Thursday, July 18, 2024

Seymour Stein, the Great Music Man Who Gave Us Madonna, Talking Heads, Ramones, And More Dies at 80


I am very sorry to report the death at age 80 of my friend, Seymour Stein. He was a visionary music man, the creator of Sire Records, and the man who gave us Madonna, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Pretenders and more. He was also one of the best people I’ve known professionally and personally.

Yes, it was Seymour who made all those groups possible with his Sire Records, started in 1966. As Sire was later subsumed into Warner Music, Seymour became their international ambassador, traveling the world looking for new acts. He had a genius ear, and an eye for acts that would resonate.

Most importantly, he was there when punk and New Wave music took off, pushing it to be mainstream while still keeping its integrity. And all these groups loved him. Other acts who benefited from Seymour’s genius, and appeared on Sire, included Depeche Mode, Seal, Ice-T, Lou Reed, Regina Spektor, the Smiths, the Cure, the Replacements, Aphex Twin plus the Replacements (and leader Paul Westerberg), Echo & the Bunnymen, Madness, the Undertones, the Smiths (and lead singer Morrissey), Everything But the Girl, Aztec Camera, Erasure, the Flamin’ Groovies, and My Bloody Valentine.

By the way, out of Talking Heads Seymour was smart enough to give us the offshoot Tom Tom Club with Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth. Their debut album, and the track “Genius of Love,” has outlasted 90% of popular music. Mariah Carey sampled it whole for one hit, and it’s used and heard over and over every day.

Seymour’s expertise wasn’t just in rock. He signed country star Delta Rae to Warner Bros. But my favorite single of his hundreds of hits was “Ca Plane Pour Moi” by Plastic Bertrand. I used to ask him, “Seymour, do you know what it means?” And he’d say, “Who cares? You can dance to it.”

Seymour was an ardent antiques hunter and once took me on adventure in London looking for military pieces. He knew every market in every country and had an astute eye for what was valuable. But mostly what he valued were his wife, Linda, the famous realtor who helped him launch Sire, and their two daughter, Mandy, and Samantha, who passed away several years ago from cancer. In recent years the native Brooklyn kid had been living in California with Mandy, enjoying his grandchildren.

Seymour was certainly one of my mentors who helped me navigate writing about the record business. He was a founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but disagreed vehemently with how Jann Wenner ran it. He stood up for every R&B group and act that had been omitted, fighting against the tide every year. He had a deep respect for rock’s architects, and wanted to see them honored as much as possible. He was great friends with Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun because they believed in justice for the artists.

Like Ahmet, who passed away several years ago, and Clive Davis, who is still with us, we will never see anyone like Seymour Stein again. God bless you, Seymour.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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