Saturday, June 5, 2010

Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers - July 9, 1993

Did I ever tell you about the time I met Clarence Clemons? Oh, it’s quite an interesting, silly story. If you’ve got a few minutes, sit back, grab a beer, and lend me your ear.

After witnessing the marathon Springsteen charity concert where members of the E-Street Band made guest appearances and I sprained my ankle, my wife (at the time) surprised me with tickets to see Clarence Clemons and The Red Bank Rockers. Clarence was performing a concert at a local New Jersey Club known as Neil’s New Yorker. Nancy had also decided to pay a little extra for backstage passes for an after show dinner party with the Big Man himself. I was going to meet Clarence!

We went to the show not knowing what to expect. What could Clarence perform solo other than You’re A Friend Of Mine? I was curious to see how he would sound on his own. The club was small and since we were VIP, we sat right down in front at a table. I’ve never sat at a table for a concert before (or since), so this was a new area of concert experience for me.

A comedian opened the show (there’s no way I can remember his name) and he was entertaining. That was the first time I ever saw a comedian open a concert. It was a different, but unique and enjoyable time. After the comedian, there was a 20 minute break and then it was time for the star of the night.

The Big Man. Clarence Clemons came out on stage and started off the evening. I do not know what songs he performed (other than You’re A Friend Of Mine). I do know that he was dressed in a rather flashy outfit with a matching headband. I was a little worried that Clarence might have decided he wanted to start pitching for the other team. His outfit was quite loud and his signature fedora was nowhere to be found. What the hell was going on with Clarence?

He performed for close to two hours and gave us a great show. When he was finished, he received polite applause from the stuffy, dinner theater crowd. Once the crowd shuffled out, Nancy and I slowly made out way backstage. As we were heading in that direction, we bumped into an acquaintance that was helping to promote the show. He lead us right to the buffet and told us that Clarence would be available any minute.

Nancy and I sat and ate (I can’t recall if the food was any good or not) and waited. Sure enough, after a few minutes, strolling into the room was the Big Man himself. Clarence Clemmons. He just stood near the buffet line and talked to everyone. What an amazingly polite person.

Nancy went up to get his autograph right away. I was never like that with celebrities. I’m not one to ask for autographs or to bother people because they’ve been on TV or are in a band. It’s just not my style. Nancy came back a few minutes later all smiles. She told me that Clarence was one of the nicest guys she ever met and that I should go talk to him.

Talk to him? What the hell would I have to say to Clarence “Big Man” Clemons? “Gee, I’m a huge fan?” I think he would know that considering I came to his show. Nancy was persistent though and with her encouragement, I finally went up to get Clarence’s autograph for her.

I meekly approached him and waited while the small crowd around him had their time to talk and ask him to sign things. One thing I noticed he was signing a lot of was the Born To Run cover. The infamous picture of Clarence and Bruce, side by side. I cursed myself for not thinking to bring that with me. That would be an awesome collectible to have. Everyone kept saying to him “Sign the good side” and would hold up the side with his picture. Clarence would politely flip the cover over to the picture of Bruce and say “That’s the good side” and he would sign it there. Wow! Even after Bruce broke up the band, Clarence’s allegiance was strong. What an amazing man.

Suddenly, it was my turn. I would like to say that I wasn’t nervous at all, but that would be a big lie. I was excited and giddy. This was Clarence after all! The first thing that I noticed about him as I slowly approached was how freaking big he was. At 6’ 7” (or taller) and over 280 pounds, well, that’s a BIG MAN. As I reached him and said hello, he shook my hand with one of his huge paws. His hand engulfed mine. He was big!

I believe we exchanged the usual pleasantries regarding his concert. I told him that I liked his performance and I was a big fan, all the same stuff he’s heard a million times. What I didn’t know about Clarence at that time was what a great storyteller he is and how he loves to tell and hear stories. Perhaps that’s why when I told him that I saw him a week ago at the benefit concert and had a funny story regarding that his ears perked up and he smiled a big smile. “Tell me the story,”

Wow! I was going to tell a story to Clarence Clemons. I proceeded to tell him about how I sprained my ankle when they announced him coming onstage. I told him how I was jumping up and down with excitement, caught my ankle the step and turned it. He laughed and said “Now that’s a fan!” It was a moment in my life that I will never forget. I asked him for an autograph (which he graciously gave), shook his hand again, and thanked him for his time.

I went back to my table and told Nancy the story. She smiled and we sat there in silence for a while, watching everyone approach Clarence and seeing how he made time to speak to everyone.

And that is how Ryo Vie met Clarence Clemons. It was my first time meeting a music celebrity, and it was a night that I will never forget.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was one of the people in the small group around him. I remember him talking about the show at the Meadowlands and how it meant alot to him that Bruce invited him to play. I have a photo of him in the outfit that night that you described.