I clearly remember the first time I ever heard Clarence Clemons play sax. The Old Grey Whistle Test, that exemplar of taste and musical goofiness, regularly used to roll out a clip from the 1978 Winterland gig that’s one of the all-time classics for followers of the E Street Band. Bruce was still a skinny, hyperactive runt. They played Rosalita. The whole song is propelled by the Big Man’s horn, driving, adding drama and little points of thrill and beauty even as it revs behind Bruce as he tries to talk Rosalita into a night-time tryst. He’s massive in that clip, physically and musically. And boy, could he ever pull off that salmon-pink suit. The guy was always sartorially … adventurous.
There’s a lot of distraught fans out there posting Youtube clips of Clarence’s Jungleland solo. It’s one of his finest moments, I’ll grant you. But Rosalita shows how the Big Man was the bedrock of the E Street sound, the heart and yes, goddammit, the soul. I don’t mind admitting to you that I’m a tiny bit tearful about today’s sad news.
The angels are in for a treat tonight. Blow, Big Man.