Yes, Sire.

It was a name that for us who bought the music papers regularly in the 80’s and 90’s, we got to know very well. In the vast landscape of the music industry, there are just a few individuals who have made an indelible mark on its history. Seymour Stein is one for sure. With a fantastic ear for talent and an unmatched passion for music, Stein played a pivotal role in shaping the industry and discovering some of the most influential artists of our time. 

He was born Seymour Steinbigle  on April 18th, 1942, in Brooklyn, New York. His love for music began at an early age, and he followed up on that when working from the age of 13 in 1955, as a clerk for Billboard magazine. By 1958, he had developed the Billboard Hot 100 with the head of charts, Tommy Noonan. He was then approached in 1961, to go and work for King Records, home of James Brown, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father wasn’t sure, but King’s owner Sid Nathan told him – 

Your son has shellac in his veins. Your son is good for one thing and one thing only, and that’s being in the record business. If you don’t let him in the music business, he will wind up delivering newspapers for the rest of his life. If you don’t want that on your conscience, you will let him come with me for the summer.’

Seymour went, however, suffering from homesickness, he later returned to New York and worked out of the Brill Building for Red Bird Records from 1963. He then set up Sire Productions in 1966, with respected record producer Richard Gottehrer, the name of the company coming from an anagram of the first two letters in each of their first names. Sire released early material by Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack and Barclay James Harvest, but no major hits were forthcoming. That eventually changed in 1973 with Hocus Pocus by the Dutch band Focus, and then Gottehrer left Sire shortly after in 1974.

Over the years, Stein’s greatest talent lay in his ability to spot raw talent and nurture it to its full potential. He had an extraordinary knack for discovering artists who went on to become musical icons. One of his most notable and long-lasting discoveries, was the Ramones, tipped off to him by his wife Linda, who later went on to manage the band with Danny Fields. Stein signed them to Sire Records in 1975.

A year or so later, he then signed Talking Heads, the ground-breaking new wave band known for their eclectic sound and thought-provoking lyrics. Through his guidance, they gained mainstream success, with nine gold and platinum albums in their eleven year stay at the label. 

Sire was acquired by Warner Bros in 1978, with Stein eventually becoming  vice president of Warner Bros. until he retired in mid 2018.

He then played a crucial role in the success of Madonna, signing her to Sire Records in 1982, after hearing the demo of her song Everyday whilst recovering from heart surgery. Recognising early her huge potential, Stein helped shape her early career, leading her to become one of the biggest pop artists of all time. 

Over time, Stein signed many other well-known artists, including  Brian Wilson, Richard Hell, Lou Reed, KD Lang, Depeche Mode, The Pretenders, The Smiths, The Cure, The Undertones, Ice -T, Seal, Aphex Twin, Madness, Aztec Camera, and Echo & the Bunnymen among many others. He is also credited with coming up with term New Wave as a genre, as an alternative to the word Punk, which he wasn’t fond of. His remarkable career saw him inducted, in 2005, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which he helped found in 1983) in the non-performer category, acknowledging his significant contributions to the music industry. 

Stein’s influence continues to be felt today, as his discoveries and signings have left an enduring impact on popular music. His visionary approach and unwavering passion for finding and nurturing talent have set an example for aspiring music executives and artists alike. From punk rock to new wave and pop, his discoveries have shaped the sound of multiple generations. Stein’s contributions have not only launched the careers of iconic artists but have also paved the way for a more diverse and inclusive music industry. 

Stein’s married Linda Adler in 1971  and it ended in divorce in 1978. Seymour later revealed he was gay. They had two daughters, Samantha and Mandy. 

Gary Kurfist, manager of Talking Heads    ‘Seymour’s taste in music (was) always a couple of years ahead of everyone else’s.’

Ice -T – ‘He’s cut from that cloth of the old-time music executives like Clive Davis, but he’s way more eccentric… Just a little more bizarre, a bit more avant-garde, more of an edgy cat.’

Mandy Stein – ‘I grew up surrounded by music. I didn’t have the most conventional upbringing, but I wouldn’t change my life and my relationship with my dad for anything, and he was a loving and caring grandfather who took pleasure in every moment with his three granddaughters. He gave me the ultimate soundtrack, as well as his wicked sense of humour. I am beyond grateful for every minute our family spent with him, and that the music he brought to the world impacted so many people’s lives in a positive way.’

Last word to the man himself. 

‘I have no easily definable skills or talents. I’m a hit man, a record business entrepreneur, and I have good ears.’ 

Seymour Stein died of cancer aged 80, in Los Angeles on April 2nd, 2023.


The Mumper of SE5

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