Page 4 R.A.T.W.
“I’m In the
Business of Selling
Good Music In
the Form of
The rise and fall of Clive Davis in’ the record world is well known and documented. Rising from the ashes of a Columbia Records’ “scandal,” Mr. Davis took over the reins of a minor league record label, Bell, best known for the girls left faint at David Cassidy concerts.
Inheriting but three saleable acts, the Bay City Rollers (by contract), Mellisa Manchester, and Barry Manilow, Clive started Arista Records solely on faith in himself. In an amazingly short time Arista has enjoyed a Platinum album by Manilow, one of recordom’s most impressive jazz catalogues (vanguarded by Anthony Braxton), the signings of such prestitious contemporary artists as Eric Anderson and Loudon Wainwright III, and the pop pioneering of such homegrown rock ‘n rollers as Eric Carmen.
Taking time out from an impossibly busy schedule, Davis gave a rare interview to RA TW’s Eddie Kritzer. Kritzer found Mr. Davis to be a
direct, very businesslike, and extremely’ confident individual who rarely, if ever, lets his corporate guard down. Still, Kritzer managed to bring out a mellower and more reflective side of Davis than the public is accustomed to seeing:
“I don’t think a ‘revolution’ every year or two is particularly healthy. There is no particular ‘revolution’ occurring in popular music today. What’s happening is that certain trends which began within the last five years are spreading and things are being consolidated. That does not mean that today’s music is passive.
“There are certain `trends’ to music. Executives don’t create ‘trends’ in music—artists do. Yet executives get paid to spot ‘trends’ in music. I was involved with the contemporary rock revolution after Monterey. And I was one of the first to become aware that the Black music business which had been a singles orientated music business would become a major album business and very much a part of the music world. In the 60s and early 70s I began working to sign Earth, Wind, & Fire, The Isley Brothers, and The Manhattans and put together the deal with Philadelphia International that brought us (Columbia) The O’Jays and Billy Paul. Now that was spotting a trend before it erupted. And I encouraged Miles Davis to move out into progressive music (I had noticed the growing sophistication of popular music which would enable the progressive artist who had a feel for the electronic, amplified rock) and play before young audiences. Bitches Brew catapulted Miles from the normal 50,000 albums that he usually sold to 500,000. It gave me the impetus to realize that there was a new trend, a new ‘revolution’ in the making and it encouraged me to sign the likes of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, and (to work with such groups as) Pink Floyd.
“What’s happening now is that all of those new flourishings of the late 60s and early 70s that my life was immersed in are now flowering today. There might not be a new sound like the revolution that occur right after Monterey (I lived that, you know, signing Joplin and others). I would say that the state of music today is healthy. The critics who ask for a revolution every year are really being silly and almost irresponsible for their asking for a sound which will eclipse and dominate and focus around itself. I think that would be unhealthy.”
DYLAN, PAUL SIMON, SLY TO ARISTA?
“It so happens that our lives at various stages have consistently intertwined. When I was writing the book that I wrote on the record business (Clive) two years ago I was considering various offers: I could have gone into business with Bob Dylan or Paul Simon. Sly called me up
to manage him if I wanted to go into management. Our relationships continue to date. Paul Simon and I are extremely close friends and we keep in touch, not from the point of view of business, but friendship. I have made a lot of friendships with artists, regardless of their label affiliations such as Harry Nilsson, Elton John, George Harrison, Neil Diamond, Chicago, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, Simon, Artie Garfunkle, and Sly. Our relationships continue which leads to a tremendous amount of press speculation everytime we’re seen together in public as to whether I’m going to sign them. The answer is that I would never shy away from signing them if it made economic sense to do so.”
“You’ve got to have a wonderful ear; you’ve got to be able to know music; and you’ve got to have a feel for music. You’ve got to scout for major talent; align self-contained and/or repertoiries; and make sure each song is arranged right, produced right in the studio with the best engineered sound and structure of songs in order to create an album or single. If you do all this, it’s tremendously rewarding, both spiritually and professionally, and could be as well economically. The stakes are tough, the risks are great, and you’ve got to know what you’re doing.”
“Arista is, in effect, a brand new company. It’s exciting to watch a Barry Manilow or a Melissa Manchester explode. We just gave Barry a Platinum record for sales in excess of a million units. That’s exciting and will always be memorable. Starting something on your own and finding that feeling of an artist exploding about you is incredible, especially if the artist is working to a Dylan or Bruce Springsteen intellect audience such as is Patti Smith.”
“Music is wonderfully exhilarating for me. The thrill does not fade one iota. There is not the slightest jading when I discover a talent. I’m in the business of selling good music in the form of records.”
Eddie Kritzer and Dennis Mentrano