Arista Artists Support Label Head Clive Davis

Clive Davis, founder and head of Arista Records, one of the most successful labels in the record industry, may be heading for a showdown that could signal the end of an era for the company.

Rumors have run rampant throughout the music industry that BMG Entertainment, Arista's parent company, wants the mogul to retire when his contract with the company runs out on June 30, 2000. BMG is citing a corporate policy requiring executives to retire at age 60. Speculation is that BMG plans to buy the 50% of the Arista imprint LaFace Records that it doesn't already own and name LaFace's co-founder Antonio "L.A." Reid as president of Arista.

For his part, Davis has said in a prepared statement, "I would like to make it clear that I have no plans whatsoever to retire. At age 66, I am absolutely at the peak of my powers," citing his duties in producing successful recent albums by Carlos Santana and Whitney Houston.

Santana's latest album, "Supernatural," featured an all-star cast

of guests and hit number one on the "Billboard" album charts, staying there for three weeks (see "Santana Stays On Top As Master P, STP, Bush Hit Chart"). The single "Smooth," [RealVideo] featuring Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, is the longest standing number one single of 1999, having recently logged its sixth week at the top spot.

Other than Santana and Houston, Arista has enjoyed recent success with albums by TLC, Outkast, Sarah McLachlan, Alan Jackson, and Monica.

However, 1999 hasn't been a perfect year for the label: Sean "Puffy" Combs, whose Bad Boy label is distributed through Arista, generated less-than-stellar sales of his latest album, "Forever," at least compared to the multi-platinum success of his debut album, 1997's "No Way Out."

Combs spoke about just that with MTV's own John Norris while in Dublin for the 1999 MTV Europe Music Awards.

"Would

you say that '99 has been a good year for you?" Norris asked. "I mean, there were some points at which things were a little rough..."

"Yeah, no doubt," Puffy replied. "I had a lot of ups and downs, but the bottom line is, if you demand greatness, or you profess that, or you're good at saying something, people demand that you... you know what I'm sayin'? Michael Jordan only scores 30 points, people say he had a bad game. If, you know, [Mike] Tyson doesn't knock 'em out in the first four or five rounds, [people say] he had a bad fight. So I could expect that, so, you know, all I can do is keep on tryin'." [RealVideo]

BMG's move isn't likely to be a popular one among artists: in an interview with "The Los Angeles Times" earlier this year, Whitney Houston sang Davis' praises. She told the paper that "Clive has always been known as the man who can pick the hits, that's his expertise,

and you can't take that away from him. He knows what song I'm gonna kill, the way a designer knows what dress is right for a person."

Songwriter Diane Warren also weighed in with her opinion in a recent "Los Angeles Times" interview, saying, "What is it with these corporations? Why would a company drive out a guy who created everything that the label stands for -- and at the very moment when he is at his peak? Clive Davis is Arista Records. It just doesn't compute for me. Are they out of their minds?"

A representative for Carlos Santana told MTV News, "The only reason Carlos came to Arista was because of Clive. He wants Clive to produce his next album. He can't believe that this is happening."

BMG head Strauss Zelnick explained his position on Davis in a recently released statement, saying, "My strong desire is to do right by Clive Davis. [But] As CEO I have a responsibility to make decisions on what's right for the company, and that includes making sure that we have an

appropriate succession plan in place at Arista." One of the sore points between Davis and BMG is that the mogul has yet to name a successor to lead the company."

We'll keep you posted on the story as it develops.

Ironically, a two-hour special celebrating Davis' first quarter century with the label, "Arista's 25 Years Of #1 Hits" is scheduled to air next spring on NBC, according to "Billboard."

-- Brian Ives, with additional reporting by Tina Johnson