Whatever happened to: Irving Azoff

Whatever happened to: Irving Azoff

When the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the first person Don Henley thanked at the ceremony was "Irving Azoff, without whom we wouldn't be here today."

Glenn Frey, behind Henley on stage, said, "Well, we might still be here; we wouldn't have made as much money."

A lot of people can say that. Though the scale has risen with the years, Azoff has been helping musicians make money — and earning his own money doing it — since his high school days in Danville.

Google him now and you'll find his ongoing conflict with YouTube over the rights to 20,000 songs from artists he represents. Check his mostly dormant Twitter account and you'll find his points on the matter, outlined 1, 2, 3.

If that — or Glenn Frey and Don Henley — isn't enough to give you a feel for his power in the entertainment industry:

— The Wall Street Journal in 2009 called him "the most powerful man in the music industry" and wondered in a headline if he could save rock 'n' roll.

— The New York Times in 2010 said he is "a man who sits atop one of the most feared corporations in the music business."

— When Billboard magazine created its Power 100 for 2012, guess who was in first place? "Azoff's placement at the top of the list is due to his command of the biggest concert-promotion company, the largest ticketing company and the largest artist-management firm in the world."

Azoff's career has taken him far from Danville and the University of Illinois, which he attended before heading to California for his life's work. But the memories of his presence — and impact — in East Central Illinois remain strong.

Take Mike Supp. Now 66, the Navy veteran and retired University of Illinois purchasing officer was in a band when he was a student at North Ridge Junior High and Danville High School.

"After the Beatles hit the big time, everybody wanted to be a rock star, because all the guys saw all the girls going crazy," he said. "And you wanted all the accolades."

So he and some friends got together and formed a band, ultimately calling themselves Shades of Blue.

"We weren't even driving cars yet," he said.

Azoff, who lived nearby, suggested he could help the band.

"You're just around places, Marty K's (a popular burger joint at the time in Danville), at the bands. I don't know if it was a comment. It could have been something like 'Hey, I think I can get you guys some jobs.' It was like, 'Fine, do it,' " Supp said.

"He saw the business side of it. And he started booking us. There were some other groups that he started booking, too."

A different Danville

Danville's booming economy at the time, driven by a huge General Motors foundry and related businesses, meant plenty of opportunity for entertainers.

From the Danville Navy Club to the YMCA and YWCA, Knights of Columbus, "every single high school," bands could find work, Supp said.

An early photo shows Supp's band on the stage in the gym of what was then St. Patrick's Grade School, with Azoff in the audience.

"If you wanted to play, you could play every weekend. ... Unbelievably, a lot of us made real good money," he said, recalling that for one battle of the bands contest, his group, which won, took home $400 each — when a new Volkswagen cost $1,600. "We won one fourth of a brand new car," he chuckles.

"We could make $100, $150 a week, playing a couple nights a week. We were doing well." ($150 in 1967 is the equivalent of $1,063 in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

Ask Azoff, who doesn't talk much to the press, when he knew he belonged in the music business and he will harken back to those days: "Sold 900 tickets to a teen dance at the VFW hall in Danville!" he said via email.

"He was a dynamo," said Supp. "He was going to get done what he wanted to get done. ... He was a brilliant kid in high school. Big high school, couple thousand students, and he was probably the top two or three in brain power."

In some ways, he was a normal Danville kid. He lived on Ridgeview Road and went to the Custard Cup. He enjoyed Lake Vermilion and Harrison Park, he said.

He went to Indiana Beach and saw the Beach Boys at Shafer Lake — his first concert.

The first record he bought? "Wonderful World," by Louis Armstrong.

But he was focused even then on music.

He booked The Regiments, a Champaign-based band, for a dance in Danville. Two members of that band were UI students Ralph Senn and Joe Ream, who would go on to launch Garcia's Pizza.

"(Azoff) was a 17-year-old in high school and he booked us at the Navy Club in Danville," said Senn. "We didn't know anything about him till we went there and had a good performance and then he came and introduced himself."

Azoff finished high school and enrolled at the UI. While there, he started working for Blytham Ltd., a talent agency that booked bands throughout the Midwest.

At Blytham, Azoff took over managing "the Reggies," as he called Senn's band.

"He put me through school ... by continually booking us in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin — as well as playing at Chances R and Red Lion (Champaign's two biggest clubs at the time) ... while we were full-time in school."

Azoff recalls his days at the UI fondly.

"Incredible place to go to school and start a business," he said via email. "Rousing music scene in those days. I guess thinking back, it was all the shows and basketball games in the Assembly Hall and football games at the Stadium."

But change was coming: The members of The Regiment were nearing graduation, Senn recalls.

But there was no dark at the end of the tunnel.

The Fogelberg years

"As Joe and I started getting into developing Garcia's Pizza in late 1970, Irving switched over and was starting to develop a relationship with Danny Fogelberg, who was a friend of ours who used to come in to our Lando Place store and visit. We knew him from the end of our rock-n-roll days as he was starting to develop and write."

The first time Azoff met Fogelberg?

"He came to my office and played for me with just his guitar," Azoff said. "His bike was stolen while we were hanging."

Azoff left Blytham, left Champaign-Urbana and headed to California to promote Fogelberg.

"Irving ... literally marched around unknown in Los Angeles, trying to sell and develop (Fogelberg), which he did," Senn said. "Danny was a big success because Irving managed him so well."

"What I remember when I think of those (early) days is that we were just so damn cocky," Fogelberg told Copley News Service in 1997. "Not arrogant but so full of ourselves that we never ever imagined it wouldn't happen," said Fogelberg, who died in 2007. "Because Irving gave us that. He was just brash as all get-out and he gave us that confidence."

Though he hasn't been back to Danville or Champaign-Urbana for a while, it's hard to escape information about Azoff, said Supp, his Danville classmate.

"I didn't have to keep up on things because everyone in Danville who grew up with us at that time knows," he said. "People say things, 'Oh, did you hear about Irving this, that.' When someone's that successful ... people are going to make comments."

Senn saw Azoff a few years ago when the Eagles played at Peoria and the manager sent tickets and backstage passes.

At the event, "I turned to him and I said, 'Irving, how come you're being so nice to us?' He pokes his finger in my chest and says 'Cause you guys made me a ... lot of money.'" (It's true, Senn says. The band of college students had to have an accountant.)

Azoff was back in C-U in 2003, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in music at the UI.

"He gave a rousing speech at the (Foellinger) Auditorium," said Senn. "It was standing room only. He was very candid. The kids ate it up. Here he is, a huge success out on the west coast and Hollywood, a young kid who dropped out of college as a freshman because he was too busy succeeding with life.

"He then funded a professor who was studying artists' rights for their intellectual property because the Internet was developing and people were stealing the potential for residuals from a lot of artists," he said.

Recalling that his band practiced at Azoff's parents' garage, Supp gets nostalgic.

"I think he made mention of us one time in an early Rolling Stone article. We were the ones that he grew up with, that lived a few blocks away," he said. "I would like to sit down and talk to him if no one was even around," he said, "just to talk."

"There are lots of smart kids at the university," said Senn. "But he was just focused on the music industry, which was fledgling at that time from a management standpoint. It was always in flux, and Irving was a person who could develop with the times. We didn't realize at the time how brilliant Irving is."

The Irving Azoff file

— Born in Danville

— Began booking bands while a student at Danville High School

— Attended University of Illinois

— Worked for Blytham Ltd., major Midwest booking agency based in Champaign, during college

— Received honorary doctorate in music from UI in 2003

— Has represented dozens of internationally known acts, perhaps best known for managing the late Dan Fogelberg and the Eagles

— Produced the films "The Hurricane," "Jack Frost," "Urban Cowboy" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"

— Won 1980 Album of the Year from Academy of Country Music for producing "Urban Cowboy" soundtrack

— Founded Global Music Rights Management in 2013 to manage licensing rights for artists

3 questions

3 questions for Irving Azoff

Three greatest concerts you've ever seen?

Eagles at the Forum, L.A.; Fleetwood Mac at Madison Square Garden; and the Beatles at Comiskey Park!

Best advice you've ever been given?

Return every phone call and letter (email now).

Best advice you would give?

Follow your dreams and never give up.

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Bwp 5P wrote on February 06, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Great to know Irving's talent was finally recognized by the University!

Ted Unlis wrote on February 13, 2015 at 5:02 pm


Like so many other fans of the Eagles, an unintended consequence of watching the powerful documentary History of the Eagles Part I & II, was that it laid bare the cold hard truth about the cuthroat narcissism of Frey and Henley and their abuse of fellow band members and crew.  The sole enabler and orchestrator for this ugly chapter of rock and roll history is Irving Azoff.  I wish I didn't know all the facts I learned after watching the documentary, including those about Azoff, or as Don Henley once lovingly described Azoff, "He might be Satan but he's our Satan". 

Chip Cogswelle wrote on May 21, 2017 at 8:05 pm

So many good memories in this article!
My friend played in a Georgetown band, the "Wild Things" in '67 or so, and Mr. Azoff setup a gig where they had access to 2 Vox Super-Beatle amps, a big deal at the time.

Garcia's Pizza: a slice, a beer and some pinball hit the spot many times in mid-70s.

Shout out to Mike Supp and the Shades of Blue. We moved Pepsi in and outta trucks, summer of '66. Then you guys got famous!!
 

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