The Big man's keeping busy!

Palm Beach Post, 2002-11-01, by: Paul Lomartire
Standing nude in front of a mirror, Clarence Clemons likes what he sees. "Yeah, I want to do a nude calendar at the end of this year, just before my 61st birthday (in January)," says the sax player for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. "When I was 55, I told myself when I was 60 I would be able to stand in front of a mirror naked and be satisfied. So, for five years I've been working on it." Working on it means daily aerobics, lifting weights, balancing protein and carbohydrates, avoiding sugar and alcohol, and meditating. "You have to have some outrageous goal," concludes the Singer Island resident. "Once you get your subconscious trained with a picture of who you want to be, it's easy."

Easy doesn't apply to Clemons' life these days. On the road with Springsteen -- hitting Miami on Nov. 23 -- he's using days off to launch his own band, Temple of Soul, and its first CD, which is out on Tuesday. Live in Asbury Park consists of 13 songs recorded in September 2001 during shows at the Stone Pony, the Asbury Park, N.J. bar made famous for hiring the then-unknown Springsteen. Clemons decided to start with a live recording because his handpicked band is made up veterans, most of whom live in Palm Beach County or elsewhere in South Florida.

"I kinda was glad that we did a live record first," says bass player Steve Argy, who lives in Fort Lauderdale and formerly played with Wild Cherry, K.C. and the Sunshine Band and West Palm's own George McCrae. "Usually," says Randi Fishenfeld, the Boca Raton violinist and vocalist for the band, "you never want to know when you're being recorded. 'No, no, don't tell me.' It makes you play a little more cautious. But I think there's plenty of fire on the CD."

Fishenfeld is among seven Temple of Soul band members who are willing to drop what they're doing when Clemons calls -- just as Clemons is willing to drop what he's doing when Springsteen calls. "It's a real tightrope that has the potential to cause big problems, because you have this steady income you have to respect," says Fishenfeld, a former attorney who fronts her own band, Strange Daze. "But with Clarence, there's gold at the end of the rainbow. It's never another night at work," she says. "At the Stone Pony, the crowd was phenomenal. I felt like a complete rock star."

Clemons knows what he knows about putting a band together from 30 years with Springsteen. "It's a matter of respect when you put a band together," he says. "What this person's about is just as important as their musical ability. If you have a person that's a great musician but has a screwed up personality, you don't have a band. Everyone in my band is a special musician and a great personality," he adds. "It's a love thing, a spiritual thing. I'm very lucky." Is he talking about E Street or Temple of Soul? "Both," he says.

Drummer Keith Cronin, who lives in Boynton Beach, has been with Clemons for five years. "Here's this guy, a national star on a major tour, and on breaks he gets on a plane to play with us in a bar for very little money," says Cronin, who has worked with jazz man Pat Travers. "That tells you something."

Cronin, also in the local band Thursday's Child, didn't fuss or fight when Clemons decided to add percussionist Tomas Diaz a year ago. Trying to mesh a percussionist with a drummer can fail miserably, says Cronin, who has a music degree from Indiana University. "We either augment each other or get in each other's way," he says. "But with Tomas, I leave space for him and he leaves space for me. We both seem to hear beats in the same place. It's effortless playing with him. There's a lot of mutual respect." It was a crucial band addition, thinks Clemons. "Tomas brings what it's all about for me: the marriage between Latin and rock 'n' roll, music that's a collision between Park Avenue and South Beach."

When Clemons wanted a percussionist, he called John Tovar in Miami to find the right one. Tovar's musical gift is his ears. The longtime band manager helped launch The Mavericks into country and Marilyn Manson into whatever kind of music that is. He can listen to a band -- anything but rap, which he hates -- and tell what's missing and who needs to be replaced.

Tovar is impressed with Temple of Soul and its new CD -- "those are all strong tunes" -- but he cautions that success isn't a slam dunk for a band built around "a sax, which is an obsolete instrument these days in rock 'n' roll. "But Clarence is not just a sax player," he explains. "He is a total personality. His image is very strong, especially the way he looks now. He has lost weight, lost the dreadlocks. He's an imposing figure and everyone knows The Big Man."

That's another potential problem. Everyone knows The Big Man as a member of the E Street Band. But so far so good, says drummer Cronin. No one has been screaming Jungleland at shows in St. Louis, Detroit and Youngstown, Ohio. "We're playing songs people haven't heard," says Cronin, "and it's not a Bruce retrospective. I was surprised. I thought people would be shouting for Bruce songs. But people that we attract are there with eyes and hearts wide open."

Of the 13 songs on Live in Asbury Park, 11 are Temple of Soul originals. They combine R&B with New Jersey boardwalk rock and spice that mix with Latin jazz. Only the Springsteen B-sides, Paradise By The C and Savin' Up, pay homage to Bruce. "Bruce is The Boss, and everyone wants to hear those songs," says Tovar. "But I think Clarence can win them over to his music, because he has chosen some great players." Along with Argy, Cronin, Fishenfeld and Diaz, Temple of Soul - the name comes from the mood Clemons creates in his dressing room -- includes Billy Livesay on guitars and vocals, Paul Pettitt on keyboards, and John Colby, musical director and keyboards.

Colby doesn't need the work. Not even close. Besides writing the theme for ESPN's SportsCenter, Colby won a Grammy producing the music for Ken Burns' Civil War. "This is way beyond money," says Colby when asked why he joined Temple a year and a half ago. "I prefer to think of it as a good gig with a band that's cooking." Cooking with the music that Colby grew up with on the Jersey boardwalk. A friend of E Streeter Roy Bittan, Colby is a star in his own right who's willing to turn his professional life upside down when Clemons calls. "He's one of these guys that comes along once in your lifetime," says Colby. "I truly love him. He really is his image: The Big Man larger than life with big ups, big downs, big emotion, big drama. "I go out of my life and go into this orbit with Clarence, and it's like riding a roulette wheel."

When Clemons hears that, he's quiet for a few seconds and laughs. That describes why he'll always be there when Springsteen calls. "I guess what goes around comes around," says Clemons.