80's Horn Chapter 2: Big Man

Last week I delved into the spectrum of 1980’s saxophone criminality, extolling the simultaneous virtue and malfeasance concerning Lost Boy’s sax mountain Tim Cappello.

In my fawning over Cappello, which was justified and timely, I regrettably ran out of space to provide an additional examination of another monumental horn stalwart of this era.

Only one man can shadow the force that is Cappello - the original Big Man, Sax hero of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band, Clarence Clemons

Fans of the Boss and the 80’s period diagnosticate Clemons as the barrel-chested powerhouse behind solos in tunes ‘Born to Run’, ‘Badlands’, ‘Thunder Road and ‘Junglelands’.

For the uninitiated, he is the huge bastard with the red leather vest pumping out high elbow moves and double palm claps behind The Boss and Courtney Cox in the clip for ‘Dancing in the Dark’.

It is rock folklore that Big Man got wind of Springsteen’s band performing on a stormy night in a dive bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey 1971. Rain and wind blew the door off its hinges, Clemons standing imposing, framed in the doorway, silhouetted. The Boss stared out from the stage towards Clemons. Clemons ogled back.

“I wanna play with your band”, said Clemons. “You do whatever you want”, replied the Boss.

At that electric moment, in the fury of a New Jersey storm, the Boss and the Big Man recognised that they were what each other was looking for, the missing link in each others lives.

Clemons is a legend in his own right. While exuding far less cheese and grease to that of Cappello, he is no less imposing than the long haired lummox and arguably far more solid, sprinkling an understated element of class, stoutheartedness and a badass flat-top to the ‘gallant 1980’s sax monster’ paradigm. Check out this clip of Big Man dressed in a male stripper outfit tearing it up on early 80's Letterman and tell me you don't feel it down south. (Incidentally note Paul Schaffer's daggy acid wash and retroactive hair. Is it just me or does he resemble a young Karl Rove?)

Akin to Capello’s appearance in Lost Boys, Big Man Clemons appeared notably as lead ‘Most important person in the world’ of the Future Council in the final throes of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

He also released a swag of particular head shaking solo releases, one which I purchased on vinyl from Dave’s Boutique in Smith St last year for laughs and a prudent 50 cents. It is heavy on the synth, light on quality. Even less fantastic and ideal for a good laugh is the uber-camp film clip to the 1985 collaboration with Jackson Browne, ‘You’re a friend of Mine’. Note Browne’s terrible bowlcut and the Darryl Hannah cameo, pre-Browne-induced shiner. This is probably worse than 'Ebony and Ivory'.

These days, Big Man uses a walking cane and can't stand through a whole Springsteen gig. Considering the Boss usually wails for in excess of 3 hours every show, this is understandable.

Ailments aside, Big Man remains larger than life itself. If the speculative criteria was to credit a cocktail of growl sturdiness, tone brightness, sonic rudeness, meaty disposition and role in an 80’s flick then Clarence Clemons sits exalted and mighty right beside Capello in the pantheon of brutal 1980s saxophone deities.

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