RIP Clarence & Kevin: The Jersey Shore Loses Two of its Own
Last night brought us the news of the death of Clarence Clemons, the man whose larger-than-life persona as the E Street Band’s sax wailer brought him world-wide fame and adoration. The 69-year-old Clemons died of complications from a stroke suffered last week, and his loss creates a musical void that will, for the members of E Street Nation, never be filled. Clarence wasn’t just a member of Bruce’s band. He was “the Big Man”; Bruce’s main partner on stage; and, in recognition of his importance to Bruce and the band, always the last person introduced at concerts.
Clarence’s sax was an integral part of the E Street Band’s music; from his haunting solo in “Jungleland” to his performances in “Born to Run” and “Rosalita”. Famously referred to in “Tenth Avenue Freezeout” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5hgaIMDNpI , the Big Man was referred to by Bruce in concerts as “the King of the World”. The band’s music represented the Jersey Shore, the music borne of clubs in Asbury Park and its environs, and one could not grow up in Jersey during the 70’s and 80’s without hearing the E Street Band’s music blaring on the boardwalk. It wasn’t just music. It was, and for many still is, a religion.
Springsteen’s E Street Band is unquestionably the most famous band of musicians to emerge from the Jersey shore bar scene. “The Boss” and his mates have sold many millions of records, and have sold out arenas and stadiums across the globe. But there are legions of other musicians who rose from that area as well, and who have entertained people across the Garden State and elsewhere with their blues-based, horn-infused brand of music.
Yesterday’s paper contained an obituary of another Jersey shore legend, Kevin Kavanaugh, who died on June 4 from an undisclosed illness. Like Clemons, Kavanaugh was a part of the Asbury Park music scene for decades, and achieved his own greatest success during a 15-year stint as keyboard player for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
Southside Johnny Lyon is, basically, like Bruce’s little brother when it comes to music success and fame. The Asbury Jukes have, for decades, played a distant second to the E Street Band. Many people have played for both ensembles, most notably Little/Miami Steve Van Zandt, the Juke horns (Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg, Ed Manion, and others), and Bruce’s wife, Patty Scialfa. Bruce has written songs for Southside (“Talk to Me”, written by Bruce and recently released on his album “The Promise”, was recorded by Southside in 1978: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xacdz4-g7BE&feature=related) and has lent his voice to songs on Southside’s albums for decades. Bruce is the consummate showman. Johnny is a not-so-distant second. The E Street Band concerts are legendary for energy and length. The Asbury Juke concerts are not far behind. Bruce and his boys closed down the old Giants Stadium with a set of concerts. Johnny and his mates played in the parking lot of the new Meadowlands stadium before games.
Kavanaugh never reached Clemons’ level of fame nor success; mirroring the fact that Bruce is much more well-known than Southside. But his death also leaves a void in the minds and hearts of the Jersey shore music faithful, those who can still see his fingers beating the keyboards on classics like “Trapped Again” and the always-raucous versions of Sam Cooke’s “Havin’ a Party”. This version of “Havin’ a Party,” from 1978, contains members of both the E Street Band and Asbury Jukes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG-Ng1f_xUk.
Of course, Clemons’ music and fame were not confined to his time with the E Street Band. During the band’s hiatus in the mid-1980’s, he released a solo album which contained his duet with Jackson Browne, “You’re a Friend of Mine” - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xacdz4-g7BE&feature=related. He played with Aretha Franklin on the hit “Freeway of Love”, and most recently, garnered an entirely new fan base of “little monsters” by playing on Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory.”
Both bands still play, and the youthful exuberance shown the groups of men in their sixties is remarkable. I been fortunate to have seen the E Streeters, including Clemons, in concert six times, most recently when they closed down Giants Stadium. They may have been a little slower, but the band still put on an incredible show. Now, with the loss of Clemons, how the band’s on-stage chemistry will change remains to be seen. I have seen the Jukes about the same amount of times, maybe more. The most recent time was outside the New Meadowlands Stadium last fall. It was an abbreviated show, of course, but felt almost identical to when we would trek down to the Garden State Arts Center or Great Adventure to see Southside and his boys, including Kevin Kavanaugh, rock.
Rest in Peace, Clarence and Kevin. You have each left your mark on the music world, a mark which extends far greater than the confines of our home state. We all owe you a debt of gratitude, and will be listening to your music today, all summer, and for the rest of our lives. It defines where we came from, and, to a certain extent, who we are.