West News Wire: The 80-year-old founder of Sire Records, Seymour Stein, who helped start the careers of Madonna, Talking Heads, and many other artists, passed away on Sunday. He was brash, foresighted, and extremely successful.
According to a statement from his family, Stein, who assisted in founding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation and was admitted into the Rock Hall himself in 2005, passed away from cancer in Los Angeles.
Stein, a New York City native born in 1942, spent his teenage summers working at James Brown’s record company King Records in Cincinnati. By his mid-20s, he had co-founded Sire Productions, which would later become Sire Records.
Obsessed with the Billboard music charts since childhood, he was known for his deep knowledge and appreciation of music and would prove an astute judge of talent during the 1970s era of New Wave, a term he helped popularize, signing record deals with Talking Heads, the Ramones and the Pretenders.
“Seymour’s taste in music is always a couple of years ahead of everyone else’s,” Talking Heads manager Gary Kurfirst told the Rock Hall around the time of Stein’s induction.
His most lucrative discovery happened in the early 1980s, when he heard the demo tape of a little known singer-dancer from the downtown New York club scene, Madonna.
“I liked Madonna’s voice, I liked the feel, and I liked the name Madonna. I liked it all and played it again,” he wrote in his memoir “Siren Song,” published in 2018, the same year he retired. Stein was hospitalized with a heart infection when he first learned of Madonna, but was so eager to meet that he had her brought to his room.
“She was all dolled up in cheap punky gear, the kind of club kid who looked absurdly out of place in a cardiac ward,” he wrote. “She wasn’t even interested in hearing me explain how much I liked her demo. ‘The thing to do now,’ she said, ’is sign me to a record deal.’”
Sire artists also included Ice T, the Smiths, Depeche Mode, the Replacements and Echo and the Bunnymen, along with the more-established Lou Reed and Brian Wilson, who recorded with Sire later in their careers.
Stein was married briefly to record promoter and real estate executive Linda Adler, with whom he had two children: filmmaker Mandy Stein and Samantha Lee Jacobs, who died of brain cancer in 2013. Seymour Stein and his wife divorced in the 1970s and years later he came out as gay.