You Can't Argue With a Sick Mind

Back in 1970, Irving was just a bright, ambitious, highly opinionated wiseass from the hinterlands who even then displayed a rarefied gift of gab.

Irving grew up in Danville, a small town in downstate Illinois near the Indiana border, and attended the University of Illinois in nearby Champaign. He started early, booking acts into both Danville High School and U of I. His first management client was Champaign-based REO Speedwagon; his second was Peoria native and fellow U of I student Dan Fogelberg. In 1972, Azoff headed to L.A. with Fogelberg by his side; the two shared an apartment. Soon thereafter, he was joined by REO’s tour manager, John Baruck, who remains part of Azoff’s inner circle to this day. “It was fun times,” Irving said of their initiation into West Coast culture. “There’s something to be said for not growing up in L.A. or New York and experiencing the business in the heartland,” he pointed out in 2017. “You learn in different ways what does and doesn’t work.”

The early ’70s were a golden age for Los Angeles, which was then—and is once again—a mecca for talented artists as well as for those who aspired to work behind the scenes, where—following a stint as a booker at Jerry Heller’s Heller-Fischel Agency, David Geffen offered Azoff a gig at Geffen-Roberts Management, with responsibilities including booking the Roxy. It was there that he began his longstanding relationship with the Eagles.

“When I first came to Los Angeles, the center of the business was on Santa Monica Boulevard,” Irving recalled during a November 2014 lunch at the iconic Riviera Country Club, the home away from home for this determined duffer. “It centered on the Troubadour bar and Dan Tana’s next door. It was 1973. I met Albert Grossman on the sidewalk in front of the Troubadour. I was like a young kid hangin’ around the fringes, but I’d be in the Troubadour bar, and there would be David Geffen and Albert Grossman—all these guys yelling at each other and fighting, which was just the normal thing.

“The scene in Hollywood in those days was the Forum, the Troubadour, the Greek, the Whisky to some extent, and then very soon thereafter, the Roxy. And it was really fucking healthy. If you watch the Eagles documentary, people were moving here on both the business and the musician side from all over the country to taste the American Dream. It became the melting pot for American music. It was exciting, and the music was varied, everything from Elton John coming from London to Joni Mitchell to Cheech & Chong to the Eagles to Linda Rondstadt. It wasn’t any particular sound.”

“There’s something to be said for not growing up in L.A. or
New York and experiencing the business in the heartland.
You learn in different ways what does and doesn’t work.”

With the Eagles as his flagship act, Irving split from Geffen-Roberts in 1974 and started his own management company, naming it Front Line. “Geffen told the Eagles they could leave, but I don’t think they anticipated I would take ’em,” Azoff recalled. “They were pissed.” Not long afterward, the Eagles became absolutely ginormous, averaging a million albums a month for a two-year stretch behind the chart-toppers One of These Nights (released June 1975) through Hotel California (December 1976). His loaded client roster also included Fogelberg, REO, Joe Walsh, Steely Dan, Jimmy Buffett and Boz Scaggs.

He shrewdly orchestrated the insertion of Walsh into the Eagles lineup before the recording of the mega-smash Hotel California in a win-win for all involved. And in a bold move, Irving sued Geffen and Warners in an attempt to get control of the Eagles’ extremely lucrative publishing rights; in 1979, after two years of battling, Warners caved, as Goodman put it, settling out of court, making Henley, Glenn Frey and Irving even more filthy-rich. Management was very, very good to young Mr. Azoff.

THE DEALIN’ DALTON GANG: Looking cool with the Eagles and Bill Graham

“It was such a fucking seat-of-your-pants, invent-the-rules-as-you-go business,” he told Goodman. “And David invented a lot of the rules. For anyone with any sort of gift of gab and business sense, it was easy to beat. Then the manager thing became real entrepreneurial; it was the next step for idiots who wanted to own and operate our own businesses. Being a manager was the way to go.” After a comedic pause, Irving delivered his payoff. “Management is a terrible business,” he said. “Who wants an artist to take 85% of his money?”

Eagles collaborator J.D. Souther put his own amusing spin on Irving’s quip when he observed to Goodman, “Irving’s 15% of everybody turned out to be more than everyone’s 85% of themselves.”

Read the entire profile here.