Light says the band is like any team, business or organization in that there are always leaders. "It may take a whole team to execute, but somebody becomes the heart and soul, and that's Jon," Light says. "He leads it, he calls the shots, and everybody else on that stage and who surrounds him -- label, promoters, crew, whatever -- are all integral parts, and he would acknowledge that. People organically want to follow him. They want to be a part of what he's doing. They know he's going in the right direction."
When it comes to planning a tour or other project, Bon Jovi is in the mix. "There is nothing he's working on where his name and the band's name and their music is involved that he isn't integrally involved," Light says. "That doesn't mean he is on every call. If we're talking about an endorsement or sponsorship, we may do a lot of the initial work, but when it comes time for [questions like], 'What is the creative? How is it going to work? What does it mean to the band and to me?,' he's having that conversation."
But don't pitch Bon Jovi a business deal on show day. "The show is his main job," Light says. "He's an artist first, but he has the ability to touch all those other things and he does so intelligently, creatively and gladly."
Matt Lauer, host of NBC's "Today," says that "in the nicest possible way . . . Jon is a control freak. If you look at most really successful people, they are. Jon has a firm grip on every aspect of this band. There's a reason the band is called Bon Jovi."
Being the "CEO" is "one facet of who I am, sure," Bon Jovi says. "If, after three decades, you haven't learned how to run your business, then you really are a living, breathing cliché of rock'n'roll. So I take pride in that description."
Still, Bon Jovi the sports fan makes it clear that the band, and everyone who works with it, are a team. "Everybody's participation is key to the team's success, but somebody has to be the leader," he says. "So in that regard I'll accept the credit -- or the blame. But everybody's contributions make for the sum, and the sum of the parts make for the whole."
Being the leader means having to make tough decisions, as when Sambora left the tour this summer to enter rehab. (Guitarist Phil Xenidis filled in.) There wasn't any talk of Sambora's exit being permanent, and Bon Jovi doesn't shy away from discussing "the Richie scenario."
"I loved him just as much before as I do after," he says. "And the best thing to do, both for him and for us, is say, 'We're going to work. You should take care of yourself.' I didn't threaten him with being fired. I didn't do anything, in the media or privately. Everybody supported him, and in turn, the fan base supported the decision, and we went out and did a month, 15 or so shows, I guess. It's good that he realizes we're going to work no matter what, as long as I can get up and out there. It was good for him, and he's in a great place again."
It boils down to "immense respect for our relationship," and, given his long-term connection with the entire team, including the band, it's clear loyalty is important to Bon Jovi, the man and the band. "A lot of it has to do with the number of years and the time served," he says. "I've spent more time in this band than I have spent out of it, and I have spent more time with the guys than I have spent with my own family. That's quite a statement, but it's based on a 28-year relationship. There's a basis for all that loyalty. We've seen marriage, birth, accomplishment, failure together. We pride ourselves on the difference between us and a lot of our peer group that fell by the wayside. We were able to recognize when it was time to pat someone on the back-and when it was time to punch them in the nose."
Bon Jovi's curiosity extends beyond the opportunities that exist for the band into what other entertainers and organizations are doing.
"I know what he's more than likely interested in doing and what he's not, but I like to tell him everything, because it helps him understand the bigger market," Light says. "When he's not being the artist, when we're doing business, he wants to know about everything in the business: how other tours are doing, what are ticket prices [costing], what's working on a marketing level, what promotions have worked, what new media is working."
Lorne Michaels calls Bon Jovi "incredibly disciplined," but adds, "He has the thing we look for: manners. I don't mean 'please and thank you' manners, I just mean a level of respect for all the people you work with. I like him a lot. I've found him in every one of my dealings with him to be completely honest and straightforward. I've been around a long time, and it's not that common."
Despite the wide range of interests that require a lot of time and attention, Bon Jovi is a family man. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, Dorothea, since 1989, and they have four children. Lauer, who lives near the Bon Jovis and sees them socially, calls Bon Jovi "a doting father."
"Family man" is another mantle Bon Jovi proudly accepts. "Without that, the rest of this is a shallow pool to swim in," he says. "Celebrity and the fame game never appealed to me. And I do know a lot of applause junkies who live for that. They become the journeymen, they live on the road, they like that kind of lifestyle, and they're unable to function in the real world when it comes to going to school or going to family functions -- or changing a light bulb. I find that when I'm done touring, I don't miss it. I love doing it while I'm doing it, but when I'm not, it's the furthest thing from my mind."
It's illuminating to know that as he nears the half-century mark, Bon Jovi is trying to learn about new things and develop new interests. And he's still developing his chops. "I've never studied so hard playing guitar. I'm taking guitar lessons at 50 years old to be a better and better guitar player."
All involved with Team Bon Jovi believe the band will continue to break new markets, attract new fans and sell more records. "He hasn't quite gone everywhere he wants to go," Light says. "And he's certainly never one to sit back on his laurels. He's always hungry for the next adventure, so I'd be surprised if he doesn't find another gear."
Nashville-based Ray Waddell (@billboardtour) is executive director of content and programming for touring and live entertainment at Billboard. He writes the weekly On the Road column.