After a protracted fight with cancer, Seymour Stein, The legendary music executive who cofounded Sire Records and signed the Ramones, Madonna, and Talking Heads, passed away on Sunday in Los Angeles, a representative for his family confirmed to Variety. He was 80.

In 1966, Stein cofounded the Sire label and added the Pretenders, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Soft Cell to it. Some of the greatest music by artists like Depeche Mode, Ice-T, the Cure, the Replacements, Everything But the Girl, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and others was published on Sire. He participated in the creation of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation in 1983, which resulted in the Rock Hall, where he was admitted as a non-performer in 2005.

Seymour was searching for someone to talk to. Mighty Lemon Drops, the Ramones, Madonna, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Ministry, and Ice-T all sound out of place when combined, but they work well together. During Stein’s induction into the Rock Hall, Ice-T remarked about his eclectic yet successful choice in music, “They all had an edge.”

NEW YORK – MARCH 14: Rapper/actor Ice T presents an award to inductee Seymour Stein, Chairman of Sire Records at the 20th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel March 14, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images)

Stein encouraged rock acts to carry on creating later in their careers in addition to supporting then-underground musicians who rose to prominence on the charts. He also signed Lou Reed, who released 1989’s New York on the label, and Brian Wilson in the 1980s so they could both issue their debut solo albums.

Seymour Steinbigle, who was born on April 18, 1942, got his start in the music industry as a young man who went to the offices of Billboard magazine and demanded to duplicate by hand every chart the trade publication had for every week going back to his birth. The editors agreed, and Stein finished the task. After high school, he began working for Billboard.

He was employed by the short-lived King and Red Bird company in the early 1960s. (By the mid-Sixties, the label met its demise.) Stein joined forces with producer-songwriter Richard Gottehrer (who contributed to the Angels’ 1963 hit song “My Boyfriend’s Back”) to create Sire, a combination of their first names.

Early on, Sire struggled, but they did distribute early blues music by Fleetwood Mac in the United States. The Dutch band Focus’ “Hocus Pocus,” which peaked at Number Nine, was the label’s first success in 1973. Two years afterward, Gottehrer left the label. The Ramones were a band that Stein’s then-wife, Linda, had just seen at a dive bar called CBGB, and she had informed Stein about them. The band was put through its paces the following day, and Sire released their self-titled debut in 1976. Linda went on to manage the Ramones, who went on to produce 11 albums on the label. Another band that was discovered at CBGB was Talking Heads, along with Richard Hell & the Voidoids.

Warner Bros. began distributing Sire in 1977, and in 1978 the company bought Sire. Madonna was the driving force behind Sire’s juggernaut, and her success carried the company through the 1980s. Regina Spektor and Tegan & Sara are two later artists who were signed to the company. Stein kept working for Warner Music, and the Sire imprint switched between departments before going dormant. He resigned in 2018, having won a Billboard Icon Award in 2012.

Tragic events also characterized Stein’s later years: in 2007, his ex-wife Linda was killed by her personal aide. Their daughter Samantha Jacobs passed away from cerebral cancer in 2013.

He asked Rolling Stone if, after forty or so years in the business, he would establish a label differently today than in the 1960s. He noted that one aspect of music had not changed: “I still think it’s about the same thing that it’s always been about: the songs,” he said.


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