Mitteager: Has MTV impacted in a negative way on talent? There’s a lot of packaging that’s going on now that involves skills other than the ability to sing and write good songs. Is it impacting on new talent as opposed to the old days?
Clark: I wouldn’t blame it all on MTV. I’d blame it on the consolidation of the music business, between five or six nationally owned companies. You’ve got all of these big debts that they’ve got to pay. They’ve got them on a timetable, and that includes videos and personal appearances and promotions and all of that. So some new guy, it makes it very difficult to get launched. That’s the whole thing about what’s wrong with the business these days. It’s tough to break through.
Mitteager: What would be your best advice to an aspiring artist out there that is in that pickle right now, that have no representation and has some talent?
Clark: I would try to get to one of the cities where people find talent, LA, New York, Nashville, Seattle… Get out there and showcase yourself.
Mitteager: I want to rack your brain about people that got there start on Bandstand, or with you in general and have now become award winners on the American Music Awards.
Clark: New Edition, they debuted on Bandstand.
Mitteager: Do you have a funny story or any kind of anecdote that if you were at a party and wanted to tell about them, that you would tell?
Clark: [Long pause] Yeah, I got one that I don’t want to tell. [Laughing] Bobby Brown is married to the woman [Whitney Houston] who I think is up for seven or eight awards this year. He [Brown] was on a show we did for the Olympic committee in Atlanta, or rather she was, and he was backstage. And the two of them sort of got lost somewhere for a minute. We couldn’t find them, so we didn’t appropriately announce him when he came out at the end to take a bow, and he got very upset with that. In all honesty, we were trying to protect him, in case he had been gone. So we came out with his wife. That got us into a bit of a pickle but we made peace sometime thereafter.
Mitteager: Going back to Bandstand, do you see any of the artists that started with you way back when on a social basis at all?
Clark: Hardly anybody, Jim. Over all the years I’ve been in the business, I have medium-level friends. The closet friend I had was Bobby Darin. We used to help one another in our personal lives. Beyond that it’s just become business relationships. On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of time with Stevie Wonder. He’s an old friend. James Brown is an old friend. Barry Manilow is an old friend.
Mitteager: Let’s play some work association here, I say Michael Bolton, you say…
Clark: Probably the most appealing artist in the 1990s to females.
Mitteager: I say Eric Clapton, you say…
Clark: A classic act that survives to this day.
Mitteager: Michael Jackson…
Clark: A classic act that’s in the headlines that only time will tell… We must all assume at the moment that he is an innocent man and treat him as such until proven otherwise.
Mitteager: Rod Stewart…
Clark: He’s never had a better year. He’s mellowing and people love him.
Mitteager: Okay, turning to the female artists, Mariah Carey…
Clark: One of the most extraordinary vocal tools in the world who is now appearing in public and facing audiences.
Mitteager: Gloria Estefan…
Clark: She’s a personal friend. She is a worldwide star that everybody loves. She is a magnificent talent, but they love her as a human being. Quite an upstanding person.
Mitteager: Whitney Houston.
Clark: Golly, talk about awards, man. The biggest year she’s ever had and undoubtedly will go on. Not only is she extraordinarily gorgeous, she has huge talent.
Mitteager: Is she the black Barbra Streisand?
Clark: I’m not qualified to give you that characterization. She has all the vocal abilities. My God, she inherited them from her mom and from her aunt and her cousins, they are all great singers. Oh, and she has a movie career that has blossomed.
Mitteager: Janet Jackson…
Clark: She perpetuates the Jackson myth. There is so much talent in that family. She is unique unto herself. She began to write her own stuff and she has a hand in her own productions. She’s just grown tremendously.
Mitteager: Do you have any favorite stars back in the 60’s and 70’s?
Clark: I never mentioned anybody, Jim, because I got to deal with everybody. If I mention one then somebody is liable to say, “Why didn’t you talk about me?” When I was a kid, long before rock and roll, the first record I ever bought was a jazz record.
Mitteager: Do you remember the first rock and roll star that caught your attention?
Clark: The first rock and roll star probably was Bill Haley. Essex Records as I recall, it was “See You Later Alligator” 1954, around then.
Mitteager: Well that’s about it. Thanks for your time, Dick.
Clark: Thank you. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas.
Mitteager: And you too.[Photos of Houston-Brown, Wonder and Estefan: Helga Esteb, s_bukley, Jaguar PS/Shutterstock.com]