Clive Davis might go down in history as the one who discovered Whitney Houston, but his new memoir reveals a whole new side to the music maestro few people have been privy to in the years since the Brooklyn-born music exec came on the scene in the 60s.
Though Davis admits that he wasn’t an early music fan, he discovered numerous musical acts–Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Santana, Pink Floyd, Laura Nyro, Barry Manilow, Aretha Franklin, Patti Smith, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys–basically every artist on our iPod.
His memoir, The Soundtrack of My Life, co-written with Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis, came out last month (and in some ways so did Davis), telling readers: “To call me anything other than bisexual would be inaccurate.”
Like so many other people who have gone on to do great things, Davis hails from Brooklyn–Crown Heights to be exact. In his book, Davis, now 80, recalls going to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers with his father and seeing films at the movie houses on Nostrand and Bedford avenues. He later attended Erasmus Hall, the same high school attended by Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand (who coincidentally were on Columbia Records at the time Davis was running it).
“Life in Brooklyn was very self-contained, and I felt completely at home,” Davis writes. “Our neighborhood was about 80 percent Jewish, but there were enough Irish and Italians to make it somewhat of a melting pot, and we were all in the same economic bracket–working class, or lower-middle class. Your neighborhood was your block.”
He also recalls a time when families would gather outside and sit on the steps of their houses on the evenings due to the lack of air-conditioning. “Every night you’d solve neighborhood, local, personal, and world problems sitting on the stoop,” he writes.
Davis’ time in Brooklyn was brief but memorable. He went on to study at New York University and then Harvard Law School on a scholarship. He started out at Columbia Records as the label’s chief counsel, and as they say, the rest is history.
Presently, Davis is still in the music business as the chief creative officer of Sony Entertainment. To coincide with the release of his first memoir–which I highly recommend to music enthusiasts–here is a playlist of the many artists from Columbia, Arista and J who were under Davis’ wing. As you’ll discover, the length of this playlist speaks volumes for the tremendous impact Davis has made on popular music for six decades. (Of special note, Davis is mentioned in the Aerosmith song “No Surprize,” the lyrics go: “And then old Clive Davis said/He’s surely gonna make us a star/I’m gonna make you a star/Just the way you are.”)
Tonight Davis appears with DeCurtis at 92Y at 8pm to talk about the book. Tickets are $29–$36.
Brooklyn Based delivers free daily emails about the borough's best food, events, attractions and innovators. Get Brooklyn Based in your inbox--sign up here.