Seymour Stein, the brash, prescient and highly successful founder of Sire Records who helped launched the careers of Madonna, Talking Heads and many others, died on Sunday at age 80.
Stein, who helped found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation and was himself inducted into the Rock Hall in 2005, died of cancer in Los Angeles, according to a statement by his family.
Born in 1942, Stein was a New York City native who as a teenager worked summers at Cincinnati-based King Records, James Brown’s label, and by his mid-20s had co-founded Sire Productions with Richard Gottehrer, soon to 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.
In Memoriam: Entrepreneur, record executive, and co-founder of Sire Records, Seymour Stein began his career in music as a teenager, clerking at Billboard and learning the business from King Records’ founder Syd Nathan. At Sire’s helm, Stein signed such acts as the Ramones… 1/2 <a href=”https://t.co/ii40qndWWl”>pic.twitter.com/ii40qndWWl</a>
“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.
Signed Madonna from a hospital bed
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.”‘
Seymour Stein, you will be greatly missed. You were always so gracious and supportive of the <a href=”https://twitter.com/RamonesOfficial?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@RamonesOfficial</a>, and to Johnny and <a href=”https://twitter.com/lindaramone?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@lindaramone</a>. The Johnny Ramone Army sends its love to Mandy Stein and all of Seymour’s family at this sad time. Legends never die. 💕💕💕 <a href=”https://t.co/atPq34XozH”>pic.twitter.com/atPq34XozH</a>
Sire artists also included Ice T, the Replacements, British alternative acts like the Smiths, Depeche Mode, the Charlatans, 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.
Safe travels Seymour Stein<br><br>Sire was one of those labels that was a sign of great taste and quality. He knew good music. We met him in New York, at The Limelight, when The Charlatans played there, we’d been asked to put him on the guest list – his plus one was Madonna <a href=”https://t.co/qS6x9QGYnb”>pic.twitter.com/qS6x9QGYnb</a>
Stein and his wife divorced in the 1970s, and years later he came out as gay.
“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,” Mandy Stein said in a statement Sunday.