While his own company reportedly seeks to force him out, the rest of the
music industry is showering Arista Records President Clive Davis with
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
"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"
excerpt) and the title track (RealAudio
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
19992000 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
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
"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
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.]