NEW YORK — It takes two men to replace The Big Man.
Bruce Springsteen announced Thursday that two musicians – Jersey Shore sidekick Eddie Manion and Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake – will “share the saxophone role” during the E Street Band’s “Wrecking Ball” world tour, which begins March 18 in Atlanta.
The new “Wrecking Ball” album, which will be released March 6, is Springsteen’s 17th, and the first since the sudden death of the E Street Band’s saxophonist last summer.
The long-awaited, and much-speculated-upon, sax decision also included news that singers Cindy Mizelle and Curtis King, trombonist Clark Gayton and trumpeter Curt Ramm will tour with E Street, along with newcomer Barry Danielian on trumpet.
Jake Clemons, son of a former Marine Corps band director, began performing with his family as a child, and his career was championed by his famous uncle.
Eddie “Kingfish” Manion is a longtime saxophonist with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a group that has cross-pollinated for decades with Springsteen and E Street. He was with the horn section during Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love tour in 1988, and also played with the Seeger Sessions Band, along with Ramm and Gayton.
Manion recently told New Jersey’s Star-Ledger that he had sometimes been urged to “just sound like Clarence Clemons. … But you couldn’t. Nobody could sound like that. He had a sound of his own, and that’s what made him great.”
The decision on how to fill the Big Man’s larger-than-life role in the E Street Band was not an easy one. The personal and professional aftershocks from the devastating June 18 loss have not subsided. His sax was a pillar of the E Street sound; Clemons also was the band’s spiritual center.
His comrades have struggled through the healing process, offstage and on.
Last July, E Street’s Steven Van Zandt joined Southside Johnny Lyon and his Jukes for an outdoor musical tribute to Clemons in Asbury Park, N.J. Instead of a moment of silence, the mayor led the crowd in a moment of noise in the Big Man’s memory. Manion poured his heart into Clemons’ most famous solo, “Jungleland.”
E Street’s equally broken-hearted Nils Lofgren dedicated his album “Old School” to Clemons, and has included references to him in live performances of “Miss You Ray,” a song originally written about Ray Charles.
The selection of a Southside stalwart for the tour doesn’t come as a total surprise. Lyon recently let it slip to an interviewer that Springsteen was “stealing” some of his famously big brass section. But in interviews that followed, Van Zandt sidestepped the subject, suggesting there was no done deal yet.
In the interim, various solutions were employed to make music without the Big Man.
On July 16, making his first public performance since the loss, Springsteen appeared at an Asbury Park tribute with Clemons crony J.T. Bowen and the Sensational Soul Cruisers, singing an old E Street song “Action in the Streets” with a band that included sax players Steve Barlotta and Joey Stann.
In November, Springsteen did a concert in Pittsburgh with longtime collaborator Joe Grushecky and his Houserockers band. “We don’t have horns, but we’ll give this one a shot,” he said before launching into an E Street show standard “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.”
During Springsteen’s glorious Jan. 14 Light of Day benefit performance in Asbury Park, guitars – including those of Grushecky and Houserocker Danny Gochnour – bridged what would have been Clemons’ solo during the E Street standard “The Promised Land.”
Houserocker Joffo Simmons, who had just given up his drums to E Street’s Max Weinberg, pointed heavenward. Springsteen smiled and offered a shout-out: “Big Man!”
It seemed no coincidence to some when Southside showed up at that show with his new band, the Poor Fools. Springsteen joked that it was hard getting used to seeing his old friend in the new role. In yet another cross-pollination, Soozie Tyrell, a violinist, guitarist and singer who performs with E Street, played with the Poor Fools that night.
A week earlier, several sax players – including Jake Clemons – were featured at a touching memorial benefit in Norfolk, Va. The show was buoyed by E Street bassist Garry Tallent, Bon Jovi’s Bobby Bandiera, Southside and a band fronted by the Big Man’s son, Clarence Clemons III, who’s known as Nick.
Jake Clemons showcased some impressive singer-songwriter skills that night. But mostly, the soon-to-be co-successor to the throne – playing solo and amid a solid sax trio with Stann and Michael Antunes – was awash in the moment as his horn wailed in honor of the Big Man.