As diminutive as his Chicago client is tall, super-manager Irving Azoff is the man who stands behind Billy Corgan--as well as the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger.
The enduring portrait of Azoff, now 61, comes from Frederic Dannen's classic 1990 history of the old-school music industry, Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business. Dannen wrote:
"Azoff stood 5' 3" on a good day. Friends called him the 'Poison Dwarf.' He was easily one of the most loathed men in the music business. His tantrums were extraordinary... Needless to say, Azoff's artists loved him. Most every rock star wants an SOB for a manager," and Azoff was the kind of guy who once delivered a gift-wrapped box bearing a boa constrictor to one competitor.
Through a Ticketmaster spokesman, Azoff declined to comment for this article.
A native of downstate Danville, Azoff was a music fan who traveled to Chicago to see the Beatles at Comiskey Park. He got his start booking bands at high school and continued during his time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He dropped out in 1970, moved to Los Angeles and landed his first serious client with his then-roommate, soft-rocker Dan Fogelberg. Soon, he also was managing the Eagles, Steeley Dan, Boz Skaggs, Steve Nicks, Heart and Jackson Browne.
A protégé of David Geffen, in the '80s, Azoff became head of MCA Records. He rescued the label from bankruptcy--and became the subject of a federal investigation of a New York mobster working out of MCA's offices. No charges were brought.
In 1989, Azoff left MCA to join Warner Music, where he was co-owner of a new label called Giant Records. He sold his share of Giant back to Warner in 2001, just as CD sales were beginning to slump. From there, he returned to artist management as founder of Front Line Management, with superstar clients including the Eagles, Christina Aguilera, Axl Rose and Morrissey. His biggest innovation: Exclusive deals with big-box retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy to release his clients' new music, a move that not only alienated the old record labels, but the many mom and pop record stores who'd been loyal to those artists and consistently sold their music for years.
In October 2008, Front Line was acquired by Ticketmaster, and Azoff wound up as Ticketmaster's CEO. A major architect of the merger with Live Nation, if the deal is approved by the Justice Department, he will serve as Chairman of the Board of the new Live Nation Entertainment, in addition to being CEO of Front Line.
Many industry observers see an inherent conflict of interest in an artist manager also being an executive at the company selling the artist's recordings, concert tickets and merchandise, which is the world Live Nation Entertainment envisions. Whose interests come first: the artist's, or the company's shareholders? "The artist's interests always come first," Azoff told the Wall Street Journal last month.
Testifying before the Congressional subcommittees, Azoff maintained that the merger is necessary to "save" the music industry and put the power back in the hands of the artists. But as Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) noted, it also will make the already wealthy Azoff an even richer man--and possibly the most powerful in the music business.