Clive Davis started Arista Records in 1974. He built it on the bones of Bell Records and turned it into a powerhouse for 25 years.
Now I’m told next Saturday Arista will be celebrated in an invite-only reunion gala at the Cutting Room. The party’s been in the works for five months, says Ken Levy, former Arista VP of creative services. “Two hundred people are coming, we’ve had to turn people away, and there are no plus 1s,” Ken tells me.
Clive is coming, so is Dionne Warwick, Alan Parsons, and some members of Crash Test Dummies. (They had a huge one off hit called “Mmmmmm.”) There’s a rumor Aretha Franklin may stop by.
There’s also an Arista Museum being assembled in a separate room. “People are sending in all kinds of artifacts,” Ken told me. “The Whitney Houston estate is bringing some things for display. Eric Carmen is sending things, too.” Carmen had a major solo career on Arista beginning with “All By Myself.” At one time, Arista was home to the Kinks, the Grateful Dead, Carly Simon, Graham Parker, a raft of people from Stiff Records, Lou Reed, Dave Edmunds, and Gil Scott-Heron.
Arista was one of the great sorta indie labels, like A&M and Sire, run by a real music man (Davis) and responsible for launching dozens of famous artists and sending executives out into the record biz. It would have continued past 2000 with Davis except for the shortsightedness of people who came in to run BMG, the larger company. They wrecked it. Davis, however, started J Records, had hits with Alicia Keys, Santana, Rod Stewart, and Jennifer Hudson. The rest is history.
The first Arista hit: