Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band of brothers is dwindling. Three years ago, organist Danny Federici died from skin cancer, at age 58. Then on June 18, 2011, saxophonist Clarence "Big Man" Clemons died, at 69, from the effects of a stroke he had suffered a week earlier. When Federici died, the band was on the road without him. He was replaced onstage by one of the players from Springsteen's Seeger Sessions band. And, in his official statement after Clemons' death, Springsteen clearly implied that the band would continue, saying, “With Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”
But it is hard to imagine the sparks flying on E Street without Clemons. For one thing, his saxophone was sonically crucial in most of the band's best-known songs. Clemons was not, technically speaking, a great saxophone player. But that was beside the point. As Clemons himself pointed out, he was a rock-and-roll sax player, and rock and roll plays by its own set of rules. Chuck Berry was not a particularly accomplished guitarist and Bob Dylan was nobody's Caruso. But they were both great in rock-and-roll terms because they had a distinctive sound and an original, if primitive, form of personal expression that connected both with a contemporary audience and deep American tradition. It's that very unschooled idiosyncrasy that would seem to make Clemons' horn irreplaceable. If a hired session player takes his solos, the E Street Band will become simply another legacy act descending into unintentional self-parody.