Keepin’ up with the Big Man
Clemons, who appears Saturday evening in a huge, free concert at Checkpoint Charlie, will be slipping into his non-Springsteen mode with his own band, the Temple of Soul.
And as the 63-year-old legend explains, speaking from his home in South Florida’s Riviera Beach, the band is an opportunity to demonstrate that there’s more to his career than belting out some brassy honks, behind the Boss. Clemons, by the way, has just released “Live From Asbury Park II,” a follow-up to 2002’s debut release by his funky 12-member ensemble.
“Things are a little more intense on this album,” he says. “And I’m very pleased … it’s exactly what I wanted it to be. I’m also happy that a lot of people are starting to recognize me for this band and us trying to do something different. I mean, I love Bruce, I love the E Street Band, and that’s definitely a big part of my life, but as the quote goes, ‘Each one wants to leave his own footprints in the sand.'”
Clemons’ side-project ensemble offers a mix of sounds the Big Man says he doesn’t get to experience as part of the Springsteen world, with rockin’ blues, jazz and a bit of Latin flavor blended with the larger-than-life 1960s-style horns he played and loved at the beginning of his career.
The recording Clemons’ seventh solo outing and represents just part of his many talents – over the years, he’s been heard doing guest work with musicians running the gamut from Aretha Franklin and Roy Orbison to hair metal monsters Great White. He’s also leant his talents to Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band, the Jerry Garcia Band and the Red Bank Rockers, his earlier backing band.
In addition to the music, Clemons has been enjoying a thriving side career as an movie and television actor and screenwriter, appearing in “Fatal Instinct,” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Blues Brothers 2000” and TV shows including “Nash Bridges” and “The Sentinel.” It’s a parallel life he’s been pursuing more enthusiastically these days, including his efforts to produce a script for ABC’s “My Wife and Kids.”
“‘New York, New York’ was my first acting job, and when you break into the business by appearing with Liza Minelli, it’s all downhill afterwards,” he says. “But I really enjoy the acting business. While I’m out in Hollywood promoting my album, I’ve been talking to people and trying to get my scripts produced and get that part of my career more underway. Acting means a lot of hurry up and wait, but I think it’s a great outlet for my creative powers, much in the same way I love to cook – I like to try to appease all of my artistic tendencies.”
Clemons’ professional musical life began in the ’60s after a promising career in football was permanently sidelined. He’d attended the University of Maryland on a scholarship but dropped out to play with the New Jersey Generals and the Newark Bears; the night before his try-out with the Cleveland Browns, he was badly injured in a car accident and had to shift his focus.
And after several years of gigging around the East Coast, Clemons first crossed paths with Springsteen one fateful day in 1973 – and the rest, as they say, is history. Still reeling from 2002’s exceptionally successful world tour with Springsteen and band, Clemons says he’s not sure when he’ll get the call to return to duty.
“I don’t really have a clue when we’ll be going out again. In the meantime, I think I’ll go back and do a studio album with my band – it’s about time, as we’ve never done one before.”
Clemons recently celebrated his 63rd birthday, and despite having a double hip replacement six years ago (“Unfortunately, I’m not really a snow person, and because of the hip work, I can’t ski, either,” he says), you’d have a hard time pegging the Big Man as a guy approaching traditional retirement age. His devotion to exercise and a healthy regimen have kept him looking considerably better than his musical counterparts (hear that, Keith and Mick).
“Right from the start, I kinda tried to prepare myself for a long one, and I’ve been taking care of myself no matter what. It doesn’t matter how great your spirit is, if your body can’t keep up with it, you’re in trouble.”