NEW YORK—Clive J. Davis, as president of Columbia Records, was always proud of long-term agreements. Miles Davis and Johnny Cash, Leonard Bernstein and Chicago, Barbra Streisand and the Byrds. He fought, with big money, to keep Laura Nyro at his label, and he refused to believe that Dylan was out of his contract for a year after the fact. He took enormous pleasure in what to him must have been no less than resurrections, born of his own personal patience, of Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat & Tears, Santana, Sly Stone, and Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
Davis himself had a long-term agreement with CBS Incorporated: a five year contract stretching to April 14th, 1975. At age 40, he was the commander-in-chief of the largest record company in the world; for his efforts, which kept him at his office on weekends and holidays, he earned $135,000 a year; his contract also provided “incentive” bonuses adding up to $250,000 over three years. And last year, there was “additional compensation” of $74,000 for a total of $359,000. Not bad for a man from the Bronx whose first favorite music came from Make Believe Ballroom on his radio; whose primary goal in life, once, was to be a good lawyer. Clive Davis was proud of himself.
Today, the president is in seclusion, excepting meetings with a criminal lawyer; he has been asked to face a grand jury probe into interstate heroin trafficking and possible connections between payola-by-drugs and Columbia Records. Clive Davis has been fired by his company and sued for alleged personal use of company funds; his contract is null and void; he has been depicted by a CBS officer as a “culprit” found involved in “hanky-panky”; he has been fingered by a once-loyal executive assistant as the man responsible for authorizing the practice of payola at Columbia Records.
And so payola joins Watergate on the front pages, Columbia has its own potential Watergate, and the record business has the shakes, almost as bad as Alan Freed had them when the first government payola investigation began 14 years ago.
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Hello, I’m Clive Davis, President of Columbia Records.” Seven nights in a row, from Sunday, April 29th to the following Saturday, Davis, dressed Palm Springs style in white suit and matching white patent leather shoes, acted as MC for Columbia’s “A Week to Remember.” The idea was another of Clive’s prides, the fact that his was indeed a full-line label, strong in classical, country and jazz music as well as middle-of-the-road pop, hard rock, and, especially since last year’s distribution deal with producers Gamble & Huff, Philadelphia’s black entrepreneurs, soul music. It was a show of eclecticism, and all for charity, the profits going to the Park Century School in Los Angeles. The company also taped the 21 acts for a film to be shown at their annual sales convention in July.
Davis took a 20-minute ride out to the theater in downtown L.A. every day that week. He would go to the box office and become upset that only five of seven shows sold out completely for such a small (2,400-seat) theater. He blamed the flaw on the Ahmanson Theater itself, for not putting advance tickets on sale until opening night. He checked sales every hour so that he could coordinate promotional activities and advertising. He gave an interview to the L.A. Times the week before, and the story hit the entertainment section’s front page on Sunday, just right: CLIVE DAVIS——MIDAS TOUCH ON COLUMBIA LABEL. The story, written by Robert Hilburn, would be hailed by radio tip-sheet publisher Kal Rudman as “fantastic” and “breathtaking.” Clive must have known, even as he shook hands with each impressive act. He must have known, even while changing outfits between concert and press party, while watching the lines form each day, that he was in trouble.
The first rumors had begun to fly during “A Week to Remember.” David Wynshaw, 52, Vice President of Artist Relations at Columbia, had been busted. He’d been locked out of his 12th floor office a couple of weeks ago, and there was talk about prostitution and drugs. The FBI, the rumors said, had invaded CBS’ black skyscraper and seized files from Wynshaw’s office, and CBS had “cordoned off” the room and fired the 11-year veteran.
Wynshaw, it was said, was close to Clive Davis, and was variously known around the company and in the business as Davis’ “royal procurer,” or “Clive’s pimp,” or “the all-around Dr. Feelgood.” He had, the hearsay went, been moved over to “Special Projects,” and took care of conventions, providing any necessary “entertainment” for Columbia executives and favored guests. He worked with hotels and travel agents, sometimes handling conventions of 1,000 people. In that capacity, it was said, he——and probably others at Columbia——was involved in some computer scheme. “All billings,” one source said, “come out of a computer. When needs exceeded what was budgeted for his department——you couldn’t keypunch drugs and broads——he’d program for reimbursement, and the computer would program an OK.” The excesses, the source said, were rumored to have reached $500,000. And the operator, it was said, had to have either received authorization from higher up, or been guilty of outright embezzlement.