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CLIVE DAVIS KNOWS HOW TO PARTY


What’s impressive about your Pre-Grammy Gala is the combination of your attention to detail and the personal element—which defines your career as a whole.
I put a high premium on attention to detail, but it’s got to be complemented by some showbiz flair to take things out of the ordinary. On the other hand, I can tell you all the pitfalls that you can avoid by attention to detail. It gets down to picking the tablecloth, the linen, the flowers and the meal, but on an evening of this nature, it’s more of having the objective to do something unique that is not done anywhere else during the year. And I think there are two aspects of this. One is, I’m always mindful of the fact that my competitors, year in year out, come here, that they lay down their armor, and there’s no other evening of the year where you can have the touching thrill of having your competitors—historically for me it was Ahmet and Mo—and they would come every year. And the other thing is the idea of celebrating music. So it becomes part of the mission to put artists together. Like young Alicia, when I said, “Here you’ve just won five Grammys; what would be your dream? Who would you love to perform with in the future?” She said, “Aretha Franklin.” To put her and Aretha together on the same night, or matching Lou Reed with Rod Stewart. Those were just some of the incredible matches.

The only two people who don’t come are the two heads of HITS magazine. They come to cocktails [laughs], but they don’t come to the dinner or the show. Why, I have no idea, because I know they love music.

You’ve showcased your own artists in the past, but more than that, you’re presenting your favorite music and the guests. Any stand out to you?
My memory is replete of great shows, of evenings that indicate why this is the most special night of music any time during the year, of any year, and why people like Quincy and Ahmet and Mo, as well as Herbie Hancock, come every year. To signify how different it is, I always come out and give them a taste of a few people who are in the audience so that they’ll know. It spreads an immediate electricity. One year I only introduced three: Paul McCartney, Prince and Sly & the Family Stone. Tell Dennis and Lenny I couldn’t have introduced them when they weren’t there. [Laughter]

It is their loss.
Last year I introduced Al Gore out of respect for his former position. I introduced Tim Cook and Eddy Cue of Apple because of the phenomenal impact that has changed so much of today’s industry. And then I introduced Joni Mitchell. She, of course, gets the biggest hand of all, because people know Joni doesn’t come to an industry function. In the larger sense, these are people, handpicked from all areas, who love music.

So on Feb. 16 the party is over, the Grammys are done, and you’ve got to be thinking ahead to next year. How do those ideas come to you? It’s a blank slate and you could do anything you wanted. How do you narrow it down?
I don’t really think about the Grammy party until, I would say, December. Gestating on some ideas, like Johnny Mathis last year. I always put the Puffys and the Taylor Swifts in the front row, because they’re the most demonstrative and the quickest to rise, to give a standing ovation. They love it, you can see it. And Mathis is the master. The first time I did it with Johnny 10 or 15 years ago, it had an electrifying impact on Alicia and others to see what it was and is that makes him special.

The room just erupted last year with Johnny.
And it led to the fact that I’m doing an album with him, because it ended up with the L.A. Times Calendar section from the party giving a front-page headline that Johnny Mathis explodes from Clive’s party. And Doug Morris and Rob Stringer came to me and said, “My God. Come up with one of your concepts, because the guy is singing great.” So I’ve come up with a concept, and we’ve begun working on it—coming out of that party, really. We’re in the midst of beginning work on it.

What is the concept? Or would you rather not say yet? We won’t tell.
I’m torn. I’ve come up with a concept, but someone else could take that same concept and steal it.

When you think back over the 40 years are there any other special nights, any special performances that come to mind?
Yes, there are so many. In 2001, I was leaving Arista, and we were forming J. Whitney performed two songs at that Grammy party —“I Believe in You and Me” and “I Will Always Love You”—and she was singing totally to me. That’s an example of performances at the Grammy party that the public never sees that are meaningful and memorable.

Someone described your party as the great equalizer—like the Golden Globes—in that you’ve got Barbara Boxer and Beck, all of these diverse luminaries in the room, and they don’t have their publicist holding their hands. They are there; they are in a safe place.
You know what the big difference is? That’s just the makeup of the crowd, it is the show. Not that the memories, the mail that I get all year long about how indebted they are, because they can’t believe those lifetime memorable performances on one night of celebrating.

And that’s what your career has been about—the transformative power of music.
It’s the show. That’s why it’s packed at the end as well.•

 

FOR FURTHER READING
Doug Davis: The Man Behind the Man

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