When you read his autobiography, it seems like Clive Davis has worked with everyone. From Johnny Cash and Bruce Springstein to Notorious B.I.G. and Alicia Keys, his hit list goes on and on. But Davis never intended to get into music. “I got into music as a lucky break, an accident,” he said.
Orphaned as a teenager, Davis put himself through Harvard Law School and ended up as legal counsel at Columbia Records. Five years later, in the mid-1960s, Davis was in charge of the label. There, after attending the now-legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, he signed his first artist: Janis Joplin and her Band Big Brother and the Holding Company.
“I had not been remotely aware of what was going on at Haight-Ashbury — the love, peace and flowers,” he recalled. “So, for me, seeing a new revolution in the making, sensing and getting that — could I say — tingling in my spine, I really have to sign this riveting, compelling, electrifying white soul sister in this group, Big Brother and the Holding Company.”
The rest is music history. Bands like Santana followed, then Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Whitney Houston, Outkast and Pink. And to think he new nothing about music when he got started. “I found that I had an ear that I never knew I had,” Davis said. “Janis made it; the Electric Flag; Santana; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Chicago. They all made it.”
Every decision Davis made, he said, was based on gut.