Jake Clemons takes ‘outward-looking’ approach on new material

Jake Clemons interview

JAKE CLEMONS

It’s hard to believe, but next year, 2021, will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Clarence Clemons. Jan. 11 of this year would have been his 78th birthday, and the production company BIG RoaD will present a two-day tribute to him that will double as a benefit for the Monmouth County SPCA, Jan. 10 at The Headliner in Neptune and Jan. 11 at Bar Anticipation in Lake Como.

Clemons’ nephew Jake, who replaced him in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, will headline at The Headliner. He says he still thinks about his uncle every time he performs.

“Absolutely, every day I do,” said Jake, 39, who is not just a saxophonist but a compelling singer-songwriter and bandleader.

Clemons’ 2017 solo album, Fear & Love, was introspective and personal, while his 2019 release, Eyes on the Horizon, was more about politics and the state of the world. When I saw him perform at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park in September – the week of the album’s release — he conveyed a sense of urgency that suited the message-filled material.

“The record is about recognizing the problems that we’re living in, and recognizing the issues that are in front of us,” he says. “Not turning a blind eye. The problems … are not issues that should be dividing us. They should be bringing us closer together. And (the album is about) keeping engaged, keeping focused on what’s ahead, and on the people that we want to be, and the character that we want to have.”

Even in the short period of time since the album was released, Clemons says, his perspective on some of the songs has changed.

JAKE CLEMONS

“That’s one of the most exciting things,” he says. “When you’re performing them, you’re meeting people after the shows, you’re getting different stories, and how people are connecting to the songs. Inevitably, it allows my perspective to change, and grow with it.

“It’s an outward-looking record, and it’s one that is speaking to a society. I definitely feel like these shows are a hands-on, direct way to communicate what those songs are saying.”

Clemons said he’s not sure if his next album will have the same favor. But he has written one composition, since Eyes on the Horizon was recorded, that would fit right in: “Where Do We Run” (see video below). He wrote it in the summer, immediately after a mass shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach.

“Where do we run,” sings Clemons, “to find shelter from the guns/To find shelters from the ones/Who will sell you for a profit, and a coffin.”

Clemons happened to have some studio time booked with legendary producer/engineer Eddie Kramer — whose credits include Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Kiss — immediately after the shooting.

Kramer “heard me playing it on the piano, and insisted that I finish it that day, and that we record it before we left,” says Clemons, who grew up in Virginia Beach, among other cities. “When you know the street that (the shooting) is happening on, it’s a different feeling. Moments like that are hard to not feel, and therefore hard to not communicate.”

Clemons says Springsteen gave him encouragement as he was writing and recording the songs on Eyes on the Horizon.

DANNY CLINCH

Jake Clemons with Nils Lofgren and Bruce Springsteen.

“I was taking him songs as they came along, and sitting down with him, and talking to him about my process. It was just so humbling. He’s masterful, and to hear him say that something is a great song, and then to explain that there are certain aspects of a tune that work together well … it was just really flattering.

“He’s been writing legendary music for over 50 years. It’s been incredible for me, just to have him as a sounding board.”

Asked if he was helping Springsteen record his next studio album, he took a long pause, laughed, and asked, “What have you heard?” (I figured he wouldn’t say anything, but I had to try.)

Obviously, like all members of the band, Clemons has to be ready for whatever recording or touring Springsteen calls on him to do this year.

“I don’t sweat the timelines too much,” he said. “I’m planning on touring in the spring, more, and into the summer.”

Jarod Clemons — one of Clarence’s sons, and Jake’s cousin — is also on the bill at The Headliner, with his band The Late Nights. Might they do a song or two together?

SUZANNE DEVINE

From left, Clemons, Joe D’Urso and Jeffrey Gaines at the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival in Tappan, N.Y., in June 2017.

“We’ll see,” said Jake, who says he has “a deep love and affection” for Jarod.

“Clarence was like a father figure to me, and after Clarence died, (Jarod) went to live with my parents. I know my dad was a lot like a father figure to him, as well, before he passed away (in 2014).

“So, yeah, we definitely have a close connection. I don’t see him quite as much as I’d like to. I’m really excited to share the stage with him, and I’m happy to give him whatever direction I can, whenever he’s looking for something.”

BIG RoaD’S Winter Bash, a celebration of Clarence Clemons Day to benefit Monmouth County SPCA, takes place at The Headliner in Neptune, Jan. 10 at 6:45 p.m. Performers will include Jake Clemons and his band, Eddie Testa, The Bob Polding Band, Jarod Clemons & the Late Nights, and Mike Rocket.

For information, click here.

There will also be a second Winter Bash show, benefiting the same cause, Jan. 11 from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Bar Anticipation in Lake Como, featuring The BIG RoaD All Star Band (featuring Eddie Testa, JoBonanno, Lisa Sherman, Jillian Rhys McCoy, JaQuita May, Bob Polding, Killer Joe Ferraro and others); The B Street Band, Whiskey Fueled, Colossal Street Jam, Moroccan Sheepherders, Sandy Mack & Friends, Guilty Pleasure, Rich Meyer, Jake Thistle, Tommy Byrne and Ryan Maher.

For information, click here.

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