Mo Ostin, the man who took Warner Bros. Records from a flyspeck on industry sales charts to dominance in the pop world, rises from his desk chair and points to a print of Don Quixote on the wall.
In the first formal interview during his three-decade career at Warner Bros., the vigorous, 67-year-old record executive has been reminiscing for hours about the landmark artists--from Jimi Hendrix and Frank Sinatra to R.E.M.--who have sold a mammoth 1.2 billion albums for his label.
But now Ostin, a short, bald man who looks more like a bookkeeper than someone who once flew to London to personally sign the Sex Pistols, wants to tell about the artist who got away.
"Picasso!" he declares. "We almost had Picasso!"
Ostin is recalling the early days of the company when an associate persuaded the world's most famous painter to do a full-length animated film about Don Quixote. Under the deal, Ostin would get the soundtrack.
"We even had a hand-written contract with Picasso saying he was going to do it for $100,000 against 10% of the gross," he continues. "This was revolutionary."
But the project was aborted because film studios turned it down as too risky--and the decision still irks him.
"How could they pass up the chance to be involved with one of the true geniuses of the 20th Century?" he asks. "It was just incomprehensible to me. I mean, where were these guys at?"
The story tells a lot about Ostin, whose philosophy at Warners has been that the artist is king in the struggle between art and commerce. In a pop world long accustomed to fawning over one-hit wonders, he has focused since the early '60s on signing visionary artists and building a comfortable "family" working environment around them. Unlike other labels where artists are often dropped following commercial slumps, Warner Bros. has a history of sticking with quality acts and encouraging artistic experimentation--even during recessionary times.
"We knew Warner Bros. actually cared about artistic integrity and if we signed with Mo we wouldn't be pressured to sell a million copies each time out just to stay on the label," says Mike Mills, bassist with R.E.M., which chose Warner Bros. after a fierce industry bidding war in the late-'80s. "Unlike other executives we talked to, Mo seemed genuinely interested in our music. But the best thing about him was that he seemed honest. So we trusted him and it paid off--in spades."
Ostin hired an executive team that was equally daring and gave them wide latitude -- a management style so admired that rival companies constantly tried to raid his staff. Six of his proteges have gone on to head other companies.
The Warner Bros. chairman had looked forward to entering 1995 with a new contract that would keep him for the rest of his career at the company, which is expected to set a record of nearly $1 billion in sales this year.
But Ostin walks away from Warner Bros. next week following a battle at parent company Time Warner over what he saw as a corporate threat to his artist-oriented philosophy. He vows to resurface in the industry--and he has lots of options.
Industry insiders report that Ostin has already been approached by Sony Inc., Disney and the new Steven Spielberg-Jeffrey Katzenberg-David Geffen entertainment combine. If he rejoins protege Geffen at the last, it'll add one more legendary name to the self-proclaimed "dream team."
Lenny Waronker, another longtime Warner Bros. executive who also startled the industry when he turned down an offer in October to succeed Ostin, is expected to follow his former boss--as may some major Warner Bros. artists.
"I thought I had a job for life," Ostin says philosophically as he looks around his office. "But if you're in an environment where you're not happy, then you say to yourself, 'Quality of life, that's what it's about, by God.' "
Except for the stack of stereo equipment on the blond wooden table behind his desk, you wouldn't know that Ostin was in the record business by just looking around his spacious 30-foot-by-30-foot office at the Warner Bros. building in Burbank.
Instead of the customary rows of self-congratulatory gold records, the walls are lined with more than a dozen Picasso prints and the photos on his desk are of his family, not his stars.
Don't waste your time, either, looking for his photo alongside other glad-handing executives in trade publications or expect to hear him speak at industry dinners. The only time he's seen at glamour haunts such as Morton's or Spago is when an attorney or manager selects the location for lunch or dinner.
Where rival executives hire personal publicists to increase their media visibility, Ostin has stubbornly refused to speak to reporters--even off the record. It took two years of requests--and lobbying from friends--before he agreed to talk to Calendar.
"Interviews have always been a personal hang-up," he says in one of three lengthy interview sessions. "To me, the artist is the person who should be in the foreground.
"David (Geffen) used to beg me to do interviews. He'd say, 'Mo, you're not getting any credit. What's the matter with you?' Clive Davis said, 'What, are you nuts?' But I never allowed myself to do it."
So why now?
"I want to set the record straight," he says, underscoring his words with constant hand gestures as he sits near his desk in an open-collar sport shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbow. "During the last year, I keep reading about this and that at Warner Bros. and I'm tired of the revisionism."
He's speaking about anonymous criticisms in the media that the times had passed them by--that Warner Bros., for all its years of success, had become top-heavy with over-the-hill superstars and deadwood executives.
Ostin suspected that many of the comments stemmed from the New York headquarters of the Time Warner music group, where group chairman Robert J. Morgado was trying to get him to slash both the roster and staff.
When Warner Bros. Records' market share slipped behind the Atlantic Group, its sister label, during the first six months of this year, press reports began blaming Ostin. Insiders criticized him for being "too loyal" to longtime employees and too resistant to trimming fat at the label, which even his most ardent admirers believed was in need of streamlining.
After the feud between Ostin and Morgado became public last winter, artists flocked to Ostin's side. Paul Simon called to express support. Pete Townshend and Neil Young wrote him letters. Flea, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, wrote and recorded him a song:
Mo, Mo, why do you have to go? / You're the first record company guy / That looked me in the eye.
"For an artist at the stage I'm at in my career, the important things are risk and challenge," says Simon, who joined Warners in 1977 after disagreements with Columbia Records head Walter Yetnikoff. "The risk of failure is part of the fun of what I do. And it's very difficult to find a corporate climate to complement that kind of freedom. Mo has never denied me any reasonable thing I ever asked for.
"Take 'Graceland.' Back in the early stages, almost everybody was very doubtful about the project--except Mo and Lenny, that is. You have to remember that there was no indication whatsoever when we started that the album had any chance of a commercial payoff. But Mo loved the idea and encouraged me to take the risk."
Randy Newman, who has been on Warners for over a quarter century, agrees.
"I hear about guys at other record companies meddling with the music of artists who have made them millions of dollars, but Mo wouldn't dream of telling me or Neil Young or R.E.M. what to do," he says by phone from New York, taking a break from a rehearsal for "Faust," his upcoming Warner Bros.-financed Broadway musical.
"He's someone who can go from talking about Jimi Hendrix to discussing my 'Faust' show to bragging about how great Green Day was on 'Saturday Night Live.' Where are you going to find somebody else like that in the record business? They just don't exist."
Industry giants, too, rushed to his side.
"Mo and I have been competing for 25 years and let me tell you something, this guy is as good as it gets," says David Geffen, who emulated Ostin's management style and approach to artists when creating in 1980 his own record company, which sold a decade later for $550 million in preferred stock. Adds Joe Smith, who went from the No. 2 man at Warner Bros. to head Elektra and later Capitol Records, "When Mo gets involved in a negotiation with an artist, they know they're in good hands. The man delivers."
M orris Meyer Ostrofsky was born on March 27, 1927, in New York to immigrants who fled Russia during the revolution. He was 13 when the family, including a younger brother, moved to Los Angeles and opened a tiny produce market near the Fairfax Theatre.
The youngster, who attended Fairfax High School, may not have grown up in the record business like sidekick Lenny Waronker, whose father, Simon, was owner in the '50s of Liberty Records, home of Julie London and Eddie Cochran.
Ostin, however, did grow up next door to the industry. His neighbor was Irving Granz, the brother of jazz entrepreneur Norman Granz, owner of Clef Records and a leading jazz concert promoter in the '40s and '50s.
During college at UCLA, where he majored in economics, Ostin (he adopted the name after entering the music business because, he says, it was easier for people to remember) traveled with Granz on tour, selling 25-cent concert programs throughout the West.
After graduating with honors, he entered law school at UCLA, but dropped out in 1954 to support his wife and son. He took a job as controller at Clef, whose roster included Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
"It was exciting to be exposed to all these great artists, but I still didn't have any real goals at that point," he says, sitting in the office, sipping on the first of several bottles of Evian water. "It wasn't like I was dying to be in the record business. I was just trying to support my family."
Ostin was thrilled in the late '50s when his musical hero, Frank Sinatra, tried to buy the label, by then known as Verve Records. Granz eventually sold Verve to MGM Records, but Sinatra was so impressed by the label's roster and management that when he decided to start his own label in 1960, he asked Ostin to head it.
Those years with Sinatra's Reprise Records helped shape Ostin's artist-oriented philosophy.
"Frank's whole idea was to create an environment which both artistically and economically would be more attractive for the artist than anybody else had to offer," he says. "That wasn't how it was anywhere else. You had financial guys, lawyers, marketing guys. Their priorities may not have been the music. One of the great things about Warners, I always felt, was our emphasis and priority was always about the music."
Despite some impressive jazz signings during the company's first two years, including Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Reprise faltered. One reason: Sinatra forbade Ostin to sign any rock acts. Sinatra sold the company in 1963 to film mogul Jack Warner, who took the company as part of a package to secure Sinatra's services as an actor in Warner Bros. films.
Around this time, Ostin broadened the roster at Reprise--augmenting the core lineup of Sinatra and Dean Martin with younger acts, including pop-folk star Trini Lopez, whose live albums became sales sensations.
Free of Sinatra's no-rock mandate, Ostin realized in the era of the Beatles that he had to align Reprise with the emerging pop revolution. After hearing the single "You Really Got Me," Ostin personally signed the Kinks, one of the most gifted of the new British rock bands. By the end of 1965, the group would have given Reprise six top 40 U.S. singles.
More importantly, the Kinks' success gave Ostin confidence to move forward in rock.
"The thing you've got to learn is trust your instincts," he says now. "Take Jimi Hendrix. I signed him in the spring of 1967 based on all the excitement he was causing in the English press and after hearing his first single, 'Hey, Joe.' I thought the record sounded great. I also loved the way he looked, the whole image."
Ostin was thrilled when he saw Hendrix live for the first time in the summer of 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival.
"When we saw Jimi perform at Monterey, everybody went nuts," he recalls. "That whole Monterey, Haight-Ashbury, '60s experience was amazing. When it first happened, I almost thought I was on Mars. You just knew it was a new world, a different artist. It wasn't the same old singles business it used to be."
After seven years as head of Warners' Reprise division, Ostin was named president of the combined Warner Bros./Reprise operation and promoted two years later to chairman/CEO, a title he still holds.
As the company went through a succession of owners, moving to Seven Arts and then to Steve Ross' Kinney Leisure Services, the Warner/Reprise division was wed with Atlantic Records (in 1967) and Elektra Records (in 1970). During the period, Ostin lobbied for changes that put Warner Bros. Records in position to challenge Columbia (now Sony) for industry leadership.
Despite the early success, the idea of ever catching massive CBS Records seemed like an impossible dream in 1970. Within seven years, however, Ostin and his sister labels had done it.
Among the key moves: launching its own WEA distribution system, international operations and a pressing plant. Over the years, Ostin's label moved from pop and rock into country, dance, punk and heavy metal with the signing of such acts as Madonna, Prince, Emmylou Haris, James Taylor, Talking Heads, Miles Davis, Fleetwood Mac and Black Sabbath.
If the Sinatra association taught him the importance of designing a company around artists, Ostin cites Steve Ross as the one who influenced his management style. Ross was the widely admired entrepreneur who bought the company in 1969 and then masterminded the Time Warner merger in 1989. His death in 1992 led to the shake-up in the Warner Music Group.
"There was this wonderful kind of affirmation you got from Steve," Ostin says, his brown eyes brightening. "He always said that the most important asset in our company was not on our balance sheet. It was the people who worked here. He treated us as if we were stars, which is absolutely unlike the way most corporations treat their employees and executives."
Because Ostin has kept such a low profile for all these years, you might imagine him as someone who has a hard time expressing himself, but he shares his memories and views easily and at length. He's got an engaging, upbeat manner, often punctuating his stories with bursts of laughter.
Ostin's only unease in the interview is the fear of not mentioning someone who he feels deserves credit. Ostin shows as much affection for the acts, such as Captain Beefheart and the Sex Pistols, who never made the Top 100 as for the platinum sellers.
"You can't measure the value of a quality act by its commercial sales punch," he says. "Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Ry Cooder--those guys (helped us) sign as many acts to this label as some of our biggest sellers because they had this incredible recognition and peer respect. I can't tell you how many new artists mention Neil Young when we're trying to sign them--R.E.M., Dinosaur Jr. and tons of others. These people are like a magnet for other artists."
Ostin pauses at the mention of Neil Young, who left Warners in the early '80s to go to Geffen Records, only to return in 1988 and turn in four of his most acclaimed records ever.
"I love Neil," Ostin says. "This guy could make a left turn when everybody else was going right. He has always been one of the biggest risk takers. That's why he's such an important artist."
It's that respect that gave Ostin patience over the years to deal with some strange requests--like the time in the mid-'70s when Young demanded to celebrate the renewal of his contract by signing the papers in some Old West town . . . like Laredo or Tombstone.
To avoid the travel time, Ostin came up with a compromise: What about an old Western set on the Warner Bros. film lot?
Young liked the idea--but it wasn't as easy as Ostin thought to pull off. "There was all sorts of union trouble and red tape to get Neil on the set," he recalls. "We finally had to go to Frank Wells, then the head of the studio, to get permission.
"So what happens? Neil was so taken by that (place) that he asked if he could take his tour bus and stay there and spend the night. . . . How can you not love the guy?"
But there were some demands that Ostin couldn't resolve--and he expresses regret now at severing ties with artists he respected, including Ice-T, Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison.
Warner Bros. caught a lot of flak from the creative community last year after it lost rapper Ice-T following a controversy surrounding his anti-police-brutality song, "Cop Killer."
Under pressure from Time Warner headquarters, Warner Bros. pulled the song in July, 1992, at Ice-T's request after police groups picketed a corporate shareholders' meeting in Beverly Hills. Ice-T was then subjected to requests from the firm to remove songs from his next release before finally leaving the company following a dispute over the album's artwork.
In the aftermath, at least one Time Warner-affiliated label banned cop-killing songs and other labels owned by the entertainment conglomerate pressured rappers to clean up their lyrics or take their music elsewhere--leading to an exodus of hard-core rappers from the Warner fold.
"Ice-T was a terrific artist who spoke the truth," Ostin says. "But the corporation got so thin-skinned after the incident at the shareholders' meeting. In the end, Ice-T decided to leave because he could not allow tampering with his work. And I can't blame him--considering the climate."
Ostin also laments giving up on singer Bonnie Raitt in 1987 after releasing eight of her albums. Raitt turned her career around two years later with her breakthrough "Nick of Time" album for Capitol.
And he shakes his head at the memory of losing Van Morrison, one of rock's most gifted and eccentric figures.
"I loved his music, but I just couldn't (renew) the deal after looking at his sales and the fact that you could have no input with the guy at all," Ostin says, referring to what he calls Morrison's escalating financial demands.
"He was as difficult (in those days) as anyone I ever dealt with. He would explode on stage, in your office, having dinner at the house. I remember we almost came to blows because he kept insisting that I guarantee him a No. 1 single. . . . I kept saying, 'Van, who can guarantee you a hit?' but he wouldn't hear it."
But Ostin smiles when telling a story involving Paul Simon, who has become one of Ostin's closest friends.
Soon after coming over to Warner Bros. from Columbia Records, Simon delivered an album, "One-Trick Pony," that proved to be a major sales disappointment.
"Paul was upset," Ostin recalls. "He came to my office and he said that he'd never had an album where the company hadn't made any money off him. He said it was hard to live with that and that he'd find a way to make it up to me."
Ostin was astonished. "I said, 'Hey Paul, we're big boys. It's a big company. You win some. You lose some. That's cool.' "
But Simon was determined and he pledged half the royalties from his upcoming Simon & Garfunkel reunion concert in Central Park to cover Ostin's losses on "One-Trick Pony."
"I've never had an artist do that to me in all my years in the business," he says, still shaking his head. "He actually offered to pay us back."
And did Ostin take half the royalties after the live album sold millions?
Just because Ostin avoids the industry spotlight, don't think he doesn't enjoy the good life.
You can see the rewards of his decades at Warner Bros. as soon as you step into his three-story, mountain-top estate overlooking the ocean in Pacific Palisades. It's the kind of breathtaking home that you'd expect to see on the cover of Architectural Digest--but it'll never be there.
"They've been trying to get in here for years, but it's not going to ever happen," the private Ostin says, walking across the living room with Evelyn, his wife of 44 years. Through the wall of glass, you can see from Catalina to downtown Los Angeles.
Outside, Ostin points down the hill to Steven Spielberg's massive residence and to the nearby home that Ronald Reagan lived in until he was elected President. "I'll never forget the day that the Secret Service stopped Walter Becker (of Steely Dan) from trying to drive up here," Ostin says, standing in the middle of a 360-degree vista. "They thought he was a suspicious-looking character."
During the Lakers basketball season, Ostin can be found near Jack Nicholson and Dyan Cannon in the courtside seats at the Forum. He travels each year to Wimbledon for the tennis matches, often accompanied by Paul Simon and "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels.
Ostin is normally at the Warner Bros. building--an intimate, two-story wood-and-glass structure that is a deliberate contrast with the cold, steel skyscrapers housing most record companies--from 10 a.m. to around 7 p.m.
So much of his time is spent on the phone that he has installed a parquet wood floor under his office chair to avoid wearing out the carpet as he rolls back and forth while discussing business. "I'm religious about returning phone calls," he says. "It's discourteous and bad business not to return phone calls."
Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, whose signings have included U2 and Bob Marley, admires Ostin's tenacity.
"The reason he's the best record executive there has ever been is that he's not off running all over the place like his competitors," Blackwell says by phone from his home in Jamaica. "This is a guy who's at his desk every day working hard."
The end of the Ostin era at Warner Bros. began in September, 1993, when he sat down to renegotiate his contract.
Responding to a corporate request for a succession plan, he recommended to Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin that Lenny Waronker be elevated from president of Warner Bros. Records to co-CEO of the label in 1995.
Levin rejected the idea because it called for Ostin to continue to report directly to him rather than to recently installed Warner Music Group Chairman Robert J. Morgado. Ostin had long reported to the top man at the company and wanted to continue doing so, fearing a loss of autonomy otherwise.
By May, representatives for Ostin and the Warner Music Group had worked out an alternative three-year contract extension that called for Ostin to report to Morgado, but Ostin remained reluctant to sign it. Ostin still feared interference and the possibility that he might be forced to implement what one insider characterized as Morgado's "slash and burn" strategy to "gut" his label's staff and artist roster.
Tensions reached the boiling point on July 11 when Morgado promoted Doug Morris, formerly head of sister label Atlantic, to run Time Warner's American music division--a move insiders say was orchestrated to pressure Ostin and other key executives to quit. Sources say that executives at rival companies knew details of Morgado's realignment plan before Ostin was ever informed.
Infuriated, Ostin decided not to renew his contract.
"It was the toughest thing I've ever been through in the business--and it shook me to the core," Ostin says. "It made me doubt myself. It made me wonder whether I was just living on my laurels like my critics were saying or what? I even went to a shrink. But it just wasn't true. The company was doing terrific. The idea of leaving Warners really troubled me, but I decided I just could not continue working here under those conditions."
Ostin wasn't the only one upset by the changes at Warners.
Elektra Entertainment chief Robert Krasnow quit the day after the new chain of command was announced and, within a month, Metallica filed a lawsuit to sever its decade-long association with the firm. Other Warners superstars, including R.E.M. and Neil Young, also began voicing concerns about Morgado's actions after Waronker decided he would not replace Ostin as previously announced.
Indeed, Morgado's entire regime nearly imploded in October when Morris and 11 other alienated senior executives staged an unprecedented insurrection that nearly paralyzed the world's largest record company. Ostin was invited to join the revolt but declined before it was finally resolved.
"Intimidation is not the answer," says Ostin, echoing a verse from Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu that was sent to Morgado by a senior Warner executive at the peak of the crisis. "I don't know why, but corporate people have a tendency to think in terms of immediate gratification. Sure, you can squeeze another dollar out of anything, but that's not what makes a record company run profitably.
"This business is about freedom and creative control. An executive has to be able to make risky decisions with minimal corporate interference. But Warner is a different company now than the company I was brought up in. And in the end, I found it impossible to operate in that kind of environment."
W atching Ostin stand next to the stone-bordered pool at his home during one of the interview sessions, it's easy to wonder why, at 67, he is driven to keep working. One of his peers in the record business once said of Ostin: "He's someone who can never walk away . . . he's going to die at the desk."
From the friend's standpoint, there's something sad about that--an inability to simply relax and enjoy all the riches of his life.
Ostin doesn't see it that way.
"Retirement just doesn't appeal to me," he says. "That doesn't mean I wouldn't want to take a break and have some fun. But I just feel that for me work is a necessity. I think it's a necessity to your well-being . . . to your physical and mental health."
But history has shown that it's hard to start over in the record business--and many in the industry may be allowing their affection for Ostin to downplay the difficulty of making such a dramatic move.
Yet the pressure to satisfy anxious artists is clearly on the new Warner Bros. regime, which will be headed by former Atlantic Records chief Danny Goldberg.
Paul Simon, who has two albums left on his Warner Bros. contract, underscores the challenge.
"I came to Warner Bros. because of Mo and Lenny and Steve Ross," he told Calendar. "And now none of them are there. Time Warner made a huge mistake allowing this to happen. When my contract is up, I would certainly be inclined to go wherever Mo ends up."
Hundreds of Warner Bros. employees will gather tonight at Chasen's to toast Ostin's years at the company.
"To be honest, it's almost impossible for me to imagine what that last walk out of this building is going to be like," Ostin says of his Dec. 23 exit. "I know I will leave with a pretty heavy heart. But you can't let the past bog you down. I'm very excited about the prospect of starting over."
Ostin pauses and takes a final inventory.
For almost 10 hours now at the house and office, Ostin has been stressing the importance of artists. But he now seems focused on the people he'll leave behind next week--and he searches for a way to salute them, too.
"In this business, the company should never underestimate the power of its artists," he says. "But look, at Warners we've seen Frank Sinatra retire. We've seen Jimi Hendrix die. We've seen the Who break up and James Taylor leave the label. And yet the company continues to grow and prosper. So what is the common thread? It's management. And while artists are what a music company is made up of, management has some real value--and it should never be underestimated."*
* For more Times coverage and analysis of the entertainment industry, sign on to the TimesLink on-line service and "jump" to keyword "Inside Hollywood."
Warner Bros. Records: The Ostin Years
1963: Ostin, formerly head of Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records, joins Warner Bros. Records when mogul Jack Warner buys Reprise from Sinatra. The Warner record label had been founded in 1958 chiefly as a vehicle for soundtracks and comedy albums--though it began moving toward pop with the signing of the Everly Brothers in 1960. Another key early signing: Peter, Paul & Mary.
1964: Ostin is named vice president of Warner Bros. Records--along with promotion whiz Joe Smith, who would later go on to head both Elektra Records and Capitol Records. Key Warners signing: the Kinks, who move the label aggressively into the world of contemporary rock.
1966: Ostin hires record producer Lenny Waronker. Grateful Dead signed.
1967-1969: Seven Arts buys the Warner Bros. movie and music companies--as well as rival Atlantic Records--in 1967. Warner Bros. and Atlantic operate as separate divisions. Warners' roster additions include Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Jethro Tull, the Mothers of Invention, Arlo Guthrie, Van Dyke Parks, Captain Beef-heart and Alice Cooper. Steve Ross' Kinney Leisure Services, a giant parking lot consortium, buys both Warner Bros. and Atlantic in 1969.
1970: Ostin elevated to president of Warner Bros. Records. James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, the Beach Boys and Ry Cooder are signed.
1971: Setting its sights on catching industry champion Columbia Records, Ostin encouraged Kinney to form WEA Distribution Group and backed Atlantic executive Nesuhi Ertegun's plan to form an international division. Rod Stewart, T. Rex, Black Sabbath join the Warner fold.
1972-1974: Ostin is named chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Records. Warner signs distribution deals with the Chrysalis (Procol Harum) and Capricorn (Allman Brothers) record labels. Emmylou Harris signed.
1975-1979: Warner Bros. Records, which passes Columbia in album sales during the period, takes up residence in a new building in Burbank. Flurry of deals ensues that brings Sire, Island, Qwest, Curb, Curtom and ECM labels into the Warner fold. The moves lead to albums by Madonna, Talking Heads, the Pretenders, the Ramones, U2, Bob Marley. Other signings: Prince, Van Halen, Rickie Lee Jones, Devo.
1980-85: David Geffen's new label joins the Warner lineup in 1980. It leads to albums by John Lennon and Guns N' Roses. Waronker is elevated to president in 1982. Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Chaka Khan, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Miles Davis and John Fogerty sign on.
1986-1988: Ostin signs R.E.M. and strikes a deal with rap aficionado Tom Silverman at Tommy Boy Records (Naughty by Nature, De La Soul) and Bob Biggs at alternative-rock citadel Slash (Los Lobos).
1989-90: Time Inc. and Warner Communications merge to form Time Warner. Ostin signs deals with Rick Rubin at American Recordings (Black Crowes) and Irving Azoff at Giant (Color Me Badd).
1992-1993: Steve Ross dies. Ostin signs deals with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day and Madonna's Maverick Records label.
Aug. 15, 1994: Ostin announces that he will step down as chairman and CEO at the end of the year.