One kid’s dream of following in his uncle’s footsteps ends up going far beyond just fulfilling one dream.
By Steve Houk
When saxophonist Clarence Clemons passed away on June 18, 2011, the Springsteen Nation stopped breathing for a moment.
Not only was there a deeply palpable and profound feeling of grief, but there was also a fear that Bruce just might not want to go back out there without his muse, his partner in crime, his sidekick, his…Big Man.
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Enter Jake Clemons, Clarence’s sax playing nephew. Since he was a youngster, he had watched his famous uncle thrill the world with his horn as a member of the E Street Band, but never had even the remotest thought that one day he would step into his shoes.
“My first concert ever was when I was eight, it was (Bruce’s) Tunnel Of Love tour, and I went with my Dad, who is Clarence’s brother,” Jake Clemons said on a break before the start of his current tour that hits Vienna’s Jammin Java on September 19th. “I was in awe of the band, and really just blown away by what I was seeing. But I knew right then I wanted to play the saxophone. It wasn’t only because of the sound, but because of the vanity as well. I mean, every time Clarence played, the whole place just shook. And I knew I wanted to feel that. But my Dad said, ‘No sax until you learn how to play notes on the piano first.’ ”
Clemons did learn the piano, and then five years later, the sax. And then, after years aspiring to be in his own band, playing his own music, Jake Clemons got the nod from Springsteen to replace…well, not really replace, but you know…step in for his famous uncle as the saxophonist for the E Street Band.
“Of course I never had any idea, or would ever think, that I would be playing with Bruce, right where my uncle stood,” the affable Clemons said. “I wasn’t that egotistical to think that and it really never crossed my mind. But it’s funny the way things work out.”
“Work out” is an understatement. Clemons has toured all over the world with Springsteen as his sax player for the past five years, and after some initial and understandable trepidation has been welcomed with open arms by the Springsteen fanbase. He recently finished a world tour with Bruce on The River redux tour, so yes, dreams do come true. But even more importantly, he is now on his own tour, with his own band, supporting his excellent new record Fear and Love, his first full-length album. It’s a very personal record that speaks directly from his heart.
“Fear and Love is really a personal journey of a record, a very deep and introspective album,” Clemons said. “It’s a kind of story. It starts off with a bit of a ‘warning’ at the very beginning, and then it works its way along the road, through hardship and conflict, and then into the resolve, and new beginnings. I mean, it’s my story, my introspection, and I wanted people to feel that.”
Not only did his “new boss” drive him to be the best he can be, but he gave Clemons some profound advice that hes would carry to this day. It’s advice that would inspire him not only on stages around the world with the E Street Band, but now, when playing in and leading his own band and forging his own path.
“Anyone who knows Bruce or his music knows that he wants to give the audience the best show of their lives, every single night. At the beginning of the Wrecking Ball tour, Bruce pulled me aside, and he said, ‘Listen man, it’s important you understand this. You need to keep earning it, ‘cuz after forty plus years of doing this, I’m going on that stage and still earning it.’ That really, really blew me away. That’s the thing that engages the audience every night, and that’s where the fans are born and kept. And now, it’s what I bring to my own band. I want us to give our best every single night as well. And I think we do that.”
So what would he say to his beloved Uncle Clarence after all this success?
“I’d tell him that I always aspired to be as great as he was, while also keeping my own identity and humility. I think he’d dig that.”
Jake Clemons performs Tuesday September 19th at Jammin Java, 227 Maple Ave E
Vienna, VA. For tickets click here.