"As a writer, Jon was in the forefront; as a producer, critical," Springsteen said in a pre-recorded video aired tonight as part of virtual HBO broadcast. "And he created a management style based around not just a business but [also] nurturing the highest artistic goals, along with personal growth. Nobody did that before Jon Landau, and I don’t think anyone’s done it as well since. And he’s always been an incredible friend."
Landau entered the Rock Hall's 2020 class by receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award for industry professionals along with longtime Eagles manager Irving Azoff.
A video tribute traced Landau's winding career arc — from writing for Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone to producing Springsteen and other acclaimed artists to becoming the songwriter's personal manager.
"One of my first recollections of Jon Landau was his trashing of the Blues Project in Crawdaddy, which held the very first of rock criticism," Springsteen said. "And I was going, like, 'Who does this guy think he is? Who’s Jon Landau?' … As a critic, he was measured, very thoughtful. But he could take you down."
Jackson Browne — who recruited Landau to produce his 1976 LP, The Pretender — also noted the writer's infamy among artists: "We’d run into people that he had savaged in print, you know? And their eyes would narrow, and they’d say, 'You’re John Landau?'"
Landau noted that "everything changed" for him after seeing Springsteen play live in 1974. "I went to see him in this little club, maybe 15 people there," Landau said in the segment. "He was just the greatest. I saw him a second time; he was even better. Afterwards, I wrote an article that I’m still proud of to this day."
His review for The Real Paper in Boston included a now-famous comment: "I saw my rock 'n' roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time."
Reflecting on that line, Springsteen said "we didn’t think it was going to turn into some iconic quote that people will still bring up 40 years later, you know? He just saw a future in us."
Springsteen also underlined how Landau's studio perspective was essential in shaping 1975's Born to Run, their first project together. "Jon had the initial idea of doing something I had never heard of — and it was something called editing," Springsteen said, with a laugh. "'You mean take something out? No no, we’re the guys that put everything in. I don’t take anything out!' … To this day, I think that’s my favorite of Jon’s production efforts."
Springsteen highlighted the "innate sort of intellectualism" of the music they worked on together — "thinking about what rock 'n' roll meant, its place in society, its place in our own maturing."
Surveying his career, Landau looked back again on his first glimpse of Springsteen's live greatness. "That night, I decided that I would somehow find a way to work with Bruce on his music and career," he said. "And so I did for the next 45 years, as his co-producer, manager and, most importantly, as a partner and friend who loves him deeply."