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HOMB 2 : WALTER YETNIKOFF

As we celebrate Volume Two of our History of the Music Biz, we bring you a snippet from Michael Sigman's profile of legendary exec Walter Yetnikoff.

Yetnikoff was born and raised in Brooklyn. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Brooklyn College in 1953 and earning a law degree from Columbia University, he landed a job at Rosenman & Colin, a prestigious firm that represented CBS Inc. founder William Paley and CBS Records. One of his colleagues was one Clive Davis.

As a junior attorney, Walter had no designs on the record biz. "I wanted to practice law with a capital L," he told me. "But one day I was doing a file search at CBS Records, and all of a sudden, someone said, 'That’s enough.' The lights went down, the music went up, the booze came out and the girls were walking around. I thought, this is a much more interesting place than a law firm."

Soon after Davis left Rosenman & Colin to join the CBS Records law department, he recruited Walter to join him. When Clive moved up to an administrative post at CBS, Walter was named general counsel. That’s when he got his first taste of the darker side of the industry, courtesy of Roulette Records’ notorious owner Morris Levy.

“I was sent to Roulette to collect $400,000 that they owed CBS for manufacturing fees. Morris, with his gruff voice, said, ‘I’m takin’ a contract out on you.’ He wasn’t serious, but he did scare me. Then he said the most important thing is balls, and it took balls for me to go there.” 

Levy sent Walter a check for payment in full and a note saying he wasn’t paying because he had to but because he didn’t want Walter to get in trouble. Walter avers: “I think he paid because he knew we were gonna sue him.”

 To order a copy of The History of the Music Biz Two: The Mike Sigman Interviewsgo here.

 

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