Six Things You Didn't Know About Clive Davis - Rolling Stone
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Six Things You Didn’t Know About Clive Davis

From bonding with Jerry Garcia over tic-tac-toe to standing behind Whitney Houston in her darkest days, the iconic record exec and producer opens up in his sequel memoir

clive davis

Clive Davis in New York.

Gary Gershoff/WireImage

It’s taken almost four decades, but Clive Davis – former head of Columbia, Arista and J Records, now chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment – has written a sequel to his 1975 memoir. The Soundtrack of My Life (penned with RS contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis) chronicles his epic career working with everyone from Bob Dylan and Paul Simon to Whitney Houston and Kelly Clarkson. Here are a few key revelations, from the pages of the book and a conversation with Davis in his Sony office in New York.

He’s at least partially responsible for Bruce‘s first two classic songs
In 1972, Springsteen came to Davis’ office at Columbia to play for Davis and legendary A&R man John Hammond. “[He] didn’t even have a case for the acoustic guitar he was carrying,” Davis writes of this period. Later that year, after he heard Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., Davis felt the album needed, as he pens, “a couple more songs that might potentially bring him some radio play.” Taking Davis’ advice, Springsteen added two tracks he still plays: “Spirit in the Night” and “Blinded by the Light.”

He’s bisexual
Davis discloses that he first had a sexual encounter with a man during the heyday of Studio 54. Later, after he had separated from his second wife, he began leading what he calls a “bisexual life,” sleeping with women and men. Since 1990, he’s had two long-term relationships with men. “My family knew and my closest friends knew,” he tells RS. “But bisexuality is and was misunderstood: ‘You’re either gay or straight, or you’re lying.’ But that’s not true. Maybe I should have had the courage earlier to air the issue. But I knew I would air it when I wrote my autobiography.”

He admits he’s not always right
In 1969, Davis questioned Dylan’s decision to call his new album Nashville Skyline: “It was not in any literal sense a country album,” Davis writes. He also passed on one of the biggest albums of the Seventies: Meat Loaf‘s Bat Out of Hell. “The songs were coming over as very theatrical, and Meat Loaf, despite a powerful voice, just didn’t look like a star,” Davis writes.

He will always think Kelly Clarkson’s 2007 LP could have been better
Davis and Clarkson had a public feud over her 2007 album, My December, which Davis released despite concerns that it didn’t have enough hits. “I’m telling Kelly, ‘I know you don’t want to hear this, but I have to do my job, which is to worry for you,’ ” he says. “ ’This is not Nebraska.’ ” (Clarkson claims Davis’ book includes “memory lapses and misinformation.” Davis responds, “I stand by the chapter as written.”)

He can hang out with any kind of artist
He recounts bonding with Jerry Garcia over a tic-tac-toe game at a Grateful Dead afterparty in 1980. “Only with Jerry Garcia would a surreal moment like that make perfect sense,” Davis writes. And in the heyday of Bad Boy Records, a partnership between Davis and Sean “Puffy” Combs, Davis spent a lot of time at hip-hop parties. “At some of them, it seemed like even the coat checks had security,” he writes. “I never once brought a bodyguard.”

He honestly believed Whitney was clean
“For a while, I did believe that she stopped drugs when she did the Oprah interview,” Davis says of Houston’s later years. When Houston visited Davis in L.A., days before her death, he was sure she was poised for a comeback. He says, “There was no comprehension on her part or my part that she was flirting with death.”

This story is from the March 14th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.


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