How Clive Davis Shaped 'The Soundtrack Of Our Lives' The music mogul has spent decades shaping the careers of artists who would grow into superstars. A new Apple Music documentary aims to tell his story.
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How Clive Davis Shaped 'The Soundtrack Of Our Lives'

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How Clive Davis Shaped 'The Soundtrack Of Our Lives'

How Clive Davis Shaped 'The Soundtrack Of Our Lives'

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

All these musicians have something in common.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEPTEMBER")

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) Do you remember the 21st night of September?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OYE COMO VA")

SANTANA: (Singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSALITA (COME OUT TONIGHT)")

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Rosalita, jump a little lighter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG POPPA")

THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.: (Rapping) Throw your hands in the air if you'se (ph) a true player.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU")

WHITNEY HOUSTON: (Singing) And I will always love you.

SIEGEL: Whitney Houston, Notorious B.I.G., Bruce Springsteen, Santana, Earth, Wind & Fire. You can throw in Barry Manilow, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Patti Smith. Their careers were all advanced or shaped by one man, a Harvard Law graduate from Brooklyn named Clive Davis. He was the president of Columbia Records who went on to start Arista Records. And at 85, he's the subject of a documentary on Apple Music called "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack Of Our Lives."

Davis told me that he had zero music experience when he went from being the lawyer for Columbia Records to being its president.

CLIVE DAVIS: I had no connection with music whatsoever. And it was only after I was head of the company for about a year I found myself at the Monterey Pop Festival in the presence of Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company. And that was my epiphany. That was my first signing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BALL AND CHAIN")

BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY: (Singing) And I'll say, oh, whoa, whoa, whoa. The people tell me, why was I...

DAVIS: And I started trusting my instinct after that, which lead to Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago, Aerosmith, et cetera.

SIEGEL: And when you're at the Monterey Pop Festival, you're the suit in the audience. You're the guy out of place.

DAVIS: It wasn't even a suit. I was khaki pants with a tennis sweater. Yeah, I was the odd man out in that audience. That's for sure.

SIEGEL: And what was it that you heard in - well, say, in Janis Joplin that right away made you feel, I've got to sign this woman?

DAVIS: She was riveting, compelling, killer voice that just vibrated through you and sent shivers up your spine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PIECE OF MY HEART")

BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY: (Singing) Come on and take it. Take another little piece of my heart now, baby. Oh, oh, break it.

SIEGEL: The documentary depicts your intervening in the careers of a number of artists, first of all hearing the future success in what they're doing, and then making some adjustment to make that success come faster. How do you describe what it is that you hear in a performer that says to you this one as opposed to that one could be a real success?

DAVIS: You know, it's different if you're a writer. It's different when you're signing a Bruce Springsteen or an Alicia Keys than it is when you're signing a performer, a Whitney Houston, or feeling that Aretha or Dionne Warwick could still be major stars for many years to come. You're looking basically for headliners. You're looking for those that will lift an audience out of its seat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M YOUR BABY TONIGHT")

HOUSTON: (Singing) Baby, let's fly. Whatever you want from me, I'm giving you everything. I'm your baby tonight. I'm your baby. You've given me ecstasy...

SIEGEL: The artist who occupies the most time in the film about your career is Whitney Houston - a spectacular success story, a catastrophic end to that story. What was your relationship with Whitney Houston?

DAVIS: My relationship with Whitney is that I signed her when she was in her teens. We bonded to the point that her management insisted that I give them a team-end clause that I had never given any other artist before or since, which meant that if at any time I would leave the company she would have the right to leave. And so we had a very close creative relationship. I was with her just two days before her death.

SIEGEL: When she was - when her drug problem became so serious and ultimately fatal, was it hard for you to see because you were so close to her? Do you think you were perhaps trying not to see it?

DAVIS: I think the film points out that I - initially I did not see it up close because Whitney would, before she saw me, be dressed great, look great, be on top of her game. But when I saw the problem, it shows the letter that I wrote to her and goes into detail of the efforts to really get her to confront her addiction. And when she did that Oprah interview we all thought that she had beat the problem, but obviously she did not.

SIEGEL: You are currently the chief creative officer of Sony Entertainment. But I'm curious - if you listened to some music this evening that had nothing to do with work, that was entirely for pleasure, what would you listen to?

DAVIS: I wish I had that opportunity because every week I bring home the new records as they break through to study why they are hits, to study why radio is playing it and what radio is not playing to make sure I don't come with self-confidence. I don't want to go over the hill, and so I keep my ear very, very current every week.

SIEGEL: Clive Davis, thanks for talking with us today.

DAVIS: I appreciate your interest. Thank you.

SIEGEL: We've heard from Clive Davis. He's the subject of the new documentary from Apple Music called "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack Of Our Lives."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLENDED FAMILY (WHAT YOU DO FOR LOVE)")

ALICIA KEYS: (Singing) It's what you do, what you do, what you do, what you do for love 'cause there ain't nothing, there ain't nothing, there ain't nothing...

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