NEW HAVEN REGISTER ARCHIVES: Legendary saxophonist Clarence Clemons turns 62 Sunday. But the two nights before, he’ll show the Mohegan Sun crowd HE’S STILL A YOUNG MAN

This interview with Clarence Clemons ran as the cover story of the New Haven Register’s Weekend section Friday, Jan. 9, 2004, two days before his 62nd birthday; it was a preview of shows by his own band, Clarence Clemons’ Temple of Soul, that night and the next at Mohegan Sun Casino’s Wolf Den.

Anyone who puts out a newspaper’s entertainment section, as I did for 11 1/2 years, cringes around the holidays, since the two weeks of January after the holidays are usually the deadest time of the year for events, and finding people for interviews during the holiday season? Fuggedaboutit! But as serendipity would have it, the Big Man was coming to one of Connecticut’s two monstrous casinos (free shows, at that), the editor of the paper was a bigger Springsteen fan than I was, and I was able to line up something far enough ahead of time.

Clarence called from his home in Florida and, true to what I suspected and hoped, he was a nice guy. It wasn’t an earth-shattering interview, but it was pleasant, a good way to start the year. (My general experience as a music writer: The people who had the most reason to have an ego had the least egos, and vice versa.) I chose to focus on him, rather than stray into E Street territory — he had his own material, I didn’t quite know what I could add to the Bruce dialogue at that point, and besides, how many people actually had ever heard what Clarence had to say?

As it turned out, it was, I believe, my last big music interview out of hundreds I did for the Register, starting in September 1992. Minutes after I put the section to bed that Thursday night, as the wind whipped in the adjacent courtyard in 9-degree weather, the features editor of The Fresno Bee called me, from the 72-and-sunny San Joaquin Valley, to ask if I was still interested in an assistant features editor job. Two-and-a-half months later, I was in California — and on, unknowingly, to the adventure of my life.

*****

By Fran Fried, Register Entertainment Editor

Come Sunday, Clarence Clemons can start drawing a Social Security check. Not that he needs to; at this point, it’s pretty much a milestone and a formality.

Some mornings, the Big Man, saxophonist supreme and the most famous sidekick in the history of rock’n’roll, feels every one of his 62 years-minus-two-days, and then some. But he’ll never be the butt of Rolling Stones-variety old-age jokes — and not just because it’s not wise to taunt a 6-foot-3 former defensive end.

Maybe it’s the long, black dreadlocks or the relatively youthful face. Maybe it’s because his playing is as muscular as it ever was. Maybe it’s because, despite two hip replacements in 1999 and eye surgery that briefly took him off the road in November, he can still do three-hour marathons with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, which he did most of this past summer and fall.

“Age is what you think you are,” Clemons said Tuesday morning from his condo in Singer Island, Fla. “Some days, I think I’m about 90. I’m glad people can’t see me getting up in the morning. Today, I feel 18.”

Part of the reason for the youthful energy is the gym training he does to keep up; on the recent E Street tour, he was working out days and playing nights. It’s a regimen that brings Clemons back to his gridiron days, when he was good enough to get a tryout with the Cleveland Browns — until a serious car accident en route to camp in 1966 derailed his pro plans and made him decide to pursue a musical career.

“It;s a combination of things,” he said. “I’m getting strong in the gym to keep on rocking or I’ll die on stage. But it’s also the idea of being around young people [he recently took his youngest son, who’s 5, to Walt Disney World] that keeps me personally going. You’re only as young as you think you are.”

And he’s active, too. Now that Clemons is done with his E Street duties for the moment, he can concentrate on his own group, Clarence Clemons’ Temple of Soul, which will play tonight and Saturday at Mohegan Sun’s Wolf Den.

Clemons’ seventh and latest album away from Springsteen, “Live in Asbury Park Vol. II,” was released Tuesday. Like last year’s first volume, it’s material culled from shows on Sept. 2-3, 2001 at the Stone Pony, the most storied nightclub in the Jersey shore city that spawned Bruce and a host of others. Like the first volume, it includes a cameo from the Boss (“Raise Your Hand”); there’s also another Springsteen song (“Pink Cadillac”), a soul gem (James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy”) and some inspired originals (the rousing “Another Place”).

The Temple of Soul is another big-ensemble act, an eight-piece group that swells to a dozen when you throw in The Uptown Horns. He started the group as Band of Faith when he moved to Florida in 1995, but they assumed their current moniker when Clemons found out there was a gospel group with the same name.

“My dressing room, I call it the Temple of Soul,” he explained. “Temple of Soul, it’s a space inside every one of us — a temple, a church, the things that we believe in most. This band is a little more of my roots [than E Street], my R&B roots. It’s a combination of R&B, rock’n’roll and Latin.”

The formative musical moments in the life of Clemons, who grew up in Norfolk, Va., have been talked about often over the years: the Christmas at age 9 when he was expecting an electric train and his father gave him his first saxophone instead; attending a Baptist church, where his grandfather was the preacher and his aunts and uncles were in the choir; the influential sounds of King Curtis, whose secular sax records were played by his uncles over the strong objections of his grandfather.

And then, there was the night in the early ’70s when Clemons took a break from a gig in Asbury Park, went down the street to see this guy Springsteen that his bandmates had been raving about, arrived as the front door blew off the hinges during a thunderstorm, and told Bruce that he wanted to sit in with him.

And like the rest of the E Streeters — Springsteen’s various meanderings, Steven Van Zandt’s rock albums, “Sopranos” role and garage radio show, Max Weinberg’s gig with Conan O’Brien’s house band, Danny Federici’s jazzy instrumental albums, Nils Lofgren’s illustrious career, Patti Scialfa’s album — Clemons has not stood stagnant. His 1995 album, “Peacemaker,” was a textural piece of serenity more at home in the jazz and new age sections of your record store. And since he’s moved to Florida, he said, the Latin influence has crept into his sound.

“I listen to a lot of Latin groove. It reminds me of a carnival,” said Clemons, whose influences, besides Curtis, have included Jr. Walker, Gato Barbieri, Stanley Turrentine and Boots Randolph. “It makes you feel good, the percussion instruments. Listen to some of the stuff on the last album, and there’s a little Latin thing going on in the background.

“Now, as I get older, I find more ways to make it different,” he said of his sound. “Living in south Florida, I think of my music as South Beach meets Park Avenue, there’s so much of that New York/Latin mix thing.”

At this point, as Clemons starts work on the Temple of Soul’s first studio album, there’s but one thing left musically that he wants to do. As if he hasn’t graced enough big stages in his lifetime …

“I want to play with Mick Jagger,” he said. “It almost came to fruition the last [Stones] tour. It will happen one day. I don’t want to replace Bobby [Keys, the Stones’ longtime saxman]. I would like to jam with them. One day, It will come to come to pass. I love that band.”

IF YOU GO: Event: Clarence Clemons’ Temple of Soul Time: 8 tonight-Saturday Place: Wolf Den, Mohegan Sun Casino, off Route 2A (Exit 79A off I-395), Uncasville Admission: Free Info: (860) 862-8000

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