On December 5, 2017, The Grammy Museum presented Chris Perkel’s award-winning documentary about record industry icon Clive Davis, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Davis himself was on hand, as was filmmaker Perkel (20 Feet From Stardom), for an insightful Q&A with museum executive director Scott Goldman before and after the screening, which took place in—where else—the museum’s Clive Davis Theater.
The film details every stage of Davis’ career, from his shift from law practice to joining Columbia Records as assistant counsel in the mid-1960s to becoming head of A&R for the company and his subsequent expulsion in the midst of a payola scandal in 1973, to forming his enormously successful Arista label, to additional and continuing work in the music industry.
Dozens of stellar talents from the recording world appear in the film, including Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Barry Manilow, L.A. Reid, David Foster and others, to talk about the impact Davis had on their careers.
“What struck me was the warmth and affection these seminal artists all had, and the genuine appreciation Clive had in fostering or developing their careers,” said Perkel.
“I gave Chris no direction—I was ceding control,” said Davis. “It was important to me that I was dealing with someone who understood and loved music, which Chris clearly does.”
Perkel believes that independence was key. “That was important—no subject off-limits, no topic was off-limits,” the filmmaker said. “But, as I always say, I had the world’s greatest music supervisor.”
Among the key facets of Davis’ work ethic, revealed in the film, is his ability to develop strong relationships with his artists “There were a number of attributers that came across: his work ethic, his incredible intelligence, and the taste and sensibility to distinguish between the very good and the great,” said Perkel. “But also the ability to develop real, genuine, empathetic, interpersonal relationships with the people you work with. Take all those things together, and you end up with something pretty exceptional.”