Clive Davis helped shape the modern music industry as president of CBS’ Records Division and as president and founder of Arista Records.
A Brooklyn native, he joined CBS as a lawyer in 1960. He served as president from 1967 to 1973, turning Columbia and its affiliated labels into a major force in rock and roll with his prescient signings. He marks his attendance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 as “the creative turning point in my life.” As a direct result of Monterey, Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin) and the Electric Flag were brought to Columbia, and Davis went after more of the new generation of rock acts in its wake. Other artists signed to Columbia under his watch included Blood, Sweat & Tears, Santana, Boz Scaggs, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and Billy Joel.
After a controversial firing from Columbia in 1973, Davis continued his winning ways as founder of Arista Records a year later. His unerring eye for talent led him to sign a 19-year-old Whitney Houston, for whom he’s provided creative input and career guidance as her “executive producer.” Over the last quarter century, he’s launched such diverse talents as punk poetess Patti Smith, hip-hop impresario Sean “Puffy” Combs, country superstar Alan Jackson and new-folk mainstay Sarah McLachlan. At various points, Davis also revived the careers of such stalwarts as Aretha Franklin, the Grateful Dead, Lou Reed and Santana by bringing them to the label. The Grateful Dead, for instance, had their highest-charting album (In the Dark) and only Top 40 single ("Touch of Grey") at Arista in 1987. Davis proved to be a player even at the turn of the millennium when his vision of returning Carlos Santana to the charts resulted not only in a 1999 hit album (Supernatural) and single ("Smooth") but also won the guitarist an astounding eight Grammys.