Immortalized on the iconic cover of his breakthrough third album, Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen's friendship with Clarence Clemons, the saxophone player in his E Street Band, was famously close.
Clemons played a huge musical role in the E Street Band, helping bring Springsteen's tales of youth, romance and lovable but complex characters to life, and adding soaring, melodic solos to many of his most beloved and endearing hits.
On June 12, 2011, Clemons suffered a massive stroke at his home in Florida, the complications of which he would succumb to (opens in new tab) six days later. He was 69 years old.
On June 18, 2011, shortly before Clemons passed away, Springsteen paid his friend a final visit. Fittingly, as he told Howard Stern on a newly-released episode of The Howard Stern Show, Springsteen brought his guitar to the hospital to play him one last song.
“I had a feeling he could hear me because he could squeeze your hand," Springsteen told Stern. "When I first went to see him, there was some response to your voice and being in the room. I knew that he was gonna die. I just brought the guitar in, and I strummed this song called Land of Hope and Dreams.”
When Stern asked Springsteen why he chose that song in particular to play for Clemons, the singer answered that “it’s about passing over to the other side, you know? It’s about life and death."
He then plays some of the song solo for Stern, utilizing the same stirring, bare-bones arrangement of the tune that he used in his long-running string of solo Broadway performances (opens in new tab).
“It was one of the last songs that Clarence and I worked on a sax solo together on,” Springsteen concluded. “That was it, you know? There wasn’t anything else to say.”
Clarence Clemons' place in the E Street Band was taken by a full horn section that includes his nephew, Jake Clemons.
The full E Street horn section is featured on Only the Strong Survive, Springsteen's forthcoming R&B/soul covers album, which is set for a November 11 release and can be pre-ordered via Springsteen's website (opens in new tab).