Jake Clemons: No Springs attached
Sax maestro Jake Clemons (nephew of the late Clarence) is looking forward to his solo trek around Ireland. He might even get a bit of surfing in, he tells Jim Carroll
Jake Clemons is coming back to town. Over the summer, you may have seen him onstage playing saxophone with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band during their five- gig Irish run. This time around, Clemons is snaking his way around the country with his own band under his own steam without the Springsteen hullabaloo
But there’s no getting away from the fact that the Springsteen connection means more people will be paying attention to Clemons compared to on his last Irish tour in 2011. An 18 month stint on the Wrecking Ball tour as a paid-up member of the E Street Band does enhance a musician’s profile.
Clemons inherited the gig from his late uncle Clarence, an E Street Band mainstay from day one. His uncle’s death in 2011 meant there was a spot in the ranks for the younger player but he was a little hesitant when the call came.
“My hesitation was never about the playing per se,” he says. “It was an awareness of the weight of that spot, the weight of what has been lost. That’s what I was bearing. There are many musicians who are phenomenal players who can play notes, but it’s a different matter when the notes carry so much heart and soul and meaning.
“For me, it was about honouring and respecting Clarence and what he meant to the band. In no way whatsoever have I replaced Clarence. That’s not a word that I would ever use.”
His uncle’s role in his musical life should not be under-estimated. Clemons remembers going to see him play a show as a kid. “That was my first moment of knowing that I wanted to do music with my life. There was something about that show that was just phenomenal. That was the inspiration for me.”
Clemons began to play whenever and wherever he could around Virginia Beach. “I was studying in school but I was also playing professionally around town from a young age and pushing that end of things. My education was a combination of school and the streets.”
The schooling served him well. “There was a specialist programme in Virginia called the Governor’s School for the Arts where you would do a few high school courses and then move onto university, where you’d have five hours of music study a day and I did that.”
But Clemons’s real studying was done on the streets. “At the same time, I was also out looking for gigs for me and my band wherever I could get them.
“We did a classic routine of going to a club or coffeeshop on a Tuesday and saying ‘you have no business here tonight so how about me and my friends come here and play a show for free and you can pay us the next time when people come back to have a good time’. And it worked!
“So, absolutely, I was a hustler. We played seven nights a week and learned the business side of things and how to put a value on your own effort.”
At the start, Clemons was reluctant to lean on his famous name and played shows as Jake Christian, using his mother’s name.