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CNN Profiles: What moves Clive Davis?
Clive Davis with singer Janis Joplin, who Davis signed after seeing her performance at the Monterey Pop music festival in 1967.
April 12th, 2013
06:59 AM ET

CNN Profiles: What moves Clive Davis?

Hosted by Michael Schulder

Follow Michael at: www.wavemaker.me

Editor's Note: Listen to the full interview in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) - Which of the following musicians does not belong with the others?

Janis Joplin. Bob Dylan. Whitney Houston. Barry Manilow.

Carlos Santana. The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, Alicia Keys, Patti Smith, Notorious B.I.G.

Answer: they all belong together. They have been together - under the same umbrella - because of the man featured in this edition of CNN Profiles.

Clive Davis is that man.

Nobody would ever have pegged a young Clive Davis as destined for a career in the music industry.

Although he enjoyed singing and was a member of the glee club in college, he had no particular musical training. And his tastes as a young man were, as he describes them, quite conventional. This man, who is now in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame did not like rock when it first came out.

As a boy, Clive Davis loved school. So much so that his mother would urge him to study a little less get out more to play and socialize. People skills were just as important as book smarts she’d tell him.

Davis tells us he did not dream big. But he had drive. He had to. Both his parents died when he was a freshman in college. Davis had no money. But those book smarts got him full scholarships to NYU and then Harvard Law School.

And the academic diligence combined with the people skills encouraged by his mother, would eventually make for a powerful combination.

In the 1960s, one job well done led to another, until Davis found himself running Columbia Records, which was in pretty bad financial shape.

And then, a moment of serendipity that changed his life.

Clive Davis heard an unknown singer named Janis Joplin.

He found her “mesmerizing” and set out to sign her.

He was prepared to pay 25,000 dollars - more than double the going rate to sign new artists.

In the end he had to lay out ten times that amount to get Joplin and her band – 250,000 dollars. Small change now. A big risk then.

And with that bold move, which he describes in his new book "The Soundtrack of My Life," began the ascent of Clive Davis – from the helm of Columbia Records – to founding his own label, Arista – to making waves in the world of hip-hop by financing a confident young producer named Sean Puffy Combs who dreamed of getting hip-hop onto the Top 40 charts.

By clicking the play icon above on this edition of CNN Profiles, you can hear Clive Davis explain in colorful detail the approach that has made him such a force in American music.

“From the very beginning," Davis tells us, "I didn’t specialize. From the very beginning, I approached music just being open to what moved me.”

As he turns 81, Clive Davis still has his ears open for the next thing that moves him.

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Filed under: CNN Profiles • Culture • Entertainment • Profiles • Voices
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Barry

    What moves Clive Davis...? His bowels.

    April 21, 2013 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  2. lunwood slim

    he does not even play an instrument! he is the king of exploitation, the ultimate con man. he has ruined american music with his pention for rap music. he heard it and saw money! i think john hammond truly loved music!

    April 17, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lord Toronaga

    I wonder is he "helped" Jimmy Savile & Kevin Clash ??

    April 12, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lord Toronaga

      "if he helped"

      April 12, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. booberry

    most of the women who worked with davis ended up committing suicide..all of the artist he worked with were addicted to drugs, and most of the makes davis worked with die young....i'd stay away from him if i were an artist, there blood on clive davis's hands.

    April 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • booberry

      *males*

      April 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lord Toronaga

    He was just recently a guest on "Bill Maher"....Bill crawled right up the stink bags rectum and tickled his bladder.

    April 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. laughing out silent

    The jealous wanna-bees on these boards are hysterical. Gotta love the internet.

    April 12, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. RHarri

    Clive Davis is just upper management he's a old gay man. No more no less

    April 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mojobutta

    He failed with most. People who knew him said he far more failures than successes. He just rolled the dice with other people's money and took a percentage if it clicked. Big woop. He's also a fag and probably a low life.

    April 12, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tab Hunter

      Hey listen up, MOJOBUTTHEAD–you're just a pissant MF haterator who's probably never worked a day in your miserable eff'd up life. Shut the hell up.

      April 12, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lord Toronaga

      Another gay Hollywood yiddle who mostly promoted other yiddles. ugh.

      April 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Truther13

    i wonder how many of his artists he had a hand in contributing to their downfalls and even deaths.
    Guy is a dirtbag

    April 12, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. EZE

    Seems like alot of people around him die young.

    April 12, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Nina

    BHAHAHAHA..... I never comment on these articles but I couldnt keep my mouth shut. Pete is just looking for attention that we are all giving him. He obviously knows nothing about what good music is.

    April 12, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RickInPA

    Ha ha! Good one Pete!

    April 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KayKay

    P Diddy is suckAsshole.

    April 12, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sneakypete

    I never liked Janis Joplin, there were plenty of other talented singers at that time that didn't have to scream bloody blue murder.
    I didn't care for Jimi Hendricks either and, at best, he as a good guitar player. I was in a garage band in the 1950's which was better than the Rolling Stones ever were doing their best performance in their lifetime. There were tons of great musicians and singers during the 60's and 70's, the above mentioned weren't any part of that.

    April 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Winston Legthigh

      How'd that garage band work out for ya, Pete?

      April 12, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • loki

      you are not too smart are you pete?

      April 12, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • RF

      Wow Carlos Santana, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan weren't any part of good music? No Wonder you were only in a garage band!

      April 12, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • citizenUSA

      You missed out on some really great music. I admire your appreciation for yourself and your garage band but better than the Stones? If that were true, YOU'D be Mick Jagger. And maybe you were listening to the wrong Jimi since you spelled his last name, Hendricks.

      April 12, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZippyPee

      Hey Pete.....YOUR A FRIGGIN TOOL!!!.....Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin werent as good as your garage band...OMG YOU ARE THE REASON WHY ANIMALS EAT THERE YOUNG!!

      April 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • goaway

      numbnutz...

      April 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Boston Kate

    Well, that's a BS reply.

    April 12, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
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