Posts Tagged ‘Clarence Clemons’

The Queen Of Soul

Friday, August 17th, 2018

I should have more to say about Aretha Franklin, who died yesterday at her home in Detroit, than it seems that I do.

It’s not that I don’t value or love her music. I have plenty of it – more than 130 tracks – on the digital shelves; I have several of her CDs; and a few LPs survived the Great Vinyl Sell-off the other year. And her music provided a lot of the soundtrack of my early teen years, years when I wasn’t listening to pop, rock and soul, but years when she was one of those artists – like the Beatles – whose music nevertheless seeped inside me without any effort on my part.

So why do I feel I have I so little to say?

Because Aretha Franklin as a subject for eulogy, memoir or memorial is too damned big. She towers over the music world in a way that few artists do. So I don’t know where to start or to end or even what to put in or leave out. And knowing that stuff is a huge part what I’m supposed to do as a writer, so that’s a little deflating.*

So what did Aretha mean to me? I was a little too young and a lot too white to grasp her impact when she came to Atlantic in 1966 and, well, I’m tempted to say she destroyed the existing order, but that’s a little too sweeping. Nevertheless, her 1967 album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You knocked a lot of listeners back in their chairs or wherever they were sitting. And Aretha continued to do that, single after single, album after album, year after year.

But y’all know that. Ain’t nothin’ new there.

So, my favorite Aretha? Well, I put “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” in the Ultimate Jukebox almost ten years ago, saying:

I don’t have much to say about Aretha Franklin and “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” I mean, she’s Aretha, and the record was one of her forty-five Top 40 hits (covering a span of years from 1961 to 1998). Add that “Since You’ve Been Gone” went to No. 5 in the early spring of 1968 (and was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart), and all you need to do after that is listen.

See, even back then, Aretha was too big for me. There are, however, other Aretha records I like more than “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” I love her take on “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)” from 1972. And I love her sinuous cover of “Spanish Harlem” from 1971.

(So why, you might ask, did those two recordings not make it into the Ultimate Jukebox? Well, Lulu’s version of “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)” showed up on my radio during my junior year of high school and attached itself forever to the memory of one whose attentions seemed unattainable, and I did not want two versions of the song in the project. And on the day I was choosing between Aretha’s version of “Spanish Harlem” and Ben E. King’s, I made the wrong choice.)

But that’s about me, and this is supposed to be about Aretha Franklin. So the least I can do is point you at the very good obituary and appreciation of her work written by Jon Bream that ran on the front page of this morning’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.

And maybe the best I can do this morning is to repeat what I posted at Facebook yesterday morning when I heard news of Aretha’s death:

There are plenty of reasons to grieve the loss of Aretha Franklin, but there are just as many reasons to celebrate our having had her here for so many years. So, by way of tribute, here’s her exultant “Freeway of Love” from 1985. (Saxophone courtesy of the Big Man, Clarence Clemons.)

R.I.P., Miss Franklin.

*As I think about that this morning, my mind looks to the future, and I know I’m going to feel the same way on the mornings after Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen leave this world. And that terrifies me and saddens me.

‘You Better Start Savin’ Up . . .’

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Quiet times here in the past few days, as the Texas Gal buried her nose in her textbooks and I stayed out of the way. She’s studying employment law and supervisory management this quarter, and although I’ll help where I can – I routinely review and edit papers quite gladly – I’ll have little to add to the conversation. (That’s not always been the case as she heads toward her paralegal degree; her several courses in constitutional law brought us some truly fascinating discussions.)

Anyway, as she studied, I did the minimum required housework and some cooking, watched a lot of football and continued to fight off a sinus infection that’s perplexing both me and Dr. Julie. As a result, I’ve done even less prep work for a post than my usual minimum. But something caught my eye Sunday as I read Jon Bream’s review at the Minneapolis Star Tribune website of Sunday night’s concert in St. Paul by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.

Bream noted that a sign in the audience requested the band play “Savin’ Up,” a tune Springsteen wrote for the first album recorded by the now-departed Clarence Clemons, an album titled Rescue, credited to Clarence Clemons & The Red Bank Rockers. Springsteen quickly taught the basics of the song to the band, the background singers and the horn section and then let loose a pretty darned good performance on the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center.

After listening to the live version by Bruce and the gang, I went digging, pretty sure I had Rescue. And I found it in the stack of LPs waiting to be ripped to mp3. But something else nagged at me, so I ran a search through the 65,000 mp3s. And there was “Savin’ Up,” collected as one of twenty-eight tracks on the 1997 two-CD set titled One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen. And a quick search at YouTube saved me some time.

Personnel on the Clemons’ version of “Savin’ Up” are: Clarence Clemons, saxophone and background vocals; John “J.T.” Bowen, lead vocals; David Landau, guitars; Bruce Springsteen, rhythm guitar; Ralph Schuckett, keyboard; John Siegler, bass; and Wells Kelly, drums.

Sorrow On The Edge Of Town

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

From the time a little more than a week ago when I heard that Clarence Clemons, saxophone player and the heart of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, had sustained a stroke, I expected worse news to come. Reports last week that he’d improved and was stable were welcome. But still, I wondered.

So it wasn’t a horrible surprise Saturday evening when I saw the first link shared on Facebook of a news report detailing the death of the man Springsteen – and his fans – called the Big Man. I read Monday at a number of news and music sites that the Stone Pony – the iconic night spot in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where Springsteen, Clemons and the rest frequently played – became a gathering place on Sunday for mourners on the Jersey Shore.

One of those pieces was by Angie Sugrim, who covers Asbury Park for the blog The Vinyl District. She, as did many, reminded readers of a night in 1971:

“And of course, on a dark and rainy night, Clemons stopped in on a show that young Bruce was playing, the door of the venue literally blown off by the storm that evening as Clarence opened it to enter. His hulking figure and dark visage, framed by the freshly stripped doorway immediately drew the band’s attention. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Well, I – like the vast majority of the Big Man’s fans – could not get to Asbury Park Saturday evening or Sunday. So where did I go? Facebook. For most of Saturday evening, the Springsteen and Clemons fans among those who are on my list of friends shared memories and posted links, taking us to news reports and to YouTube videos of Clemons’ performances with and without Springsteen and the E Street Band. (The evening reinforced a conclusion I’ve drawn over the past year, one that others have come to as well: Facebook has become the town square of the Internet.)

I said above that Clemons’ death wasn’t a horrible surprise, and it wasn’t. Still, it was a horrible piece of news. And for the second time in my life, I wept at the death of a favorite performer. The first was John Lennon. I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from that, if there are any to draw at all. I didn’t ponder anything Saturday evening. What I did was recall the two times I’d seen Clemons in concert, both in St. Paul: In 1989 when he was a member of Ringo Starr’s first All-Starr Band and in 2009, when Springsteen and the E Street Band were touring.

As the links to Springsteen and Clemons videos multiplied on Facebook, I went and put together my own simple video and posted the link at Facebook. And I dried my tears and joined the grieving crowd gathering in the virtual town square.