see if you are really readyfor the good things that are going to come in your life. All thispain is going to come back and make me stronger.

An original member - and the oldest member - of the E StreetBand, Clemons also performed with the Grateful Dead, the JerryGarcia Band, and Ringo Starr's All Star Band. He recorded with awide range of artists including Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison andJackson Browne. He also had his own band called the Temple of Soul.

The stage "always feels like home. It's where I belong,"Clemons, a former youth counselor, said after performing at a HardRock Cafe benefit for Home Safe, a children's charity, in 2010.

Born in Norfolk, Va., Clemons was the grandson of a Baptistminister and began playing the saxophone when he was 9.

"Nobody played instruments in my family. My father got that bugand said he wants his son to play saxophone. I wanted an electrictrain for Christmas, but he got me a saxophone. I flipped out," hesaid in a 1989 interview with the AP.

He was influenced by R&B artists such as King Curtis and JuniorWalker. But his dreams originally focused on football. He playedfor Maryland State College, and was to try out for the ClevelandBrowns when he got in a bad car accident that made him retire fromthe sport for good.

His energies then focused on music.

In 1971, Clemons was playing with Norman Seldin & the JoyfulNoise when he heard about rising singer-songwriter namedSpringsteen. The two hit it off immediately and Clemons officiallyjoined the E Street Band in 1973 with the release of the debutalbum "Greetings from Asbury Park."

Clemons emerged as one of the most critical members of the EStreet Band for different reasons. His burly frame would have beenintimidating if not for his bright smile and endearing personalitythat charmed fans.

"It's because of my innocence," he said in a 2003 APinterview. "I have no agenda - just to be loved. Somebody said tome, `Whenever somebody says your name, a smile comes to theirface.' That's a great accolade. I strive to keep it that way."

But it was his musical contributions on tenor sax that wouldcome to define the E Street Band sound.

"Since 1973 the Springsteen/Clemons partnership has reapedgreat rewards and created insightful, high energy rock & roll,"declared Don Palmer in Down Beat in 1984. "Their music,functioning like the blues from which it originated, chronicled thefears, aspirations, and limitations of suburban youth. Unlike manymusicians today, Springsteen and Clemons were more interested inthe heart and substance rather than the glamour of music."

In a 2009 interview, Clemons described his deep bond withSpringsteen, saying: "It's the most passion that you have withoutsex."

"It's love. It's two men - two strong, very virile men -finding that space in life where they can let go enough of theirmasculinity to feel the passion of love and respect and trust," headded.

Clemons continued to perform with the band for the next 12years, contributing his big, distinctive big sound to the albums,"The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle," "Born toRun," "Darkness on the Edge of Town, "The River" and "Born inthe USA." But four years after Springsteen experienced theblockbuster success of "Born in the USA" and toured with hisgroup, he decided to disband the E Street Band.

"There were a few moments of tension," the saxophonistrecalled in a 1995 interview. "You've been together 18, 19 years.It's like your wife coming to you: `I want a divorce.' You startwondering why? Why? But you get on with your life."

During the breaks, Clemons continued with solo projects,including a 1985 vocal duet with Browne on the single "You're aFriend of Mine" and saxophone work on Franklin's 1985 hit single"Freeway of Love." He released his own albums, toured, and evensang on some songs.

Clemons also made several television and movie appearances overthe years, including Martin Scorsese's 1977 musical, "New York,New York, in which he played a trumpet player.

The break with Springsteen and the E Street Band didn't end hisrelationship with either Springsteen or the rest of the bandmembers, nor would it turn out to be permanent. By 1999 they wereback together for a reunion tour and the release of "The Rising."

But the years took a toll on Clemons' body, and he had to playthrough the pain of surgeries and other health woes.

"It takes a village to run the Big Man - a village ofdoctors," Clemons told The Associated Press in a phone interviewin 2010. "I'm starting to feel better; I'm moving around a lotbetter."

He published a memoir, "Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales," in2009 and continued to perform.

He is the second member of the E Street Band to pass away: In2008, Danny Federici, the keyboardist for the band, died at age 58of melanoma.

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