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Clive Davis - A Record Industry Legend

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In 1967, Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records, was leading rock singer Janis Joplin and her band Big Brother & The Holding Company into a stark conference room as he prepared to sign her to a ,000 contract -- an extravagant sum at the time.

Davis, whose extraordinary career in the record industry reached another milestone this week, told Joplin not to be put off by the austere surroundings and that the staff was indeed informal. At that point, a band member rose from the conference table to reveal he was wearing no clothes at all. ``This is how informal we are,'' Joplin said with a laugh.

Joplin suggested that she and Davis consummate the contract by having sex but Davis declined. Instead, as he had with so many other music careers, he helped guide Joplin and her band to the top of the show business charts.

The story symbolizes the seismic changes Davis brought to the record business. He finds talent, spends freely, has a legendary ear for a hit single and makes friends and admirers.

On Tuesday it was announced that the 67-year-old executive would step down as head of Arista Records, the hit label he founded. Arista's parent, Bertelsmann AG(BTGGga.D)-owned BMG Entertainment, named rap executive Antonio ``L.A.'' Reid to succeed Davis as president and chief executive of the label.

A boardroom battle over Davis' future with BMG has been going on for months and a BMG spokesman says Davis is still in discussions with the label regarding his future.

``Clive is one of the rare people in the business who's a music person,'' Arif Mardin, a record producer who has worked with Aretha Franklin, Phil Collins and others, told Reuters in an interview late last year.

Davis is credited for bringing Columbia Records into the rock 'n' roll market, signing Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Chicago, as well as Joplin, during his six-year tenure.

Joe Smith, a former chairman of Capitol Records, was a vice president at Warner Brothers, Columbia's chief competitor, at the time and recalled, ``We had a pretty potent management team at Warner at the time. And Clive was a single guy at Columbia and he was beating the pants off of us.''

Davis would spend extravagantly to attract the likes of Neil Diamond to Columbia. But he was also fired from Columbia for using corporate funds for personal use, and pleaded guilty to income tax evasion in 1975.

That year, he founded Arista Records, home to Whitney Houston and Barry Manilow. Last year, Davis shepherded Santana's album Supernatural to the top of Billboard's Top 200 charts for the first time since 1971. The album won nine Grammy awards, including two for Davis himself for his work as a producer.

He was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences at the Grammy awards in February and inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in the nonperforming category in March.

``This has been one of the most satisfying years of my life,'' Davis told reporters at the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in March. ``I hope you all have as many options at the end of your career as I have in mine.''

When Davis joined Columbia at age 28 as an attorney in 1960, Columbia was the home to Tony Bennett, Andy Williams and Mitch Miller, a bandleader who was the antithesis of rock 'n' roll.

When he became president in 1967, Columbia had only dipped its toe into the widening rock 'n' roll pool. The label was home to Bob Dylan, as well as folk-rock stalwarts Simon & Garfunkel and the Byrds.

But Columbia under Davis dove head-first into the music, signing the bands Santana, who had two No. 1 albums in 1970 and 1971 and Blood Sweat & Tears, who had three No. 2 hits in 1969.

Davis was not King Midas, however. In 1972, he would buy from Atlantic the contract of Delaney & Bonnie, a blues rock act with modest success, for ,000. The group made one album that did not chart before splitting up.

In 1967, Aretha Franklin, who languished for seven years on Columbia without a hit, would defect for Atlantic where she would rule the pop and R&B charts into the mid-1970s.

Davis would eventually redeem himself, however, by signing Franklin to Arista in 1980, where she would hit the top 10 in 1985 with ``Freeway of Love'' and ``Who's Zoomin' Who.''

Throughout the years, Davis also acquired a reputation for a sizable ego. ``He's certainly had his clashes over the years,'' Smith said. ``And there are some people who will tell executives, 'Never get bigger than your talent.' That's not Clive.''

In 1983, Davis visited a Manhattan nightclub to see a 19-year-old singer named Whitney Houston. When he signed her, her lawyer Paul Marshall insisted on a ``key-man'' clause, which stipulated that if Davis left Arista for any reason, Houston would become a free agent. Houston subsequently had a string of 19 Top 10 hits, 11 of which went to No. 1.




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