Clive Davis

Submitted by on Oct 23, 2015

Clive Davis

Biography by Steve Kurutz

Artist Biography by Steve Kurutz

A Harvard Law School graduate, Clive Davis. disheartened by his lack of status as a young lawyer, joined Columbia Records in 1960 as a contract lawyer. One of his first assignments was to renegotiate Bob Dylan’s contract, which had apparently become void after the singer had turned 21. Davis outsmarted Dylan and, by forcing him to renew, the young lawyer caught the eye of Columbia’s head Goddard Lieberson. Through hard work and internal squabbling, Davis worked his way through the ranks, becoming vice-president of CBS Records.

In 1967, Davis took over as president and transformed the lagging label into an industry powerhouse by updating its roster to coincide with the emergence of rock music. Attending the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, Davis realized the potential of rock music and signed Big Brother & the Holding Company. as well as Santana and the Electric Flag ; other acts such as Chicago. Billy Joel. and Bruce Springsteen followed. And, even though Davis played a substantial part in the development of those early careers, by the time he published his memoirs in 1975, he had forgotten everyone else who was involved, giving sole credit to himself. Behavior like this was typical, and by 1973, many at CBS had grown tired of Davis and were looking for a way to get him out. The opportunity came when one of Davis’ go-fers, David Wynshaw, was investigated for reputed mob ties. Searching Wynshaw’s office at CBS, authorities found that he had faked invoices and expense accounts on his boss’ behalf. Evidence emerged that Davis had used company funds to bankroll his son’s bar mitzvah. In a move that shocked the industry, Davis was fired not long afterwards. After pleading guilty to tax evasion, Davis was hired at the record division of Columbia Pictures. He renamed the company Arista and immediately built a strong reputation by signing Barry Manilow.

By 2000, Arista was responsible for 33-percent of their parent label BMG’s sales, but rumors had been spreading that BMG leadership was trying to force Davis out of his role at the label and replace him with L.A. Reid. According to the Wall Street Journal, Davis received an offer to stay on with Arista as an advisor or join a new-media venture backed by BMG. Davis issued a press release stating he no plans to retire, and Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen offered pro-Davis. anti-BMG quotes to the press. Citing his age and lack of vision, Davis was deposed from the presidency of Arista and Reid took over. BMG was soon back in business with Davis. outbidding other labels to the tune of $150 million to finance his new venture, J Records (shorthand for Davis ‘ middle name, Jay). To round out the year, Davis listened with tears in his eyes as Patti Smith inducted him into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame and NBC television aired the two-hour special 25 Years of #1 Hits: Arista Records Anniversary Celebration.

Within its first year, J Records had albums by Alicia Keys. O-Town. Luther Vandross. and Busta Rhymes in the Top Ten, and a year later, Rod Stewart joined the label. BMG executives called Davis in for a meeting in early 2003, but this time he was named Chairman/CEO of the RCA Music Group. The position put him in charge of the classic RCA label and back in charge of Arista.

Clive DavisClive Davis
Clive DavisClive Davis
Clive DavisClive Davis

Leave a Comment