Embattled Arista Boss, Santana Producer Collects Music's Top Honors

Clive Davis' future at label in question even as Rock Hall and Grammy Awards pay him tribute.

While his own company reportedly seeks to force him out, the rest of the

music industry is showering Arista Records President Clive Davis with

major honors.

Within the past week, Davis was named a recipient of the prestigious

Trustees Award from the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences

(to be presented at the Grammy Awards in February) and was selected for

induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also won a

lifetime-achievement award from New York magazine.

"This is my lifetime's dream," Davis, 66, said in a statement released

by the label about his imminent entry into the Hall of Fame as a non-performer.

"I am deeply honored and touched."

But at the same time, Davis, who produced Latin-rock band Santana's

remarkable comeback album Supernatural (1999), has been embroiled

in a fight for his position. Word surfaced more than a month ago that BMG,

Arista's parent company, is seeking Davis' retirement when his contract

runs out June 30. According to media reports, the German company has a

mandatory retirement age of 60 and is upset with Davis' failure to groom

a successor.

"It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face," Kitsaun King, a

member of Santana's management team, said in November. "Clive has more

experience and creativity at his age than anyone younger ... We're trying

to have a party over here and now this."

Spokespersons for Davis and BMG President and Chief Executive Officer

Strauss Zelnick would not comment for this story, citing ongoing negotiations

between the two.

But in a prepared statement issued Nov. 17, Davis said, "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."

During his nearly 40-year music business career, Davis, who was president

of Columbia Records from 1967 until 1973 and founded Arista in 1974, has

overseen the careers of some of the biggest names in rock and pop. He

signed Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith and was executive

producer of albums by R&B divas Whitney Houston, Monica and Aretha Franklin.

In addition to producing the new Santana album, which includes the #1

single "Smooth" (RealAudio

excerpt) and "Maria Maria" (RealAudio

excerpt), Davis co-produced Houston's 1998 album, My Love Is

Your Love. The latter includes the hits "It's Not Right but It's Okay"

(RealAudio

excerpt) and the title track (RealAudio

excerpt).

Davis originally had worked with Santana in the late 1960s, when he signed

the band to Columbia. Santana's biggest commercial successes until this

year came in the late '60s and early '70s.

Zelnick also released a statement on Nov. 17 stating his desire to "do

right" by Davis. "As CEO," he said, "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."

BMG has plans to purchase the 50 percent of the Arista imprint it doesn't

already own, the Los Angeles Times recently reported. Speculation

has centered on LaFace Records co-founder Antonio "L.A." Reid as a possible

successor to Davis.

If that idea is right, Reid would be succeeding a well-decorated man.

On Monday (Dec. 6), NARAS announced Davis as one of three winners of its

1999–2000 Trustees Award for contributions to the music industry.

He'll get the award at the Feb. 23 Grammy Awards ceremony with "wall of

sound" producer Phil Spector (Ronettes, Crystals, Ramones) and pop producer

and A&R representative Mitch Miller (Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jo

Stafford).

Academy spokesperson Adam Sandler said the decision to honor Davis was

made at the annual NARAS trustees meeting in May, well before the BMG

controversy surfaced. Sandler said NARAS president Michael Greene said

the award was "great news to a great man and friend."

The Hall of Fame will induct Davis on March 6 in New York, with Eric

Clapton, the Lovin' Spoonful, Bonnie Raitt and several other performers.

Beginning with his tenure as a lawyer at Columbia in 1960, Davis has been

credited with shepherding and nurturing the careers of acts from folk-rocker

Bob Dylan to funk band Sly and the Family Stone to punk godmother Smith.

Davis signed the late Janis Joplin's Big Brother and the Holding Company

to Columbia after seeing them at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. He

later signed such major acts as Aerosmith and Springsteen.

At Arista, Davis launched the careers of Houston, pop singer Barry Manilow,

sax player Kenny G and R&B singers Deborah Cox and Monica. He also signed

joint-venture agreements with two of the most successful R&B and rap

labels of the '90s, Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy Records and Reid and

Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds' LaFace Records. Those agreements yielded hits

by late rapper Notorious B.I.G., the OutKast and singers Usher and Toni

Braxton.

"You have led this industry by example to become a guiding force in and

have shaped the path we have all followed," Combs said of Davis when

New York magazine presented its Lifetime Achievement Award at the

"Saturday Night Live" studios Dec. 6 in Manhattan.

"You personally taught me and countless others to have the heart to follow

our visions," Combs said, according to a transcript of the speech provided

by Arista.

The rapper called Davis "the baddest boy in the record industry."

Even industry veterans who have run afoul of Davis stepped forward to

praise the label head's ear for cultivating hits.

"I've had my problems with Clive in the past and I've been against him

in the past regarding some artists," said longtime music lawyer Don Engel,

who represented both TLC and Toni Braxton in bitter legal actions against

LaFace and Arista.

"We don't always see eye-to-eye, and I've been no booster for Clive over

the years, but there's no question of his major contribution to building

that company [Arista] and there should be some consideration for that,"

Engel said. "I'm just beginning to work ... and I'm older than him. A

corporation that says that you're beyond mandatory retirement age is living

in the early 1900s. We've gone beyond that."

[This story was updated with additional reporting at 2:30 p.m. EST

Thursday, Dec. 9.]