By Chris Spiewak
It was an eerie feeling walking up onto the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach this past Saturday night, nearly 60 degrees in early January, with light rain and the fog so thick you couldn’t see 30 feet ahead of you.
But, once inside Martell’s Tiki Bar for the Official Clemons Family Celebration on “Clarence Clemons Day” in the Garden State, the weather outside was quickly forgotten, as a who’s who of Jersey Shore talent gathered together for a memorable tribute to the Big Man. Thanks to the work of State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, who sponsored a resolution to proclaim Jan. 11, Clemons’ birthday, to be Clarence Clemons Day in New Jersey, and Gov. Christie, who signed the paperwork in June 2013, plans for the event were quickly put into place for the birthday bash.
Many will remember the club owned by Clarence in the early 1980s on Monmouth Street called Big Man’s West, which featured the best in local talent, as well as national touring acts in its day. Many of the “regulars” back then were in attendance on Saturday night for the “Big Man’s West Reunion,” including John Cafferty and Michael Antunes of the Beaver Brown Band, JoBonnano & the Godsons of Soul, and members of the original Red Bank Rockers.
It was at Big Man’s West in 1981 where I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Clemons, unfortunately the only time I was ever able to do so. As a member of the local group JP Gotrock, we were the opening act one Friday night, and upon entering the door we were greeted by the Big Man himself, who brandished the largest smile and tightest handshake of any man I had ever met in my life. I remember joking with my bandmates about endeavoring to stay on his “good side,” as his size was rather intimidating!
It was good to see early E-Street Band member Vini Lopez on drums again, backing Mike Rocket on this night, and it was a pleasure to meet Norm Seldin, a longtime Jersey Shore musician and businessman, who enlisted a young Clemons in his band Joyful Noyze back in the early 1970s. The artist mix was impressive with established acts like Eddie Testa and Pat Roddy blending seamlessly with some newer acts like Mike Rocket and opening act VyntEdge, and of course, the Nick Clemons Band, which really rocked the house. Others paying tribute included Tommy Burne, Eric Safka, Mario Casella, Eric Greene, Killer Joe & Lido Soul, Joey Stann, Sandy Mack and Pat Guadagno; my apologies if I left anyone out! It was a truly wonderful congregation of musicians, everyone in good spirits trading ‘war stories’ from the road, catching up on old times, posing for photos with fans – and not an ego to be found in the entire building. Suz and Ray Shea of NCB Productions did an absolutely fantastic job of organizing the event, and everything went off without a hitch. The staff of Martells had a busy night, but took very good care of the hundreds of fans, and the several dozen musicians patiently waiting in the staging area. I think it’s safe to say no one went home thirsty!
Everyone should have a birthday party like this, and we all hope the Clemons family sees fit to make this an annual January event.
It is sad that his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in April of this year will be posthumous, but it will be a joyous occasion as well, with the Big Man being enshrined forever, for future generations of fans and performers alike to admire and appreciate.
In his life Clarence was a noted philanthropist, and it seems that he has handed that gene down to his son. The proceeds from Saturday night are to benefit NCB Charities and The Big Man Fund, set up by Clarence’s oldest son and namesake, Clarence “Nick” Clemons III, to provide supplemental arts funding in our schools.
Almost as “big” as his dad, Nick seems well positioned to continue the generosity of the Clemons family, and the legacy of, as The Boss always said, “The biggest man you ever seen.”
Chris Spiewak is currently the bassist for rock/blues cover band VyntEdge.