The song "Runaway," recorded in '84 by Jon Bon Jovi, got included in radio station W-D-H-A's compilation of un-signed acts. Technically, Bon Jovi didn't really qualify. Less than a year earlier, Bon Jovi (the group) had been signed by Mercury Records after building a solid reputation as a live act. In the process, John Francis Bongiovi altered his name.
"Runaway" became the group's first single and got them tour spots supporting ZZ Top and .38 Special. It wasn't until two years later, Bon Jovi with Richie Sambora (guitars), David Bryan (keyboards), Tico Torres (drums) and Alec John Such (bass) recorded their classic "Slippery When Wet." It was one of the best selling CDs of the decade. No wonder. It had the infectious "You Give Love a Bad Name," "Wanted: Dead Or Alive" and "Livin' On A Prayer." Vocally strong, the songs Rock, thanks largely to Sambora's guitar work. On the heels of "Slippery When Wet's" success, Bon Jovi's second major label release (the self-titled "Bon Jovi" was the first), "7800 Fahrenheit" re-entered the U.S. charts and went platinum (million sales).
Hailing from Jersey might account for the band's work ethic. They spent most of '87 on the road nailing 130 concerts. A year later they unleashed their fourth CD "New Jersey" with "Bad Medicine" and "Born To Be My Baby." The CD also included the ballad "I'll Be There For You," which topped the charts. But having success with a Rock ballad in the 80's was like shooting fish in a barrel - and about as exciting.
For good or ill, Bon Jovi and Sambora helped launch an early '90's trend. Their acoustic version of "Wanted Dead or Alive" on MTV's Video Music Awards gave the network honchos the idea for the whole "Unplugged" thing. What a waste. We've dammed up rivers, burned fossil fuels and built nuclear power plants to provide enough electricity for all the world's guitars and there are some people who still don't to plug in. Unbelievable.
Also in the '90s, both Bon Jovi and Sambora tried their hand at solo projects with Bon Jovi contributing the title track to the "Blaze of Glory/Young Guns II" soundtrack.
'94 was an eventful year. Such left the band. The group's multi-platinum greatest hits collection "Cross Road" was released and Sambora married actress Heather Locklear. Meanwhile, Jon Bon Jovi pursued a respectable acting career. Whew!
Influenced by the tragedy and aftermath of 9/11, Bon Jovi rallied the troops for their '02 release "Bounce." The following year the acoustic "This Left Feels Right: Bon Jovi's Greatest Hits With A Twist" came out.
The group's ninth studio effort, "Have A Nice Day," rolled out in '05 with the title track serving as the first single. The album hit #2 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart (behind Disturbed's "Ten Thousand Fists") during its first week of release.
One song from "Have A Nice Day" had a unique run. "Who Says You Can't Go Home" was released as a single and broke the Billboard Top 30. It eventually was used in ads promoting New Jersey tourism ("New Jersey" and "tourism" usually don't appear in the same sentence).
A Country version of the song was created featuring Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. It became the first song performed by a Rock group to hit #1 on the Country chart (in May, '06). However, this was the second Jon Bon Jovi Country success. The first was his duet with Chris LeDuex on "Bang A Drum."
Reports circulated that Keith Urban was originally slated to record the "Who Says You Can't Go Home" but his voice was deemed "too similar" to Bon Jovi's. If that's true, Urban missed a big winner.
"Who Says You Can't Go Home" picked up a Grammy and a CMT Award (Best Collaborative Video). Bon Jovi and Nettles performed the song at NASCAR's Daytona 500 at the beginning of the '06 season. The tune was everywhere and so was Bon Jovi. You'd think they were from Tennessee not New Jersey.
The following year started a little rough for Sambora. In April, his divorce from Locklear was finalized. Just two months later, Sambora checked into a rehab facility (cause and effect?) in L.A. for an eight-day stay following the taping of Bon Jovi's MTV Unplugged in New York. Sambora was visibly inebriated, missed notes and his backing vocals were off-key.
In the middle of the Sambora saga. Jon Bon Jovi was a guest on the Rock-themed edition of American Idol where he provided feedback and advised the remaining six contestants, who presented their own rendition of a Bon Jovi song
The success of "Who Says You Can't Go Home" led Bon Jovi to record their next album in Nashville. This led to rumors that Bon Jovi was cutting a Country CD. "I think I am guilty of . . . misrepresenting that we were going to Nashville to make a Country record," said Bon Jovi. "I can better describe it by saying it's a Nashville-influenced Bon Jovi record."
Prior to "Lost Highway's June, '07 release, the title track to was heard on the Wild Hogs movie trailer while "We Got It Going," was used during ESPN's Arena Football League coverage. Jon Bon Jovi co-owns the Philadelphia Soul Arena Football team.
But not all was moving smoothly for the veteran band. In April, '08, Sambora pleaded no contest to a drunken-driving charge stemming from an arrest the previous month in Laguna Beach, CA. A related DUI count was dropped as part of the deal, which called for the guitarist to pay penalties totaling $1,600, attend an alcohol-education class and undergo three years' probation.
OK, Rock stars screw up but just as often (or so it seems) a musician finds himself embroiled in things that seem to come right out of left field - or perhaps in this case, right field. Bon Jovi got slapped with a $40 billion (yes, billion) lawsuit filed by a Boston-area man who charged the group with plagiarism. Samuel Bartley Steele claimed that the band's '07 tune "I Love This Town," which was used in Major League Baseball postseason ads, was remarkably similar to his '04 ode to the Boston Red Sox, "(Man I Really) Love This Team." Steele, who sold no copies of his song and made it free for downloads, wanted $100, 000 for each copy of "Lost Highway," containing "I Love This Town." The album sold 4 million units which is how Steele got to $40 billion. Talk about a nuisance suit.
That may have been a minor distraction but the next development was a major irritation. Jon Bon Jovi joined the long list of Rock musicians (Foo Fighters, Van Halen, John Mellencamp, Heart and Jackson Browne) upset over '08 Republican candidates using their songs without permission. Bon Jovi, an avid Barack Obama supporter, issued a statement complaining that vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin played "Who Says You Can't Go Home" at two rallies. "The song has . . . become a banner for our home state of New Jersey," wrote Bon Jovi in a statement. "Although we were not asked, we do not approve of their use of 'Home'."
Despite Sambora's run-in with the law, an outrageous lawsuit and political plagiarism, Bon Jovi ended the year on an up note when their Lost Highway tour topped Billboard's Boxscore (an annual list of the highest-grossing tours). The trek earned $210.6 million.
Bon Jovi kept on a roll through '09. The documentary Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful, made its debut on Showtime. The film, directed by Paul Griffin, chronicled Bon Jovi's '08 Lost Highway World Tour. Next came Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful (again), only this one was the first official book focusing on the group. It was in stores in time to commemorate the band's 25th anniversary. Before the dust settled, "The Circle," Bon Jovi's eleventh studio album, with the single "We Weren't Born To Follow," landed. "There are a lot of really good guitar sounds and new kind atmospheres that I think [make] it really modern," says Sambora. "And it Rocks hard." The statement was obviously made to contrast the album from '07's Nashville-flavored "Lost Highway."
In an innovative marketing move, Bon Jovi signed an exclusive Artist In Residence agreement with NBC to promote "The Circle." They were featured on the Nightly News with Brian Williams, interviewed for Inside the Actor's Studio and performed "Superman Tonight" and "When We Were Beautiful" on Saturday Night Live. "In a shrinking media environment, you have to kind of reinvent the wheel," concluded Bon Jovi.
Over their career, Bon Jovi has compiled a long list of great songs. So which was the favorite? In the run-up to the 52nd Grammy Awards CBS had an online contest where fans got to choose the song Bon Jovi would play during their first Grammy appearance (the band had been nominated for an award but didn't win). They opened with "We Weren't Born To Follow," before Nettles joined them for "Who Says You Can't Go Home." The fan-selected song, "Living On A Prayer," closed their performance.
They may not have won a Grammy the previous year but Bon Jovi's luck changed when their 69-show Circle tour was deemed the most successful of the year ('10) by Billboard magazine (beating out U2). The band earned $146.5 million from concerts in North America, England, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. "It's funny, because there's obviously a part of you that's very proud of it," commented Bon Jovi. "In the industry it means something; it doesn't mean anything to the public."
The frontman was then appointed by President Obama to the White House Council for Community Solutions. "All of us have a role to play in helping address some of our nation's most serious problems," reflected Bon Jovi. The Council was created in '09 "to mobilize citizens, nonprofits, businesses and government to work more effectively together to solve specific community needs."
Bon Jovi and U2 had major tours in '11. This time the tables turned with U2 barely having the higher grossing trek.
With the tour completed, Sambora began work on his second solo album - the follow-up to '98's "Undiscovered Soul." "Richie and I have worked on and off together for years," said producer Luke Ebbin. "Richie came off the Bon Jovi tour energized and we got together to write a couple of songs. The results were very good, so we kept writing more and decided to go in and record them."
Meanwhile, Jon Bon Jovi, continuing as a member of the Council for Community Solutions, helped announce a '12 Project REACH initiative to end veteran homelessness by 2015. The project encouraged developers to create an easily-used mobile/web application to connect service providers and offer real-time information about resources for the homeless. "Innovations that get information about services right to the point of contact in real or near real time using smartphones and Internet technology are going to have a big impact," Bon Jovi told Nextgov.com. "They are going to help us defeat veteran homelessness."
Later in the year, Bon Jovi issued a live video album "Inside Out." That was followed by news that the group was working on their 12th album, titled "What About Now?"
"It sounds like Bon Jovi," explained Sambora. "It sounds like us. That's basically the way it is… what comes out comes out."
The lead single off the '13 album was "Because We Can" which also served as the title of the group's fifteenth major tour. But Sambora soon dropped from the tour to deal with "personal issues." Rumors, immediately denied, circulated that Sambora was kicked off the tour for partying too hard. "He drinks constantly and has a stream of Hollywood bimbos around all the time," said an unnamed insider. Isn't that what you are suppose to do on tour?
"I think Richie's doing all right, I haven't spoken to him. We were surprised," said Jon Bon Jovi. "It was 3:30pm on show day on Tuesday and we got a phone call that he wouldn't be there. It's a personal matter." Theofilos Xenidis, who filled in for Sambora during Bon Jovi's '11 tour, once again stepped in.
1984 Bon Jovi
1985 7800 Fahrenheit
1986 Slippery When Wet
1988 New Jersey
1992 Keeping The Faith
1995 These Days
2005 Have A Nice Day
2007 Lost Highway
2009 The Circle
2013 What About Now?
2001 One Wild Night Live 1985 - 2001
2010 Greatest Hits
Bon Jovi is more blue collar than spandex. That's a key to their lasting appeal. "Slippery When Wet," loaded with hits and Bon Jovi's best performances, is the CD to get. The other half-dozen Bon Jovi albums from the '80s and '90s all have their attractions but there's also a ton of filler. The same can be said for both Bon Jovi and Sambora's solo ventures. A good way around this dilemma is "Cross Road." It culls the best and leaves the rest.
On their eighth studio album "Bounce," Bon Jovi makes an attempt to update their successful arena Rock sound with songs like "Everyday" which hints at Alt. Rock. But the majority of the album plows ground that Bon Jovi fans know and love. Like so many '80s Rock groups, Bon Jovi scored big with ballads. Not forgetting that lesson, the group offers several in this set including "The Distance," "All About Lovin'" and the acoustic shuffle "Joey." "Misunderstood" is a straight-ahead pop Rocker that's actually pretty good while the title track, another strong song, is pure Bon Jovi.
'03 release "This Left Feels Right: Bon Jovi's Greatest Hits With A Twist" is just that. The "twist" is acoustic versions of Bon Jovi's best known songs. More attention is paid to the lyrics while the playing is often intricate with subtle nuances. For those riding the Bon Jovi bandwagon to the end this is a pleasant diversion.
The group came roaring back with "Have A Nice Day." If there's one thing Bon Jovi knows it is how to create anthems. They can take the essence of an experience and distill it down to a two line hook. "When the world gets in my face, I say have a nice day" from the title track has some bite and sneer to it. The group blows the doors off with "Last Cigarette" and "Last Man Standing." They take two shots at "Who Says You Can't Go Home," one is mid-tempo and the other uptempo. Both work. It's the story of a "home town boy born a rolling stone." The only obvious weak point is "Bells Of Freedom" with the line "silent scream no one could hear" that's straight out of Poetry 101. Otherwise, Bon Jovi is as entertaining as ever.
Take a song with major chords (and maybe a couple relative minor chords -nothing too complex) and use a singer from Georgia and you'll have a good start toward a Country song. Do the same thing, only substitute a vocalist from New Jersey and the tune will lean Rock.
The protagonist in a Rock song may be downtrodden but he's mad as hell about it. In a Country he's just as bad off, but resigned to his fate. If a fellow in a Country song is driving down the road looking for something that can't be found there's probably be a plastic Jesus on the dashboard. The same person in a Rock song has 666 carved in the dash.
When Country used steel pedal guitars with a definite twang and Rock axes were hooked to fuzz boxes and wah-wah pedals the differences were more pronounced. With rhythm guitars anchoring nearly all the songs "Lost Highway" is a Rock album with a Country ethos. What Bon Jovi has done is get to the same place as Garth Brooks in the '90s but from a different direction.
The rousing title track with the "plastic dashboard Jesus" reference signals we're in God's country now. There are "no brakes on this lost highway" so it's time to put faith in a higher power (Jack Daniels or the comfort of an old memory).
"Lost Highway" gets in gear with the feel-good "Summertime," "We Got It Going On" and the thoughtful "Everybody's Broken." The sparse but smoldering "(You Want To) Make a Memory," "Seat Next To You," and the duet with LeAnn Rimes, "Stranger," are emotional ballads but the set closer, "I Love This Town," really tells the tale. The song celebrates Nashville but it's more about having a sense of belonging - which is really at the root of both Country and Rock.
"The Circle," does the title mean the band has completed a cycle or has returned to where they started? Or are they still somewhere in the circle's arc? Jon Bon Jovi seems fine with any or all of the possibilities. Sure, why not?
"The Circle" marks Bon Jovi's triumphant return to stadium Rock. But they haven't entirely discarded their Nashville influences. Countless Country hits have a contradiction in the title like Bon Jovi's ballad "Live Before You Die." Or use the same word twice but give it a slightly different meaning. The anthem "Work For The Working Man" fits perfectly. Both songs could have come straight out of Music City yet Bon Jovi takes them in another direction.
The single "We Weren't Born To Follow" is a song of inspiration. There are "winds of change" and it's time for people to "get off their knees." That it's a catchy Rocker only helps. Like many tracks on "The Circle," the song strives for positive change.
It's never good when a Rock band gets compared to Donny & Marie Osmond but "What About Now?" is a little bit Country and a little bit Rock N' Roll. Donny & Marie couldn't do either. Bon Jovi can but this set falls short of previous efforts. One telling reason is the overall by-the-numbers production.
The Rock songs suffer from a sterile rhythm section, as if the bass and drums were sequenced and produced down to the nano-beat. Bon Jovi's lyrics covering politics, life's tribulations, self-actualizing messages, love and loyalty, seem grafted on.
The frontman and the band are more in sync on the Country leaning material - especially the ballad "Amen" which sounds like it came straight out of Nashville.