Clive Davis: John Mellencamp was 'biggest artist that I did not sign after auditioning'

Clive Davis reflects on why he didn't sign John Mellencamp.

ByABC News
November 1, 2017, 6:27 PM

— -- Clive Davis is easily one of the most influential people in the music industry.

Famously called the “Man With the Golden Ears,” his track record for recognizing talent and signing legendary musicians like Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and The Holding Company, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith (to name a few) earned him a plethora of accolades including a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Now at 85 years of age, with a career spanning over 50 years, he serves as the chief creative officer for Sony Music and is the subject of a documentary recently released by Apple Music, “Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives.” The film features many of the musicians whose careers were shaped by Davis, including Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, The Grateful Dead, and Patti Smith.

While Davis’s roster of artists is full of music royalty and their No. 1 hits, there is someone he says he was wrong about.

“Sometimes I’m asked, 'Who did you pass on? Who did you think would not make it and did?'” Davis reminiscences to ABC News' chief business, technology and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis on an episode of “Real Biz With Rebecca Jarvis”.

“I auditioned John Mellencamp when I auditioned him, here I had signed Springsteen. And John was so close to Springsteen when I auditioned him. Now he later was to be one of the great rock and roll figures, writers, performers of all time. When I saw him, I thought he was too close [to Springsteen] and I said a pass.”

Mellencamp went on to have a thriving career: He’s a 12-time Grammy nominee and eventually won for his hit song “Hurts So Good”. He was given the Billboard Century Award in 2001 and inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

Since then, Davis had the chance to reunite with Mellencamp a few years ago.

“This was the table: on my left was Bruce Springsteen, on his left is John Mellencamp, on his left is Jackson Browne, on his left is Don Henley. Just the six of us.... I looked at John Mellencamp, and I said, 'John I’ve got to say in every interview, I point to you as the biggest artist that I did not sign after auditioning.'”

Davis added, “John said I was too close to Bruce at that time because he was my biggest influence and it was eight weeks after I was trying to find my voice. Well, of course, the fact is, he found his voice. He is one of the greatest of all time.”