Seymour Stein, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member who was the co-founder of Sire Records, the former vice president at Warner Bros. Records and who, many years ago, began his storied career in the industry at Billboard, has died, a source confirms.
His daughter, filmmaker Mandy Stein, told The Hollywood Reporter her father died Sunday morning (April 2) in Los Angeles from cancer.
In a statement, his daughter said, “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 humor. 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.”
Stein signed such music legends as Madonna and The Ramones at Sire. But when he was just a teenager, he began working as an assistant to Tommy Noonan, then head of charts at Billboard, where Stein sat in on meetings to decide which new records to review and helped to compile the then just-launched Hot 100.
“I was just 16, working at Billboard after school. From the time I was 9 years old, I knew I wanted to be in the music business,” he said in an interview published in 2015.
“I look at my schooling as, in part, my early years at Billboard,” he told the magazine. “[Former editor] Paul Ackerman invited me to attend these music review sessions on Wednesday nights and even provided me with a due-bill to stay at one of the hotels close to the Billboard offices… that way I could get up and take the subway to Lafayette High School in Brooklyn.”
Stein’s tenure at Billboard lasted until 1961, and then he took his first label job, working for Syd Nathan and King Records in Cincinnati before moving back to New York with a stint at Red Bird Records, owned and run by George Goldner and the songwriting/production team of Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber.
Stein co-founded Sire with Richard Gottehrer in 1967 as an independent record label, but joined forces with Warner nine years later, in 1976. Stein once told Billboard the first artist he signed was “Steven Tallarico, who later became Steve Tyler from Aerosmith. He was in a group called Chain Reaction” at the time.
The legendary roster at Sire included Madonna, The Ramones, The Smiths, Talking Heads, The Pretenders, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Ice-T and many, many more.
Of first bringing Madonna to Sire, Stein said, “I signed her because I believed in Mark Kamins, who I thought was the greatest DJ, and he wanted to be a producer. So I gave him some money to bring me an artist and the third or fourth thing he brought me was Madonna. And yes, I was very involved in the beginning. Then I realized, ‘This woman is smarter than all of us. Just get out of her way.’”
In 2005, Stein was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the lifetime-achievement category.
In 2012, he was honored as Billboard‘s first recipient of the Icon Award, which recognizes the lifetime achievements of industry executives and was presented to him at the annual MIDEM industry gathering in Cannes, France.
In 2016, he was given the Richmond Hitmaker Award at the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony, and in 2018, he received the Recording Academy’s prestigious Trustees Award.
Stein penned the autobiography Siren Song, which was published in 2018 by St. Martin’s Press.
Tributes are flowing in for the late music industry great. “Legendary record man. Signed me to Sire Records in 1984 and bought me my Red 355 from 48th Street to seal the deal,” writes Johnny Marr, guitarist with the Smiths. “Worked with The Drifters, Rolling Stones & Shangri-Las. Discovered Talking Heads, Ramones & Madonna. Well done Seymour & thank you my friend.”