Luther Vandross: Worse Than Thought

Luther Vandross Super Crass Clive Davis, Jacko Find

Luther Vandross: Worse Than Thought

Beloved singer Luther Vandross is not coming to the Grammy Awards because he is less well than previously disclosed.

My sources tell me that Vandross, who’s nominated for five Grammys, is “in and out” as far as making sense and understanding others since his stroke last year.

Vandross remains in a rehabilitation facility and there is no sign of enough improvement for him to leave at any time in the near future.

According to my sources, Vandross is often coherent, but “then sounds like he’s talking to the Queen of England.” Whether or not he completely understands that his last album "Dance with My Father" was a hit or that he’s a Grammy front-runner is not known.

One thing’s for sure: Luther’s almost certain wins for Best R&B album and song won’t be sympathy votes. “Dance with My Father” is an outstanding work, his best in years, and a lot to be proud of.

Forget Janet: Diddy Sang About Drugs

Lots of uproar about Janet Jackson’s exposed breast on the Super Bowl halftime show. Much less said about P. Diddy’s “performance” of his number, "Bad Boy for Life." The rap lyrics, quite easily heard, included the line “I’m half man, half drugs.”

I’m sorry, but if you want something to worry about decaying the morals of the country, I think this is where attention should be focused.

P. Diddy — real name Sean Combs — has made a fortune in the fashion world from his Sean John line. But the foundation of his business has always been Bad Boy Entertainment, his rap record label. Years ago, things got so out of hand that Mase, then a star on Bad Boy, left the business to become a preacher in Harlem.

On Sunday night, Combs — who recently raised money for New York City schools by running in the marathon — did something I think was far worse than Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s crass but harmless nipple nonsense.

Letting Combs perform “Bad Boy for Life” is yet another example of how MTV — the producer of the halftime show — has let two decades of unedited, undifferentiated rap devolve into what we saw on the show.

In case you’re interested, the lyrics to the number include these salient lines, some by P. Diddy and others by other rappers on the song: “I’m the definition of, half man, half drugs/Ask the clubs, Bad Boy - that's whassup.” Also: “We still here, you rockin wit the best/Don't worry if I write rhymes, I write checks (ahh!)” and “Hand 'em a jock, hold 'em a glock (hahaha)/ Money to get (yeah), cars to flip (uhh)/ Bars to sit at and sip Cognac wit Jews that drink (c'mon).”

It's  not exactly “Blowin’ in the Wind.” But a lot worse than a quick flash of flesh, I’d say.

Clive Davis Gets the Last Laugh

I’d like to take credit for being prescient in yesterday’s column about Clive Davis, but really it was just an accident of common sense. It was only a matter of time before Davis was put in charge of the Bertelsmann Music Group. Now it’s happened.

Late yesterday came the announcement that Davis, who is 70ish, would ascend from his perch running J and RCA Records, divisions of BMG, to taking over the whole shooting match.

What a difference four years makes! Back in 2000, BMG’s American leaders, Michael Dornemann and Strauss Zelnick, removed Clive from Arista Records after 25 successful years. (They were later fired for endorsing this folly.) In that time, he launched the careers of Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton, revived Aretha Franklin, Santana, Dionne Warwick and Carly Simon, and had more hit singles than any  record executive could envision. Of course, he didn’t do it on his own — Clive has always had excellent A&R and promotion people working with him. But he gave them a place to be creative, and it paid off.

When BMG forced him out of Arista, and into starting J Records, everyone (except this writer) wondered what he would do without Houston and all those artists. But Davis had Alicia Keys up his sleeve, thanks to the trusty Peter Edge, and Rod Stewart and Vandross — even though naysayers didn’t see their potential. Clive got a hit out of pairing Mariah Carey with Busta Rhymes, put Angie Stone squarely on the playing field as an R&B powerhouse, and brought Annie Lennox back as a hit solo artist.

I do believe that three times last year J Records had the No. 1, 2, and 3 albums on the charts. There’s no amount of tongue wagging that can undo that accomplishment. Part of that had to do with buying into the "American Idol" phenomenon. It may not be art, but it’s commerce in the most important sense at a time when almost no one can sell records. Clay, Ruben and Kelly may not be here next year, but their albums were what people wanted in 2003.

You want to know why all the other record companies are busy switching executives — and young ones, too — but Davis continues his ascent? You’d have to have been at the promotional show J Records put on for Wyclef Jean last summer, with Davis — a swinging septuagenarian (sorry Clive) — on stage, miming the lyrics while Jean’s “Preacher’s Son” album was debuted for a raucous crowd of hip-hop fans. He knows the music inside and out, and he believes in it completely. Davis is almost like the Robert De Niro of the music business. With each act he becomes completely immersed until he is that act. Executives half his age and younger would do well to follow his example.

So I guess I was right. Davis’ annual pre-Grammy dinner and show at the Beverly Hills Hotel this Saturday will be his biggest ever, and more important in many ways than the awards show the next night. For once, Clive will not have to introduce his long list of bosses with foreign names. He is now his own boss. It’s the sweetest vindication I can think of. Of course the kicker will be if BMG really does merge with Sony Music, and Clive — who left Columbia Records in 1974, before it was part of Sony — winds up running the whole company with Sony’s Donnie Ienner.

Monster Ad, Jackson Raid

Of all the Super Bowl ads on Sunday, my favorite was the one for Kudos to the creators of it who used a little known piece of music from the early '80s called “I Dig You” by a group called Cult Hero. Until I heard it on Sunday I thought I was the only person in the world who knew this record ever existed. I don’t know what is, but it must be smart… Still laughing about the “big” news of what investigators took from Neverland back on Nov. 17?  Did they find copies of kiddie porno magazines? No. The publication they discovered was the Robb Report. If Michael’s reading that to his alleged victims, it’s no wonder they’re sleeping in his bed. They’re falling asleep from boredom before they can exit!