Clive Davis regaled an intimate audience in West Hollywood Wednesday night (Jan. 22) with tales plucked from his 50-year legacy as one of music’s most significant record executives. Over an hour-long interview led by The Hollywood Reporter music editor Shirley Halperin, Sony Music Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer reminisced at length about the musicians he with whom he worked over his career.
The stories were many: for instance, how and why he advised Paul Simon not to break up with Art Garfunkel. “The reason for that is there are very few examples of individual artists becoming bigger than the institution that they come from,” Davis explained. Obviously Simon went on to do very well for himself, noted Davis, “but the institution of Simon and Garfunkel to me is the quintessential American artist and the songs of Paul Simon rival that of the Beatles, in my opinion.”
He also called Patti Smith “a true Renaissance woman,” saying, “You don’t have favorites among your offspring and you don’t among the artists you’re involved with, but clearly among my most favorite was Patti Smith.”
Recalling his pre-GRAMMYs party last year where Smith performed, with so many young acts there he always wants to see them “experience the great classic artists,” he said. (This year’s guests to Davis’ party at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills on Saturday will reportedly include Nancy Pelosi, Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, R. Kelly, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Jimmy Iovine, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Taylor Swift, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Rod Stewart, Pharrell Williams, Ludacris and Neil Young, among others.)
Davis continued on, speaking of a night out with Lou Reed after having him and his transexual muse Rachel over to eat bagels and watch the Thanksgiving Day parade with his family from his Central Park apartment. Later, Davis said he invited Reed to the Long Island beach, to which the former Velvet Underground frontman replied, “I could never do that. Listen, Clive, if I ever get a tan, my career is over.”
And when he first met John Lennon following the Beatles’ split, Davis asked him whether he would listen to the radio while he was traveling. Davis was shocked that Lennon said he did not. “And there was a pause,” he said. “And he leaned over to me and he said, ‘Do you think Picasso goes to the galleries to see what’s being painted?’“
“I’ve never forgotten that,” he continued. “It was a good lesson to learn when it comes to unique creativity for those who make their own mark and march to their own drum.”
Sitting before an intimate audience hosted by Citibank, exclusive for its cardholders, Davis wore a blue blazer with a bright green tie and matching pocket square, calling to mind the immense riches he’s culled through working alongside some of music’s biggest stars. Often referencing his memoir, “The Soundtrack of My Life,” which was released last year, what stood out in Davis’ speech was beyond his own ear for spotting a hit, he developed meaningful relationships with many of his biggest acts — and that too is at the root of his success.
Following the release of his book, he said, he received “the most beautiful” three-page letter from Barry Manilow about their years working together, during which Davis would deliver him hit songs to record. Davis recalled Manilow’s words: “‘I knew that you had an ear, so I never questioned what you were giving me. I assumed that it was a hit; my challenge as the arranger was to hear what you’re hearing.’”
Jennifer Breithaupt and David Kovach, senior VPs of entertainment marketing for Citi, were both in the audience for the interview. Afterward, Breithaupt joked she wished Davis would put together a coffee table book of stories about people he’s had coffee with over his life.
“It was neat to hear someone like that with so much life experience talk about all these amazing artists that we all just grew up on,” she said. “So I thought it was really tremendous. I love that we can do this with card members and put them in the front row of these experiences, an arm’s length away from truly a genius.”