2024 Impact 50 Honorees: Jon Landau

Jon Landau, Asbury Park, NJ, 2010
Danny Clinch photographing Jon Landau in Asbury Park, NJ, December 7th, 2010

When Jon Landau penned the now infamous “rock and roll’s future” article for Boston
alternative newsweekly The Real Paper in 1974, even Madame Marie could not have
foretold that the first domino had been knocked over leading to Landau’s 50-year
relationship with legendary artist Bruce Springsteen.

The pair’s collaboration, which first manifested professionally with Landau’s input on 1975’s breakthrough album Born To Run, remains remarkably fertile as Springsteen continues on his most successful E Street Band world tour ever. “As Bruce says, keep going until we end up in the big box,” Landau said.

As a “good, but not great” musician, Landau’s early creative outlet was as a pioneering music critic for Rolling Stone and others. A self-proclaimed “Motown freak” in an era
when producers were moving to the forefront, Landau’s early ambition was to make records.

“The big change came when I wanted to cross over from being a journalist—a pioneering journalist, but a journalist—into record production,” he said. “So I found my way into it a little bit and did a few things, the most important of which was the work with the MC5 in 1969, who I dearly loved and who really helped me get going. And I wound up combining everything because I wrote the famous article about Bruce, which lead to Bruce and me meeting, and ultimately led to me working with Bruce on Born to Run, and I’ve never looked back since, 50 years of that particular, all important, relationship. During that time, he and I have collaborated closely on everything, and it’s just the friendship and relationship of a lifetime, really.”

Along the way, Landau has ventured down different “tributaries” here and there (including managing Shania Twain during her multi-platinum pop crossover era, and producing Jackson Browne’s epic The Pretender), but Springsteen remains “the center of my focus, and it’s just been a remarkable run,” he said.

In a lengthy phone interview from his home in Westchester, Landau spoke with Pollstar about the band’s philosophy on touring, the importance of stability, and delivering unforgettable shows.

Pollstar: Fifty years, that’s a hell of a milestone.
Jon Landau: You mentioned my friend Irving [Azoff], he goes back 50 years with the Eagles, which is amazing. We always joke about the fact we have different styles, because Irving is a person who wanted and has successfully done almost everything. I used to joke with him, “You’re Bloomingdale’s, and I’m the boutique,” because it’s just Bruce and me. I wasn’t interested in the business as a business. I was interested in the relationship, and just the creativity, so that’s sort of where I stayed.

You said you were a good, but not great musician, but you obviously knew enough…
[Laughing] Oh, I knew great! I knew it when I saw it, let me tell you. I’m very good with creativity. I just spent some time with my old friend Jackson Browne, who I worked with in the ’70s most famously on The Pretender [1976], and that was a great album, and he was a great teacher. I got to produce that album, but really I learned more from him than I was able to help him with. Bruce at that time made all of his recordings with the E-Street Band. Later on, he’s done it a variety of ways, although the band always has
remained central, with a hiatus somewhere along the way.

Jackson, going out to LA in ’76 and all these musicians I had been writing about for years as a journalist, well, there they were. All of a sudden, you’re in a room with Russ Kunkel, Lee Sklar and Billy Payne, and John Hall was playing guitar on some of that album, and David Lindley of course, and Lowell George, he was just… gold standard. I got the crash course of a lifetime making that album, which took us a year and came out pretty good. But I always kept my focus on the big picture, the biggest picture for me, which was always Bruce.

It shows. Obviously, you look at what’s going on to this day. It becomes a choice of which venue he wants to play. On this tour, you’re playing both stadiums and arenas, especially with this leg.
What we’re doing in the United States in ’23, we just decided arenas were primarily right for us and we had a great time with those. We did a few stadium dates in the Northeast corridor, which remains to this day just the deepest of Bruce country. In Chicago, we did a couple of Wrigleys, a couple of Gillettes in Boston, fantastic. But mainly, we were arenas. It’d been six years since we went out, so we wanted to move around. We didn’t want to do a stint in multiples, we wanted to just get out and go wide.

And then Europe, it’s a little different for us because it’s just stadiums because in ’23, we did around 30. We’re doing another 25-26 right now. And Europe has turned into this sort of a second home. And then we always like to get to Australia and New Zealand, which we haven’t put on the books yet, that’s to be determined, but we love it there. The people are fantastic.

And those are our anchors, and we get to South Africa sometimes, and to Japan sometimes, do some South America, but over time, and given the amount of shows that we can do, and how often we go out, it’s really North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, that are the anchors for us.

Looking at the numbers, attendance-wise rank with any he’s done in his career post-Born in the USA, and gross-wise, it’s record-setting for this artist.
The show itself, his performance capacity has remained so high, and the level of authenticity is so real. Look, if you want to see live live, real live, what you see is what you get, that’s where you want to be, because that’s what he does, and the number of people who are still doing it just continues to decline. There’s great people out there, and hey listen, younger artists, different approaches, using technology in different ways, and I see things all the time I think are fantastic. But, for us, he has a style and he has a point of view, and he has an approach that if you want to experience it, you’ve got to be there. There is no substitute. And I can tell you that the same 1,000% that he puts into that you saw the first time you saw him 50 years ago, it’s exactly what he puts into it now. The guy’s commitment from the moment he sets foot on stage until the moment he steps off, it’s unfailing. it’s just who he is.

He has been inspiring me almost from the day I met him, and he inspires his audience. Bruce’s goal is he’s going out there to do a show that you never forget. He’s not aiming for “let’s go out and do a nice, solid show tonight.” He’s aiming to go beyond. That never changes. It can be his acoustic tours, it can be “Springsteen on Broadway,” it can be the “Seeger Sessions” tour, and it can be with the E Street Band, which is his main and greatest vehicle for touring. But it’s always the same commitment. It’s just uncanny.

If it were simple, everybody would be doing it, but when you knock it out of the park every night or at least swing for the fences, then people know that. They can tell, and they come back.
Exactly. I talk to fans over the years who have simply gone to hundreds of shows, and we have people who Bruce will see from the stage, out in the pit, who will take two weeks out of their lives to come to a run of five shows, eight shows, 10 shows, boom, boom, they’ll take their vacations. It’s the wildest comparison you could make because musically, they’re so different, but there’s a little bit of Grateful Dead there in the sense of a core audience for whom it’s an ongoing experience. It’s just part of their lives. They want to come and participate as often as they can. And it’s very inspiring to have an audience like that, it’s so inspiring for the artists of course.

The health of Bruce’s business is obvious, but do you think the overall live business
appears healthy and robust?

It does. Certainly judging by the numbers, the number of concerts, the different sized things and different scales that are successful, and I think what is very distinct in the United States is that whether you’re talking about music, which is our concern, or you’re talking about sports or a whole range of different cultural and entertainment experiences, the demand in the United States is just incredible.

And it just seems to continue, and I know some of my friends, other managers, agents, are sort of waiting for, “Hey, when are things going to slow down?” And of course, there are pockets, there’s always ups and downs, but overall thrust is just people come out for the shows, every kind of show, all kinds of artists.

Look, the three biggest tours according to Pollstar last year were Taylor Swift, Beyon and Bruce. You got three incredible artists who’re completely stylistically unique originals, and just very, very different. When I saw that, I said, “This is great.” Just the range is great, and when you go down the rest of the list, just looking at things from the point of view of who do people most want to see right now, and there’s just great artists of all kinds and of all styles. I think it’s a good time.

Is it a perfect time? God knows there is no perfect time. Are there are issues, and all the rest, and yeah, of course there are, but over all, wow, I think there’s a lot of good stuff going on, a lot of creativity.

When you look at the things that make up an artist’s career, the record sales, publishing, branding, merchandising, and then touring, and then whatever revenue streams have cropped up, where does tour rank in the hiearchy?
Well, the thing about is is that Bruce, it’s obvious, he really values the stability. The E-Street Band, we’ll start there; my own relationship; he signed with Sony Music in 1972. It’s the only label he’s ever been on, and it’s been a great relationship, and he’s never had any reason to want to change it, right?

Okay, the agent who was originally with Bruce at William Morris and then when we went to Premier Talent, some big years, ’70s, ’80s, and it was Barry Bell, Bruce’s now co-agents since ’73, and he works with CAA and Rob Light have been there for I don’t know how long there. Decades now, and our promoters and our approach to the promoters is very simple. We’ve always been interested in the person, as opposed to
the entity. It’s sort of funny the way it works out for us, I don’t have the exact stats, but probably half the shows wind up being with Live Nation, and about 25%—30%, maybe a little more, sometimes a little less, AEG, and the rest are independents.

What works for us, stability, continuity, we work with people we want to work with. We don’t have any bad relationships. We’re so far past the point, why would we ever work with somebody we didn’t feel good about? There’s no reason for it, so we don’t. We haven’t. And a lot of people are doing new and different things out there, this whole Taylor Swift thing has been incredible, sophisticated, very modern and very thoughtful, and to me very impressive. After all these years, I guess you’d have to say we’re sort of