Clive Davis with Billboard editorial director Bill Werde at the Billboard Power 100 event in Los Angeles Thursday night (Photo: Phil McCarten)
“I never ever thought that music would become my profession or passion. But I found I loved it. To this day, it keeps me going.” Those were among the sentiments shared by Clive Davis as he accepted Billboard’s first annual Musical Visionary Award at last evening’s Power 100 reception. And after learning the award henceforth will be renamed after him, Davis noted, “It does touch me to know that Billboard is going to put this award in my name. It means I’ve come full circle. I’ve been blessed.”
Shortly after the award presentation, Billboard chatted for a few minutes (video below) with Sony Music’s indefatigable chief creative officer.
Billboard.biz: What do you listen for when you work; what are a couple of your trade secrets?
Clive Davis: If it’s a self-contained artist, an artist who writes his own material, you’re obviously listening to the material. If it’s an interpretive entertainer, you’re listening to the voice; you’re listening to the ability of either to be a headliner. So you’re searching for lead talent, you’re searching for creativity whether as a writer or creativity as a vocal, hopefully, genius interpreter. And ultimately you’re really looking for a headliner to headline Madison Square Garden or Staple Center so that you can really assume the kind of stardom that great stars should have.
Any special Billboard memories pop to mind?
Listen, I have loved Billboard throughout my career. Certainly the charts; I’m a student of the charts. The appraisal and value of trends have always been significant to me. The coverage is dear to our hearts and Billboard has done such a remarkable job over the years of covering music and the industry. For me music is a passion, and I’m very much in debt to those who chronicle it for posterity.
Can I get you to give a couple of hints as to Saturday’s show?
All I’ll say is the audience will be from Mary J. Blige and Puffy to Taylor Swift to Katy Perry to John Mayer. It’s a glittering audience attracting the heads of most motion picture studios and networks, sports figures, if you will … Colin Kaepernick from the San Francisco 49ers and Ryan Lotke. The commonality is they love music, and I try to put on a show, not just a cocktail party or a dinner. The difference over these many years is the memorable shows we put on pairing different artists: Alicia Keys with Aretha Franklin or Lou Reed with Rod Stewart. So we’re trying to show those artists; the excitement of today when people are gloomy about the future of music. And the vitality of this year’s new artists is very powerful. And some of them along with some great artists will share the stage.
Any one or two Grammy moments stick out for you over the years?
Yes, I remember when The Bodyguard won as album of the year and knowing all the effort that I had put in as well, of course, as David Foster and Kevin Costner. I remember sitting in the audience and surprisingly as they accept the award, David, Whitney and Kevin said they can’t accept the award unless I come up onstage and share it with them. So I was stunned. I remember walking up …running up to the stage. And of course the other is Supernatural with Santana; a night when history occurred with him breaking the record for Grammy wins and Carlos and I sharing the stage as co-album producers. Those are memorable, as well as so many [other moments] with all the artists I’ve been involved with.
What are you working on musically now?
I’m looking for material for Jennifer Hudson. I believe in Jennifer; it’s her third album. She just came from a movie with Ne-Yo. And I’ll be meeting with our great songwriters in that time honored tradition because she is an enormous talent. And we’re looking to find more signature songs for her. I just signed Aretha Franklin, the greatest voice of all time, say the readers of Rolling Stone. We’re going to do an album where we’ll pick great diva signature songs going back to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and bringing it up to date with Whitney, Alicia Keys, Adele. Babyface and Dangermouse are going to co-produce it with me. That’s a project I’m very much looking forward to.
Outside of records, I’ve always loved Broadway and “My Fair Lady” to me is the greatest musical of all time. And it’s never been revived appropriately since Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. So I and the Nederlander Organization are going to produce a first-class revival on Broadway. And all that’s apart from my autobiography [“The Soundtrack of My Life”], which I’ve labored on weekends over the last two years. That’s coming out on Feb. 19.
You mentioned The Bodyguard earlier. And this is the first anniversary of Whitney Houston’s death. How will it be for you this Saturday?
It’s bittersweet. I’ve been with Whitney’s music all year [as executive producer of RCA’s I Will Always Love You: The Best of Whitney Houston and the CBS tribute special], so it’s still hard to believe that she’s not with us. I’m really very much keeping, from my point of view, the flame alive; her legacy alive. I was thrilled to be a part of the Grammy telecast on CBS in the fall, and I’m determined to make sure her legacy does live on. I hope to make note of that on Saturday night at the pre-Grammy gala.