The Mega Music Man
Clive Davis, the music industry’s man with the “golden ears,” met with his collaborator, Anthony de Curtis, at his home in Pound Ridge every Saturday for more than a year to work on The Soundtrack of My Life, the New York Times bestseller the duo wrote about Davis’s life and career. From his magical childhood, cut short by the untimely deaths of his parents, to his positions at the helm of top record labels, Davis left no stone unturned when it came to sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. In between, he let readers in on a few secrets and provided a peek behind the scenes of the evolution of modern American music. Whitney, Aretha, Janis, Bruce, Carlos, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Grateful Dead are just a sampling of the chart toppers who make appearances on the pages of Soundtrack.
On a Sunday afternoon, we sat down with Davis in the sprawling home that he bought from architect Vuko Tashkovich in 1991. In a neighborhood of contemporary houses, Davis’s is tucked away along with a guesthouse, two swimming pools, and a tennis court on an immaculate, gated property. Given the number of celebrated chanteuses who have attended his parties, it’s no surprise that a grand piano takes center stage in the main house’s two-story living room. Sure, Whitney was here—in fact this is exactly where the intervention he attempted with her in 2000 took place. Patti LuPone, Liza Minelli, Barry Manilow, and Rod Stewart have been guests, too.
The decor, including custom, contemporary furnishings, imported accent pieces, and modern art, has an international “man of the world” vibe. No Grammy Awards are on display, nor photos of his famous clients. Is that an original Andy Warhol Brillo box under the spiral staircase? Floor-to-ceiling windows surround the entertainment areas overlooking an expansive deck where white draperies billow in the breeze and a ping-pong table has been wheeled out for weekend guests.
Those who work with Davis in Manhattan or Los Angeles might have been surprised to find him casually dressed in a polo shirt, trousers, and Prada sneakers, but his weekend guests had departed, and the Yankees were playing on TV, so his signature jacket with matching tie and pocket square were not required.
How did you end up in Pound Ridge? I saw an ad for this house in a magazine, and I fell in love with it. About eight years later, when I knew I loved the area and that it was a wise commitment, I bought the property next door and hired Mark Rios to design the guesthouse with a theater that seats 40 on the lower level. That’s where I host friends every Saturday evening before going out to dinner.
Where do you like to eat when you’re here? Pretty much every weekend, I’ll spend one night at Pasta Nostra in Norwalk. On the other nights, I’d say my top three are La Crémaillère, The Bedford Post Inn, and Moderne Barn.
Is it true that your theater is the site of a hotly contested singing competition, Pound Ridge Idol? [Laughs] Yes, Pound Ridge Idol grew out of a long-standing Memorial Day weekend tradition when I host friends and family from out of town. There are secret ballots, and the three finalists perform after dinner. It’s great fun.
Did you keep a diary all these years in order to write your memoir, The Soundtrack of My Life? No, I employed Mitchell Cohen to research and create an outline of records, titles, and dates. Then, if Anthony and I were working on the Barry Manilow section, for example, all he would have to do is say “Mandy” or “I Write the Songs,” and I would respond with my recollections.
Were you surprised by the book’s phenomenal success? You know, when you’re doing a book like this, you don’t know if you’re doing it for a few musicians or for people interested in music, but the book is now in its seventh printing, and it’s being published in China and Japan. Its reach has really been a wonderful gift to me.
What songs would you choose for the soundtrack of your own life? Songs that I’ve had a personal connection with. I would include “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel; “Mandy” by Barry Manilow; “Because the Night” by Patti Smith; a Whitney Houston great hit—they’re all special because I worked as a creative partner with Whitney picking every song that she recorded; “Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead; “Blinded by the Light” by Bruce Springsteen; “Smooth” by Santana, “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne, Stevie, Elton, and Gladys; “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me” by Aretha and George Michael; “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys; “Spotlight” by Jennifer Hudson; “The Way You Look Tonight” by Rod Stewart; and certainly, “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin.
What are you working on now? I’m working on Jennifer Hudson’s new album. Her voice is prodigious, and I’m excited about the material that she’s recording. I also just signed Aretha Franklin to do an album of great diva standards. Aretha’s voice has remained so pure, powerful, and soulful. I think it’s exciting to document these standards on one album with one of the greatest voices of our lifetime. Aretha, Whitney, and Barbra Streisand are the three greatest voices today.
What music do you like to dance to when no one’s watching? [Laughs] There are some great dance records out there right now. “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” You know, those get you moving. I’m also a great admirer of some of the vintage hits by the Black Eyed Peas and vintage Donna Summer.
How would you compare the changes in the music industry during the 1960s and 70s to the changes we see today? In a way, you’re comparing revolution to change. The folk, rock, and hip hop revolutions brought about distinctive, innovative voices and artists whose influence was pervasive over the years. Although music is exciting today, there are many fewer new artists who look to loom long-term the way that Dylan and Patti Smith did. Right now, dance music dominates, and to some extent, it’s at the expense of individuality, of artistry. I miss and am concerned as to where the next Dylan and the next Springsteen will be coming from. So, it’s a different type of thing.
Thank you for your time and for cleaning up I-684.You’re welcome. You know, I’ve always applauded Bette Midler’s work cleaning up the environment. On my weekly trips to and from the city in the early years, I noticed an accumulation of paper on the roadside. So, when I heard about Adopt-A-Highway for litter removal, I decided to personally pay for two sections.