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JT Bowen first met Clarence Clemons in the early ‘60s around the nightclubs of Princess Anne in Maryland. Clemons would play saxophone on the scene when he wasn’t in class .Bowen was a singer still in high school..“He had that King Curtis sound,” Bowen said. “Whenever he’d come down to play, I’d see him.”So began a musical relationship that lasted for 50 years. Clemons is gone but Bowen is still making music. Bowen and Clemons eventually moved to the Asbury Park area, and the two were in the city’s West Side band the Chosen Few in the ‘60s. The Big Man made a few moves after that, which eventually brought him to the E Street Band and worldwide fame.
Bowen kept busy on the Asbury Park scene. When Clemons open his own nightclub, Big Man’s West in Red Bank, he called Bowen and asked him to work the door. The gig turned into a few years of singing lead for Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers.
It was high profile shows, gigs, tours, an album (“Rescue”) and even a few music videos. Bowen and Clemons take over the White House in the video for the single, “Women’s Got the Power.”“The whole intent was to put a band together for (Clemons) to play some good R&B,” Bowen said. “But Clarence had a good vision and we toured with a big band that really kicked butt. After being on the road for a while, Clarence got an offer to do an album.”
“Bruce (Springsteen) was a lot of help doing the album, he wrote ‘Savin’ Up.’ I hear he’s even doing it now at his shows.”Unfortunately for Bowen, the good times did not last.“I started messing around with drugs and alcohol,” Bowen said. “The whole thing can take you way from your purpose and you go to that dark spot.”So dark, that Bowen disappeared for a decade or two. By chance, his daughter, a gospel music promoter, ran into Clemons in an airport.“He said, ‘I’m sorry to hear about your father,’“ Clemmons said. “A lot of people thought I was dead.”Now, it’s Bowen with an all-star band, that he calls the Mighty Kings of Soul. “Out of the Shadows,”produced by Marc Ribler, is a gem of record, a soulful message that conveys the tragic travails and hard won rewards of Bowen’s odyssey. Bowen’s raspy voice is a treasure, one that sings both the glories of the Maker and the sadness of a missed yesterday.Bowen had suffered a stroke and battled prostate cancer, but the Lakewood resident was very much alive and living with God. Bowen and Clemons reconnected and had even planned to go to Japan to perform together when Clemons passed away in 2011. When Bowen and the Soul Cruisers took the stage at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park after the Big Man’s death, they were joined by Springsteen for a 45-minute set.
If a yesterday was missed, there’s still a tomorrow for Bowen.“I call them my angels,” said Bowen of Ribler and the band. “I’m so blessed to be working with them.”