Q: In your wildest dreams, did you ever think Santana would sell 13 million albums?
A: I had no idea.
Q: How the hell did it happen?
A: It reminds me of a cartoon. There's a pissed-off kid lying on a bunk bed listening to Santana with headphones on one ear and a phone on the other. You can tell the music is pulsating. And the blurb reads: "Can you imagine this? My father says I have to play the music louder!" [Laughs] That says it all, doesn't it? Santana crossed over to every generation, and with one album, he generated 20 percent of the worldwide volume of a billion-dollar company.
Q: On the other hand, it's fair to say that Prince, whose career you also tried to revive at Arista, wasn't exactly a dazzling smash. Why?
A: Prince made a great record, but it didn't "call out." In other words, it didn't appeal to the 13-to-19-year-old bracket. Which means the demographics weren't sufficient to create a hit. It wasn't bad. I mean, it was a hit among a certain bracket. But it didn't go down with the youth.
Q: But you thought it would be a hit?
A: Yes. It's one of those cases of where I felt a record should have been a hit, and I still feel it could be a hit. Sometimes your batting average isn't as high as you hope.
Q: How does a 66-year-old man put himself into the mind of a 13-year-old girl?
A: I don't program my mind just to kids. When I worked through the years with a Sarah McLachlan or an Annie Lennox, I didn't think kids. I think of headliners and stars, long-term careers and dazzling talent. I take music as I find it. I don't categorize, I don't format. When I was head of Columbia, I went from Broadway shows to Tony Bennett to Bob Dylan. I'm lucky that I came up as a generalist, not a specialist. That helps me tremendously.
Q: Meanwhile, a lot of new record execs no longer have musical backgrounds.
A: Well, I didn't come from music either. Q: Yeah, you're a lawyer.
A: So I'm sure you won't knock that. But I really don't think it's relevant to look at from whence my competitors came. What is relevant is their current love of music. Today, when I get together with [Interscope Records co-founder] Jimmy Iovine, we trade tapes and play music for each other. We don't talk much about business. I find very few succeed who don't live it and breathe it.
Q: What's your relationship with [Antonio] L. A. Reid, the man who replaced you at Arista?
A: Arista will always be my baby. So I want L.A. to have hits with it. Will I root for him? Absolutely. But I'll continue to produce Whitney and Carlos. And I hope that my legacy at Arista will grow.