V78

ARTICLE SARAH CRISTOBAL

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY CLIVE DAVIS

CREDITS ARTICLE CONTENTS

GLAMOUR PUSS

V MAGAZINE GAGA MEMO No. 7

HEROES: CLIVE DAVIS

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HEROES: CLIVE DAVIS

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY CLIVE DAVIS
TEXT SARAH CRISTOBAL

A LEGEND AMONG LEGENDS OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, CLIVE DAVIS POSSESSES POWER AND REACH THAT BORDERS ON THE INFINITE. THE KEYS TO HIS SUCCESS? HIS LOVE OF SONG, DISCOVERY, AND KEEPING HIS EAR “FROM GOING OVER THE HILL

Everyone who loves pop music should be sending Clive Davis a handwritten thank-you note. During his 35-year tenure in the music industry—first as general counsel and president of Columbia Records, then as a cofounder of both Arista Records and Bad Boy, a founder of J Records, and now as the CCO of Sony—he has produced some of the most iconic musical acts of all time. He got his start by signing Janis Joplin and the Big Holding Company in 1967—he had a feeling self-expression was about to be in vogue—and his success has continued to the present day: his current projects include Melanie Amaro from The X Factor, Jennifer Hudson, Leona Lewis, and in a reprise of a past triumph, Aretha Franklin. Of course his portfolio has included countless other stars from across the genres of rock, pop, hip-hop, and country. But through all the meetings, demos, and concerts, Davis’s fervor for his work has never faded. “What I do is keep as best informed on the creative side as I can,” he says. “Every week I still take home every record that makes the chart in every format, to make sure that my ears don’t go over the hill and I keep my ears current. I’ve seen colleagues, other producers get mired down either with a particular sound or in a particular decade.”

He further credits his street smarts to his Brooklyn upbringing: “Growing up in the New York public school system, you learn to work hard, not take anything for granted, and not rest on your laurels. But you’ve got to keep proving yourself. So if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it by the same criteria.”

Davis’s voice is usually a Brooklyn-accented baritone, but it softens when he speaks about the late Whitney Houston, one of his most prized songstresses. “Because I found the material and became a creative partner of Whitney’s, there was always the observation that she might have been groomed,” he says. “But she came a) as a model, b) with a very strong sense of fashion, and c) with a very strong sense of her own hairstyle. [Laughs] You go back to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” or “How Will I Know,” I never suggested an outfit to her, I never suggested a hairstyle to her.”

Months after her death, Davis is still moved as he recalls the work they did together as creative partners. “In praising, sadly, her wonderful legacy, Whitney’s catalog of hits…it wasn’t just the first week or the second week after her passing that her album sold,” he says. “It’s the second-best-selling album of the year, because people got reacquainted. For me to hear all of the multitude of copyrights that became the soundtrack of people’s lives, of course I feel nostalgic. And of course I feel that emotion.”

Earlier this year, Davis turned 80 (“we had a very nice party,” he says), but to the artists he has come to know, he is ageless. “They recognize that you have something. Not only personally but professionally. Every artist, when they come to crucial decisions, crossroads, they come to bat around ideas with someone they feel is knowledgeable, then it counts.”

Some of those artists have made his job fairly easy. “If Patti Smith was unorthodox or awkward at the beginning that was part of her charm of being raw and bristling with edge and passion. You just know that they get experience…but if you listen to the material…you listen to the line ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,’ I mean, you know that you’re dealing with somebody, a special talent.” The same can be said of you, Mr. Davis. That thank-you note is in the mail.

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