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DOUG DAVIS: THE MAN BEHIND THE MAN

When did you get involved with the party?
It was about seven or eight years ago when—because of the finances of the global music business declining, supporting the party as part of a label no longer made financial sense and I, with Joel Katz, did the deal to bring the Recording Academy in to be the underwriter of the event and to institutionalize it as the Pre-Grammy Gala. Then we moved the production of the party out of the Sony building into my office, and I’ve been supervising and running the party out of my office since then.

This is a broad question but what are your key contributions to the party?
I know the worldwide music community, so I’m familiar with who the new players are at any given time. I think I have a very good understanding of who’s dated who, who fired who, who is in a current feud, which manager shouldn’t be seated with which artist. Being active in the business, I have an of-the-moment feel for some of the delicate politics that you need to know in order to properly seat a room. My father and I have a conversation about who would go with whom, and I’d say I have a feel for those nuances. I think that’s key on a production level.

We’re seating a thousand celebrities and VIPs, and we’re doing a two-hour superstar show. Logistically, it’s a massive undertaking to stage the event, and it starts months in advance. There’s only so much Clive Davis can be involved with in a hands-on basis, because there are so many little details. I interface with Branden Chapman or Rex Supa, the producers from the Recording Academy, and with Jennifer Hellman of Maps, who is the live production coordinator. I interface with and supervise Stacy Carr, who handles the guest list, and I’m a liaison for Clive at the meetings for the invitation designs. So knowing that he is the star of the show, I would say that I’m the executive producer of the project.

You obviously consider the politics, because these people are competitive all year long. You’re somehow able to balance the politics of who’s there, where they’re seated and making everyone feel comfortable.
Every guest is on Dad’s radar screen from invitation to where they are seated. For some people, being invited is enough. Some people measure it by where they are seated in the room; for some people it’s who they are seated with; for other people it’s the show that’s put on. And he is able to successfully navigate the politics, because that is the art of the event that is so unique to what Dad does. And toiling with that detail so that every guest feels special for being invited, for where they’re seated, for who they’re seated with, and for the show that’s put on for them.

The show opened this year with Nirvana and Beck doing the tribute to Bowie with “The Man Who Sold the World,” the song Nirvana covered on MTV Unplugged. How did that process come about.
We knew that we were going to do a 40th anniversary celebration, and we asked Barry Manilow to redo the first performance 40 years later to celebrate that history that he and my father shared of the first gala together. But when Bowie, Glenn Frey and Maurice White died—my father signed Earth, Wind & Fire to Columbia—we realized we had to make the evening not just a 40th anniversary celebration but a tribute to them. With regard to Bowie, it came from my father reaching out to Dave Grohl; my father and Dave have a very warm relationship. And Dave came back to us with this idea. Never in a million years would we have dreamt that he would reunite the surviving members of Nirvana to sing a song and perform together in a way they haven’t done in 22 years. Dave then came back to us with Beck, and really created—which is what I’m seeing now on social media and in the press—what has quickly become a thrilling global moment. It was made all the more special that Courtney Love was there that night. I think she had a great time and was touched by the evening; we all were. There’s not one person who was there who didn’t tell me that this was one of the most memorable performances that they’ve ever seen, and this is a room full of jaded people.

What makes the performances at the party so special?
We get to have fun in a way that other people don’t in that our event is not televised, involves a bit of alcohol and we shut the doors. Before technology, before the cellphone, whatever anybody did onstage and however many drinks someone had, it was our private moment, and that’s what the industry shared together. Cellphones have changed that moment, and bits of performances pop up online, but there is no pressure the way there is on a network telecast. Everyone knows they’re performing for their peers, and they do it in an unguarded way; they really give their best performances and create unique moments. This party, going back 40 years, was in a way an originator of these once-in-a-lifetime collaborations.

It really sounds like a lot of work. Why do you do it?
There’s not a lot of upside, but being the soldier to his general for a significant portion of the year and being battle tested together has created a relationship with my father that is the strongest relationship in my life. That’s why I do it. It’s a labor of love to just be connected with my dad.•

FOR FURTHER READING

Clive Davis Knows How to Party

HITS LIST: AMPERSANDS
Dynamic duos (12/3a)
TAYLOR'S TREMENDOUS YEAR
She'd make one helluva CEO. (12/3a)
THEY CALL THE WINDFALL MARIAH (HOLIDAY EDITION)
Ch-chingle bells (12/3a)
SONG REVENUE:
BOWS OF HOLLY
Adele is money. (12/3a)
UTA MUSIC EXPANDS IN NASHVILLE
Reshuffling the deck (12/3a)
CHESTNUTS
Roasting.
STOCKINGS
Stuffing.
PIPERS
Piping.
SANTA
Coming.
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