Music Interviews

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Bon Jovi

Interview by Anne Raso

Bon Jovi c Chester Simpson/Artist Publications

(l-r) David Bryan, Tico Torres, Jon Bon Jovi, Alec John Such, Richie Sambora
Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA , 8/31/85
Photo © Chester Simpson/Artist Publications

“You live rock 'n' roll, man, it's not one of those 9-to-5 jobs where you leave it. It's your life; you live it! It's a choice that you make.”

-- Richie Sambora

When New Jersey, Bon Jovi's follow up to their 1987 mega-platinum success, was released, many critics wanted to see the nice guys finish last for once. The professional snipers were saying that the group had turned into a teenybop attraction on the level of The Bay City Rollers. But this time out, Jon and the band have fought back with material strong enough to please pop and metal fans alike.

Once the album was on the shelves in the record stores, the band felt they could reveal their secret formula for avoiding the slump that so often follows a stunning success like Slippery When Wet. How do you make the magic of success happen?

"I'd have to say it was mostly hard work, with a little bit of luck as well," Richie Sambora replied. "When I met Jon, the reason I really enjoyed being with him and respected him is because he had talent, and mostly because he went for it! This is... You live rock 'n' roll, man, it's not one of those 9-to-5 jobs where you leave it. It's your life; you live it! It's a choice that you make, and it's not something that you get out of. Even if you go home, you're still a rock'n'roller. It's a lifestyle. You brush your teeth with it before you go to bed and you wake up with it in the morning, 'cause it's hanging on your shoulder. You gotta give it 100% devotion and then some. And if you don't think you've got that much dedication in you, well, you should choose another career!"

Sambora provides the band's backbone, and not just with his hot guitar licks. He plays straight man to the rest of the band's wild road and recording studio antics.

Thinking back, he got serious at an early age. "I was 14 years old when I decided to teach myself how to play the guitar. You know, some kids are talented at things like sports; well, I had to work really hard at sports, even though I pulled it off OK. Musical instruments, though, were always easy for me because of my ear. I have a good ear. Like, if I hear a song on the radio, most of the time I can go into the dressing room and within five minutes, I know it. I can hear the intervals of the chord changes and the melody lines, so I really never had a problem."

Despite the one-for-all, all-for-one attitude that presently exists within Bon Jovi the group, Jon originally formed the band in 1983 as a tentative lineup.

Explains the blue-eyed Boy Wonder, "When I put this band together, it was with the attitude that.... Tico was in Frankie & The Knock-Outs, and he was between albums; Richie had his own band going, and Alex was a part of that as well. So I thought that maybe it would last about a month or so—we'd play a couple of the local clubs and I could keep writing. It was just that kind of thing. But, jeez, it just hit off so well right then that I knew that was it. And so we worked hard to keep it together."

"The whole thing was so new to us when we got the deal and went in to make our first record together," interjects Sizzlin' Sambora, "We really didn't know how to relate to each other yet at that point. With time, we've just continued to find ourselves. Throughout, we've continued to grow as a band, and even now, the longer you play together and the more you play together live, you come to know each other musically and also personally. Being in a band, it's not enough that you just know how to play your instrument. You have to really connect with your band members. You have to become a family. That comes in time—you live together for years on the road, like we did. So it's a lengthy process, uncovering that band identity, so that you know for yourself where the hell you're coming from."

The band admits to pulling their identity from a variety of musical influences, ranging from old-fashioned blues to Led Zeppelin. "All of our influences are so disparate," states Jon matter-of-factly. "That's what makes us... they're so extreme. I was never a Led Zeppelin/Bad Company fanatic, but that was Richie's upbringing. Man, he was practically raised on Beatles tunes. And of course Tico was into the blues and a lot of late-night, 3-o'clock-in-the-morning-in-a-Harlem-bar kind of music. Alex liked straightforward heavy metal, like Judas Priest and AC/DC, whereas Dave was influenced by Deep Purple and Springsteen and Southside Johnny and such. It worked, 'cause we could turn each other on to all sorts of different music. I could show them about bands like The Babys and where I was coming from. All those different musical wavelengths hitting head on, that's what made it work."

The BJs admit to writing music for the masses; their philosophy is strictly, "Fuck art, let's rock'n'roll!" Notes Sambora, "We're certainly not heavy metal, and we're certainly not pussy rock! What we tried to do is just make a Bon Jovi album. It's appealing to all kinds of people because it's powerful and the songs are good. Rock'n'roll—and, hopefully, Bon Jovi music—is something that a lot of people can get into. It's one of the most popular forms of music. You know, I guess some people are hung up on labels. I listen to all kinds of music; I'm not hung up on one type. That's something that always pissed me off in the past, that kids don't open up their heads and listen to everything. They either listen to heavy metal exclusively or just jazz exclusively. Personally, some mornings I'll wake up to Metal Church doing 'Highway Star,' and other mornings I'll wake up to Stanley Jordan, and other mornings I'll wake up to Stevie Ray Vaughan."

But no matter how diversified the band's influences may be, their image certainly is clear-cut. Bon Jovi's studly good looks have put them in the "hunk rock" category, but they don't exactly love it. As a matter of fact, despite parading around on stage in fringe and studs, Jon says that he's not fashion-conscious. "We really never tried to be a fashion-conscious band," he reveals. "You burn out too fast that way. If you don't let the music do the talking, you could be the biggest fad this year, and have a lot of money to show for it, but come next year you'd better think of something to do with the rest of your life. Personally, I'd rather make another record—and then some."

The teenybopper image the band accrued with the last album didn't exactly thrill them, needless to say. States Sambora in a serious tone, "It's gone now, thank God. I didn't like the fact that people weren't taking the band seriously, and they weren't taking Jon seriously, either. We're all serious musicians, man. We try really hard, and we've been pros for years.

So, the worst thing that could happen is that Jon's a good-looking kid. Should he be ugly? Who's to say that a good-looking kid can't write a great song? Well, it happened! All it was was the way the record company marketed him. It had nothing to do with what he was putting across. That's why we had to take the reins in last year and stop all that shit. That's how come we had to say [when PolyGram put out Slippery When Wet], 'No pictures on the album cover. We'll give them nothing; we'll just let the music speak for itself.' That's what proved it for us. We had to put ourselves out on the line at that point. It would've been easy for us to put out an album cover with Jon's picture on the front—or the whole band, for that matter."

Whether you're a fan of Bon Jovi's or not, you just have to admire how they've kept their feet on the ground despite hundreds of limousine rides, thousands of groupies and album sales in the millions. Everything the group touches seems to turn to platinum, including the recent hit single, "I Found Someone." Looks like JBJ has found his niche in life, which includes a steady girlfriend and a little house in the Jersey suburbs. But instead of bowling and going out for pizza, Jon spends his nights playing guitar until his fingers bleed. Yes, indeed, nice guys finish first.


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