By Christian Thompson
To say that Jake Clemons comes from a musical background would be somewhat of an understatement. Much like labeling Van Gogh as merely a “painter” or Julia Child as a “cook,” it would be as insulting as it is deceiving.
In fact, the saxophonist/singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist was probably destined to become a musical prodigy from the start.
Not only was Clemons’ father a director for the Marine Corps Marching Band, but his uncle, Clarence Clemons, was world-renowned as the saxophonist and charter members of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, giving Jake access to music at its grandest scale.
The musical career of his uncle inspired Clemons to pick up the saxophone at a young age and, in a 2016 interview with the Virginian-Pilot, he cited the E Street Band as his first exposure to rock music.
Clemons, who grew up in the Virginia Beach area, would eventually attend school at the Virginia Governor’s School of the Arts to study jazz performance. During this time, he mastered an arsenal of musical instruments: clarinet, flute, guitar, bass, drums and piano.
After Clarence Clemons; death in 2011, the musical abilities Jake had been honing qualified him to step into the void on the E Street Band. Springsteen enlisted Jake for his Wrecking Ball world tour in 2012, which saw the band play shows throughout the US, Europe, South America, and Australia. The young Clemons quickly captured the hearts, as well as the ears, of Springsteen fans everywhere, picking up a torch many thought would be impossible to keep lit after Clarence’s passing.
Since his debut for the E Street Band in 2012, Clemons has been with the group on every one of their major tours, including 2016’s The Rivertour, which celebrated the 35th anniversary of Springsteen’s 1980 album of the same name—one that has only grown in stature since its original release.
All the while, Clemons has maintained a solo career that deserves a stage of its own. Over the course of a handful of EPs he steadily developed a rock and roll sound that thrives parallel to his expeditions in jazz and blues territory where he initially made his name for himself.
Last year, Clemons released his debut solo studio LP, titled Fear and Love. Over the course of 11 songs, he explores ’80s new wave, the country rock of Ryan Adams, and a healthy dose of modern pop that calls to mind the more recent work of Death Cab for Cutie and The Killers.
Although his saxophone isn’t given center stage on the record, Fear and Lovenever finds Clemons seeming out of his element. His songwriting is memorable, constantly overflowing with melody and fiery performances from his backing band.
Lyrically, the album couldn’t be more suited for our current times. Clemons’ themes include the importance and power of loving yourself and those around you, the confusing yet oddly rewarding effects of growing older, and the fortitude required to persevere in the modern world.
They’re heavy themes for sure, but rock music that promotes dancing as much as it encourages thought is what once allowed the genre to take over the world. We would all benefit if more musicians were of Clemons’ caliber.
Jake Clemons and his band perform Friday, July 20 at Leesburg’s Tally Ho Theater. Advance tickets start at $25 and can be bought at tallyhotheater.com Doors for the show open at 7 pm.