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Jake Clemons | The saxophonist born in the USA, but happy in Quebec

In March 1988, 8-year-old Jake Clemons attended his first E Street Band show. “It was not only the first time I heard the band, it was also the first time I heard rock’n’roll in my entire life”, says the musician about the legendary formation, whose it is now part. Meeting with the adopted Quebecer, who now knows his rock’n’roll very well, and who these days visits the stages of the province.

Posted at 7:00 a.m.

Dominic Late

Dominic Late
The Press

How did Jake Clemons become a resident of Quebec? “It’s always love or work that makes you move”, replies the man who says he “grew up on all the American coasts”, because his father, a member of the United States Navy, was often called upon to pack his small.

Work or love, then, in his case? It was in the name of love that the big guy settled down a little over five years ago in the Laurentians, with a Quebec (and French-speaking) flight attendant, whom he met on the E Street Band plane. of Bruce Springsteen, which he joined in 2012.

“Let’s say it felt good to be able to chat with someone my age,” he confides with an embarrassed smile about the birth of their relationship; his comrades within the group being now all in their seventies. Smart septuagenarians, yes, but septuagenarians all the same. “They’re wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but it was nice to be able to talk to someone I had a bit more in common with. »

Son of a father of Southern Baptist obedience (a very conservative evangelical Christian denomination), Jake Clemons has long been preserved from this immoral cataclysm commonly known as rock’n’roll, the family record player playing only gospel and marching band music. His ears will remain virgin of electric guitars until this epiphanic spectacle of 1988, during which he will finally see his Big Man uncle in action, in all his flamboyant splendour, and during which the desire for the saxophone will grab him.

“It was a very intense evening, but beyond the music, it was the energy that reigned in the room that immediately captivated me. I was really in shock. I couldn’t believe how strong it was! »

A difficult decision

Jake Clemons had just released his first EP, It’s On, when, in June 2011, his colossal uncle, 69, was carrying his sax into the afterlife for good. Bruce Springsteen will declare in the process that the departure of the one on whom he relied, literally and figuratively, for nearly four decades, had been for him as disorienting as if the planet Earth had lost the rain.

Jake, for whom Clarence was “like a father”, had already followed him on the road, just in case, from the tour Magic, in 2007. For quite a while, Big C’s numerous health issues had made the boss of bosses’ marathon shows increasingly taxing.

He had been telling me for years: “When I am no longer here, you are going to replace me.” And I thought that was completely ridiculous! I couldn’t imagine that happening. So much so that when I accompanied him in 2007, I hadn’t learned any songs. But when I got the call from Bruce in 2012, it was a tough decision.

Jake Clemons

A difficult decision to join a group that fills stadiums and arenas all over the globe? Although such procrastination may seem absurd, Jake Clemons was already working at that time on the construction of his own work, with a certain instinct for the chorus which settles permanently between the ears of the unifying rock lover.

“It was a difficult decision, because I felt that I was already on my own path, but I also felt that I had a responsibility,” recalls the man whose most recent album, Eyes on the Horizon (2019), is a powerful synthesis of alternative rock, soul, punk and folk, at the heart of which his voice plays the main role more than his sax.

A few days later, Jake is having a drink in a New York bar with his friend, songwriter and actor Glen Hansard. “Glen said to me, ‘You have no choice, from now on you have to become two people.’ And just as the words came out of her mouth, Two of Ryan Adams started playing. » Key phrase of this song: It takes two when it used to take one.


Jake Clemons and Bruce Springsteen on stage in Cleveland in February 2016

“It was one of those weird cosmic moments. It was there that I understood that I had to agree to carry the torch, to play this role, and that I also had to give everything to my career, remain entirely myself. »

Even if his own albums are always considered through the lens of his association with the Boss? “I understand how I could view it in a negative light, but that would be irresponsible and ungrateful of me. The benefits are much greater than the disadvantages: I find myself occupying a unique place in history and I am the apprentice of these legends, from whom I learn to create a show that transcends the present moment, that provides a catharsis, which…” Jake hesitates. “I’m learning with E Street to create a show that can change someone’s life. »

For one last time?

Although his small family is settled in Quebec, Jake Clemons, 42, had never before visited his vast territory with his music, which he is remedying this summer on the stages of several festivals, thanks to his new association. with the Montreal box Bonsound. “I love Montreal and Quebec, because here, culture has real value, an essential value,” he explains in English, his French still being a little too rudimentary.

Jake Clemons once said in an interview to breathe more easily as soon as he returns to Canada, because he is not afraid at all times, here, of being shot. A charged sentence, which he does not disavow.

I’m only speaking from my own experience and I don’t want to invalidate anyone else’s, but in Canada I’ve been stopped by the police three times and two of those times it was because they wanted to offer me help.

Jake Clemons

One day he finds himself on the side of a highway trying to trace the missing child seat that his wife had forgotten on the roof of the car. “As soon as I saw the police coming, I said to myself: ‘That’s it, I’m going to prison.’ But the policeman wanted to offer me to block the traffic! I was stunned. »

And the upcoming Bruce Springsteen tour, which will begin on the 1er February 2023 in Tampa, is this the last of the E Street Band?

“I hope it’s not the last, but at the same time, I understand the fans for imagining that it could be, because it’s also a fact of life. But we would like that nothing ever stops. I never wanted that job, because I would have liked Clarence to be able to continue performing. It was there that he was happiest. I wish he could stay on stage forever. »

Jake Clemons will be at the Festivent de Lévis on August 4, at Place Laval in Gatineau on August 5 and at the Festival international Rythmes du monde de Saguenay on August 14.

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