Was she familiar with Clive Davis?
Oh, everybody knew Clive Davis…
Some kids are sheltered.
I’ve never had anyone ask me that. I’m assuming she knew [who Clive was], and if not I’m sure Cissy told her who he was.
So Cissy never came to you and said, “Hey, my daughter can sing…”?
No, it’s never happened.
When you first brought Whitney to Clive, was Clive was like, “Oh yeah, we got to have her” or did you have to sell her?
Clive’s focus was really always pop music. He’d use the word 'cross over.' He always looks towards the biggest markets because that’s his job. He’s in business to make money. To make money, you break new stars and you have to get them on the radio.
He liked her, but we only offered her a three-song deal. He wasn’t totally sure until… Well, his line is that he discovered her at Sweet Waters. And I’m not taking anything away from him, but what he meant by that was that before we had signed her…
I think that was the time where he totally realized how prodigious of a talent she could be. He saw the future with her that night. He didn’t get it that much until he saw her at Sweet Waters, I’ll put it that way. And at that point, we offered her a two-album deal.
Was it hard for her at that age to deal with the business side of the industry?
No. She had the experience of her mother. She had that strength to cope with the madness.
So you worked with her on her self-titled debut?
Oh yeah. I gave her two of her biggest songs: “You Give Good Love” and “How Will I Know?”
Is it true that the songs “Saving All My Love For You” and “Greatest Love of All”… Clive Davis thought those songs were “too black”?
[Laughs.] Oh boy…let’s say this: Clive’s focus was really always pop music. He’d use the word “cross over.” He always looks towards the biggest markets because that’s his job. He’s in business to make money.
To make money, you break new stars and you have to get them on the radio, and you can’t get a black artist on pop radio until you had a huge hit at R&B radio at that time. Today it’s totally different. But at that time, you had to really prove yourself as an artist on black radio before you crossed over.
Were you in agreement with that opinion regarding those two songs?
No, absolutely not. But that was common with Clive, everybody knew that.
Whitney did start to get criticized by blacks for what they felt were pop songs…
Why do you think that is? I mean, I just told you what it was like, what do you think? Clive’s in business to make money. And Clive was very focused on crossing artists over to pop radio.
Clive and Whitney seemed to have a very close relationship. Do you think it was a genuine relationship, or just strictly business?
It’s always business. It’s kind of like you with your boss, you know? It’s always business. Everybody’s in it to make money. Real simple.
You knew Cissy. Did you ever hear about her not wanting Whitney in the business?
Oh yeah. It’s a crappy business. If you had a daughter would you want your daughter to be in this?
Okay. I wouldn’t want mine in there either. My oldest daughter wanted to come in, I wouldn’t let her come in. About three or four months ago, she said, “Dad I am so happy that you didn’t bring me into this business.” I brought my nephew in from Chicago to work in L.A. as a product manager for a while, and within like a year they fired him.
It’s a crappy business. If you had a daughter would you want your daughter to be in this? I wouldn't want mine in there. My oldest daughter wanted to come in, I wouldn't let her come in. About three or four months ago, she said, 'Dad I am so happy that you didn't bring me into this business.'
I felt so bad. The guy fired him, you know? And it’s like, all I had to do was beat him up, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t beat the guy up, cause then I would lose my job. But I scared him to death, that’s for sure.
People think I’m a nice guy, which I am, but I came from the Southside of Chicago. But you got to be gritty in the business, you can’t be nice guy. There’s got to be another side there, you got to be tough. It’s a tough business. Especially when we were coming up.
You’re being for real, you’re not joking…
Oh no, I’m not joking. I’m being for real. Ask some of your friends who know people who’s been in the business around the 70s or 80s, they’ll tell you.
After all you have done, at what point did you start to hear people say, “Clive Davis discovered Whitney Houston”?
When she started having success. There’s an article in Cosmopolitan, which probably came out maybe two years after she had her success—hey were the first to break it down where the writer said specifically, “I understand that Gerry Griffith brought her to you. And let’s clarify this whole thing.” Clive finally broke down and said, “He did.”
That was early in the game, so it’s been going on for years. And everybody in the industry knows what it’s like… That’s just the way he is. Like any other head of a label, I mean there’s stories about other heads of labels who are a certain way, you know? I mean, that’s just the way he is.