David Byrne, Seymour Stein, and Madonna at the 11th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner
at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, New York. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images)
Thirty years ago, in 1983, Sire Records put out a debut album by a little known club dancer and singer named -- you guessed it -- Madonna. Obviously, we know now that this was a pretty good move. But back then, it was the label’s chairman and co-founder, Seymour Stein, who took a chance on this fledgling young artist.
In an interview with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Stein talks about how he discovered and signed Madonna, and her early days as a recording artist.
Seymour Stein, on first listening to Madonna's demo:
I was in hospital at the time with an infection in my heart. It was the early days of the Walkman, and I was listening to music constantly, and I heard the demo of "Everybody," and it blew me away.
On Madonna visiting him in the hospital, hoping to sign a contract:
I could tell right away, she couldn't have cared if I was laying in the bed in a coffin, as long as I could sign a contract. She was as anxious to see me and get herself started as I was to see her. That was very very impressive to me.
On Warner Bros.' initial reaction to his efforts to sign Madonna:
I was shocked that I had a lot of opposition at Warner Bros. from the very top -- from Mo Ostin, who was the chairman of the company, and also from their head lawyer at the time, David Berman -- they didn't hear it at all. Fortunately, I reached out for support from the head of international at Warner's, Nesuhi Ertegun... and he said, whatever it costs, we'll pay it. I knew right away that Madonna not only would be big in America, but probably even bigger outside of America.
On when he really knew that Madonna would be a big success:
I remember when we put out "Borderline"... listening to that record, it sent shivers up my spine. I knew from that day on there was no turning back. If you can believe this, some people ask me... when I met her in the hospital room, that I knew that young woman would be the Madonna that she became. And of course I didn't. I knew she was great. I knew that she had drive and great talent. But it was "Borderline," that song, the fourth single, that I knew there was no looking back. Just clear the decks.