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Little Steven Pays Tribute To Clarence Clemons, Indicates the E Street Band Will Continue

Roger Kisby/Jim Dyson, Getty Images
Roger Kisby/Jim Dyson, Getty Images

An appropriately stripped back and slowed down rendition of ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ provided the opening music for what ‘Little’ Steven Van Zandt billed a “tribute to the memory of my friend, Clarence Clemons,” which aired nationwide this past weekend on Steven’s ‘Underground Garage’ radio show.

Recorded live in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve in 1975, the version of ‘Tenth Avenue’ was one of many special musical moments cherry-picked by Van Zandt that were scattered throughout the two hour cornucopia of Clarence highlights. Classic Springsteen tracks, and Clemons’ own music, both solo and with his band, the Red Bank Rockers, were also featured.

Coming out of ‘Tenth Avenue,’ Van Zandt, sounding a bit hoarse after a busy week of funeral-related activities and travel, eulogized his friend with an opening statement that lasted nearly four minutes, covering a multitude of subjects. Van Zandt spoke of the “special bond” that exists in a band and the “unique combination of elements that become stronger together than apart.”

He called Clemons an “irreplaceable performer” and a “lifelong friend and brother” who brought a “strong featured presence” to the E Street Band during a time in the ’70s when it was “dangerously unfashionable” to include the “embarrassingly and hopelessly anachronistic” saxophone within a band’s musical mix. Van Zandt also noted the “profound racial implications” of having a black man in a “white rock band” during the time period.

At the core of Van Zandt’s words, he gave thanks to Clemons for “blowing life-changing energy and hope into this miserable world with your big beautiful lungs.” He continued, “Thank you for sharing a piece of that big heart nightly with the world — it needs it, you and that magnificent saxophone, celebrating, confessing, seeking redemption and providing salvation, all at once. Speaking wordlessly, but so eloquently with that pure sound you made, the sound of life itself.”

Buried within the tribute was an important message – according to Van Zandt, “we will continue to make music and perform – let’s face it, that’s all we really know how to do. But it will be very different without him, just as it’s been different without Danny [Federici], our first lost comrade.” He acknowledged the everlasting importance of both and said “for the E Street Band, the heart of us, Clarence and Danny, will always be there, stage right.”

Hear the Clemons tribute on ‘Underground Garage’ via this link. Also, check out our picks for the Top 10 Clarence Clemons Songs.

Listen to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Perform ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ in Philadelphia in 1975

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