A big piece of music history was torn down recently. The site of Big Man’s West on Monmouth Street in Red Bank is no more.

Opening in 1981 and lasting for 18 months, Big Man’s West was Clarence Clemons', the famed sax player from the E-Street Band nightclub. Clarence was christened with the moniker “Big Man” by Bruce.

The bar was a rocking iconic music destination where Bruce Springsteen made over 18 appearances and in 1984 the club was a rehearsal space for Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band’s Born in the USA tour.

My good friend and director of my TV show George McMorrow was the co-manager of Big Man’s West along with my late friend Terry McGovern who was Bruce Springsteen’s trusted assistant.

On the Jersey Shore there was a big demand for live original rock and roll. There was little fanfare or audience acceptance for cover bands. The club held around 550 people and at times had 100 people enjoying music or one hot summer night in 1981 an estimated 1,000 lucky people were rocking to some amazing music.

The club opened to much excitement on July 11, 1981, with Clarence and his band the Red Bank Rockers headlining the big opening night. At that famed opening, Bruce Springsteen jumped up on stage and the night included performances by Gary U.S. Bonds and E-Street Band guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt.

Bruce Springsteen (Photo: Getty Images)
Bruce Springsteen (Photo: Getty Images)

Clarence wanted all genres of music to be highlighted at the club and wanted to encourage local talent to showcase their music. Throughout the limited run of the club, many celebrity musicians graced the stage, including Bonnie Rait, Joe Cocker, Jon Bon Jovi, Bo Diddley, Joan Jett, Steve Forbert, John Eddie, Dave Edmunds, John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band and more.

George McMorrow tells of a story in which Tony Bennett showed up to see his son play in a rock band.

Live music 7 days a week was tough, and costs mounted plus at the time, Red Bank parking was difficult and patrons of Big Man’s West got their cars towed and back then it was $75 to get your car out of hock. That was a fortune. Quite a few of the clubgoers who experienced that parking fine never came back.

Sound complaints from the neighborhood also put a damper on the excitement going on inside the club.

Photo via Antoine J on Unsplash
Photo via Antoine J on Unsplash

After 18 months Big Man’s West shut its doors. After using the space for the Born in the USA tour rehearsal space, Clarence sold the club at a loss. The space became a gym, then shot and a beer place and another business or two and now Big Man’s West was torn down to make room for a 45-unit apartment complex.

I had a great but very sweaty experience at the club when I was visiting my cousin. We went in, Clarence was playing, it was in August and the air conditioning was nonexistent. The place was packed and the heat from the bodies crammed together made the temperature in the club into the 100’s, or so it seemed.

While I was drenched with sweat, I enjoyed every minute of every note played. It was a great music experience. I would see Clarence when he opened the Born in the USA tour in 1984 and I talked about that experience with him.

He smiled, that big smile and he was thankful that he brought a little fun into a great sweaty night.

Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash
Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash

The magic that Big Man’s West captured was epic. The club known as the “best kept secret in New Jersey” was filled with musical memories that make New Jersey such an incredibly special place.

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The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.

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