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Bruce Springsteen: Hot Press Meets Jake Clemons

They were some of the biggest boots to fill in rock. But Jake Clemons, nephew of legendary Springsteen sax-player Clarence Clemons, proved more than up to the task after his uncle tragically passed away. He talks about stepping into the breach, life inside the Bruce camp and his close friendship with Frames man Glen Hansard...

Stuart Clark, 15 Jul 2013

Never before has there been such a flagrant case of bullying in the workplace. A new employee crippled with pain being mocked in front of others by his boss who just happens to be The Boss.

I’m referring to the aggravated piss-taking Jake Clemons was subjected to last year as he arrived on stage for the second of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s RDS shows in a wheelchair.

“We’ve a little bit of a situation... Jake sneezed last night and his back went,” a giggling Bruce said of his sax man’s predicament. “He won’t be chasing me round the stage tonight. He’s in constant pain, but don’t worry about that!”

Abusive or what? It’s taken eleven months but with the help of his real friends and family, Jake has somehow managed to put the hurtful episode behind him.

“Yeah, I made E Street Band history that night for all the wrong reasons,” he rues. “I’m not going to lie; it was embarrassing! What Bruce did was actually perfect – the joking around made me relax and, painful though it was in parts, I really enjoyed the gig.”

What was the cause of the gargantuan gesundheit?

“My hay fever was really bad that day and as we got to the end of ‘American Land’ I could feel this monster sneeze welling up. I didn’t want to subject 40,000 people to the site of snot spraying out of my nose – possibly on the big screen! – so I turned my head around. As I did the sneeze erupted and this bolt of pain shot through my back. I thought I’d pulled a muscle but actually it was an annular disc tear. I went to see a phenomenal Irish doctor who did a scan and showed me what the problem was.”

It wasn’t the first time a semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs through the nose and mouth had got Jake into trouble.

“It didn’t require a trip to the emergency room, but one time in grade school I literally sneezed myself out of my chair!”

Jake is enjoying a rare day off in Glasgow following The E Street Band’s slaying of Hampden Park – a 3hr 45min affair, which included an extra poignant ‘10th Avenue Freeze Out’ tribute to his Uncle Clarence who died exactly two years ago following a stroke.

“The E Street family – which is both band and fans – were so loving and supportive yesterday,” he smiles. “I’d have found it really difficult if I’d been on my own, but up there on stage it felt like a celebration of The Big Man. There were high-fives all round afterwards because we knew we’d done him proud.”

Like Clarence, Jake grew up in North Virginia where his dad was a Marine Corps band director.

“I’ve just moved back there actually,” he divulges. “I’d been in New York for a while and just wanted to be somewhere a little more chilled. My dad conducted these guys who were all amazing musicians and great showmen because the Marine Corp band is all about spectacle and working the crowd. I went to the Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts where I learned a bit

of pretty much everything – saxophone, piano, flute, clarinet, bass, drums, guitar... My first love was jazz; then I discovered Run-DMC, KRS-One, N*E*R*D, The Neptunes, Arrested Development, Public Enemy and all that other old school rap stuff. My birth canal into rock was Nirvana’s Nevermind. Everything literally changed for me the day I heard that.”

When did he cop that his Uncle Clarence’s job wasn’t your routine 9 to 5 affair?

“This is going to sound silly, but not until I saw my first E Street Band show in 1998. I knew he was away travelling a lot, but why exactly didn’t register until I saw him there blowing up a storm on the saxophone. I was like, ‘Wow, I want to do that when I grow up!’

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