"He didn't remember my name, but he remembered my music. And that meant a lot" - Warner Bros recording artist Ben Fields revealed as he spoke candidly about his first encounters with the legendary co-founder of Sire Records, Seymour Stein. Fields was one of Stein's many friends, family members, and colleagues that gathered at the Bowery Hotel on October 8, as the music mogul was awarded the inaugural CBGB Icon Award. The legendary NYC music venue, CBGB, was closed in 2006; but throughout its 33-year tenure Stein was instrumental in its impact on the NYC underground music scene.
The Brooklyn-born, Rock n' Roll Hall-of-Famer helped propel the careers of Madonna, Ice T, Echo & the Bunnymen, and various CBGB-bred acts like The Ramones, The Talking Heads, and The Dead Boys. Stein was a close friend of CBGB's original owner, the late Hilly Kristal. During the height of CBGB's success, Stein worked in conjunction with the venue and signed many of the bands who budded there. Who's more deserving of the very first CBGB Icon Award than the label executive who helped shape the club's very reputation? It was a night full of heartfelt words and the perfect kickoff to CBCBG's 2013 Music and Film Festival.
Among the distinguished speakers at the event were Stein's fellow co-founder of Sire Records, Richard Gottehrer; founder of the CBGB Festival, Tim Hayes; the aforementioned Ben Fields, and Stein's daughter Mandy Stein who spoke on behalf of the unfortunately absent "Material Girl" herself, Madonna. There were even video reels playing throughout the evening of other music personnel, like Clive Davis, who talked about what Stein meant to them. Within the speeches, videos, and general conversation there was a common theme that both Stein's work and his amicability touched the lives of many people.
If you ask anyone who knows him, other than his delightfully positive demeanor the key to Stein's success was all about the music. At the core he's a diehard music fan. Richard Gottehrer recounted a number of charming and genuinely hilarious anecdotes that beautifully illustrated Stein's perseverance, musical intuition, and passion for what he does. One particular story stood out as he recalled how Stein would fall asleep at numerous showcases but somehow still manage to hear if the band had that "it" factor he was looking for. It didn't take much for him to hear the hits because that was an innate part of how he worked. Casually leaning over the podium in front of hundreds of people, Gottehrer went on and on about Seymour's amazing work at Sire Records and his even more impressive role as a friend. "Seymour is like a brother to me" Gottehrer admits. Stein isn't just a music mogul he's also a great person; an icon in every sense of the word.
Mandy Stein described Madonna's experience with her father and made note of the fact that he believed in the now multi-platinum selling artist when all of the other labels were writing her off as a one-hit-wonder. Madonna spoke to Stein's legacy with the opening line of her speech: "There's a lot of talk about icons. But what about icon makers?" Given his accolades, Stein is obviously one of the most accomplished icon makers there is. Although he isn't always in the limelight, his brilliant/passionate mind makes him an icon in his own right.
When Seymour Stein finally took to the podium to make his own remarks, he spoke with that same brilliance and passion that drove his successful career. He's little older and walks with a cane now, but listening to him speak through teary and appreciative eyes revealed that even though he's slowed down a bit the love for what he does has not. He spoke highly of people like the late King Records founder Sydney Nathan and the late George Goldner, with whom Stein worked at Red Bird Records. His fascinating stories about the discovery of The Talking Heads and countless other revered bands were like reading pages ripped from the music history books. Having dealt with his fair share of loss and personal hardships in the past couple of years, he is still driven by a passion for music even at this stage in the game. Seymour Stein is a visionary and an artist of risk and impressive taste. While he may not be a musician himself, his song will continue to live on through the great music he's helped share with the world.