Bon Jovi: Rocking Millions From New Jersey To The World
Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.The following feature excerpted from a 28-page special Bon Jovi section in the Nov. 20 issue of Billboard.
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Musicians, take note: If you're asked to fill in with a band for just a few weeks, don't be too quick to say no. You might be destined for global success.
Jon Bon Jovi formed his namesake act in 1983 as an ad hoc group to promote his song "Runaway." He had been cutting demos in his spare time while working as a gofer at the Power Station, New York's famed recording studio, when "Runaway" wound up on a compilation of local rock bands and began getting airplay on now long-defunct New York rock station WAPP.
"It was meant to be a short-term thing to support that single at local shows and in a contest that Miller Beer was sponsoring with Atlantic Records," Bon Jovi recalls. "They were really doing me a favor. We just seemed to hit it off, and what was supposed to be three weeks is 20 years."
"They" -- guitarist Richie Sambora, bassist Alec John Such, drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan -- played their first show with Bon Jovi at a bowling alley. Within a few weeks, they knew the band was no temporary gig.
Within another 12 months, their first album, "Bon Jovi," was released. Within three more years, they were international superstars.
On Nov. 16, Island Records released "100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong . . .," a five-CD box set featuring a wealth of rare material that spans the length of the band's career. The collection includes 38 previously unreleased recordings, 12 non-album tracks and a DVD of interviews and other footage.
The set offers a unique perspective of a band that has shown remarkable longevity and commercial impact across two decades. The set helps highlight the journey-and the dedication-it took to turn five New Jersey guys into one of the world's most popular bands.
"We really earned our keep by going door to door, going to every town playing in every club," Bryan recalls of Bon Jovi's relentless touring in the '80s. "We would say we would play every pay toilet and use our own change. Across America and across the world, we just kept going and going. I didn't think it would be that hard. Nobody thought you would be into it that much, and you are. [You] have to go to every city in America and every country in the world and sell your wares."
According to Island, Bon Jovi has sold 100 million records worldwide and counting, thus the title of the boxed set.
On The Billboard Hot 100, the band has had four No. 1s, two top five hits, four top 10 songs, one top 20 and six more in the top 40. Its first four studio albums have been certified for total shipments of 22 million copies, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America, and total sales for its last seven releases have exceeded 7.5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
BORN TO BE A STAR
Jon Bon Jovi grew up wanting to be a rock star. Two heroes of the Sayreville, N.J., native were Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, local acts that had made good. But he never dreamed he would reach such heights.
"My vision of big, in '83, was Southside Johnny," Bon Jovi recalls. "Up until 1983, the E Street Band was not a big band. So I didn't have anything to base what was big on. I didn't want to grow up and be in Kiss or Led Zeppelin. I wanted to be a Juke."
Bon Jovi did not merely break through when its third album, "Slippery When Wet," arrived in September 1986: It exploded. "Slippery" spawned the No. 1 hits "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Living on a Prayer" along with what became Bon Jovi's anthem, "Wanted Dead or Alive," which peaked at No. 7.
Within one month of its release, the RIAA certified the album platinum, and it topped The Billboard 200 for eight weeks. After a year it was eight times platinum -- and that was only in the United States.
From the start, Bon Jovi and the band's then-manager, Doc McGhee, envisioned the world as their potential market.
In the mid-'80s, the stars were aligned in the group's favor. Metal acts like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were on the rise, and McGhee, who managed Bon Jovi from 1983 to 1992, was also managing Mötley Crue.
As a rock band, Bon Jovi had plenty of guitar and drums to please male audiences, so it opened for groups like Ratt, Kiss and the Scorpions for months on end, gaining fans around the globe.
"Our [third] tour, we opened for Judas Priest in Canada," Bryan says. "And we're singing, 'Oooo, she's a little runaway.' We got thrust into a heavy-metal situation where we had hostile audiences. They hated us [at first]. They didn't want us. They wanted the main act, and we won them over almost every time."
McGhee recalls "Slippery When Wet" as "a really fun, up record," particularly compared with its predecessor "7800 Fahrenheit" (1985), an album darkened by the band's heartaches.
While working on the songs for "Slippery When Wet," Bon Jovi and Sambora collaborated with songwriter Desmond Child. The collaboration grew out of their frustration with the greater success other metal bands were achieving.
They saw another rocker, Bryan Adams, gaining acclaim as a songwriter for Tina Turner and thought it would boost Bon Jovi's profile if they collaborated with a songwriter on hits for another artist. Instead, the sessions yielded songs for "Slippery When Wet."
"One of the first ones was 'You Give Love a Bad Name,' " Bon Jovi says. "And I thought, 'Not giving that one away.'"
Sambora explains, "Desmond had a pop side to him that we didn't have yet. I think we just didn't want to go there so explicitly and kind of melded it into our own style and our own sound."
Child recalls, "I was impressed with Jon and Richie. They were amazingly professional for their age, they were very clear about their concepts.
"When you meet winners, that's not every day. I felt they were going to go places," says Child, whose relationship with the band has grown into a close friendship.
Bon Jovi ushered in a peak commercial era for pop metal. They toured with a raft of bands that benefited from the association, including White Lion, Cinderella, Warrant and Poison. But Bon Jovi is one of the few bands with roots in that era that went on to gain a broader pop audience and never scaled back to clubs and theaters for tours.
Jon Bon Jovi "transcended the hair-band moments," says Tom Calderone, executive VP of music talent and programming at MTV and MTV2. "What set him apart was his songwriting, his penchant for a hit. He knows how to write great music."
Bon Jovi got played not only on rock radio, it broke through at top 40. Korzilius at BJM notes that most of the band's airplay is at those two formats, along with adult top 40 and modern AC.
The multiplatinum success of "Slippery When Wet" also made Child more in demand as a songwriter. He observes that, in many ways, Bon Jovi changed the course of pop music.
BIMBOS AND CORVETTES
"I remember it was very difficult to get rock played on the radio," he says. "At that moment, they had the right combination of image and melody and lyric to break through. A lot of the music at that time was strictly about bimbos and red Corvettes going down Sunset Strip.
"If you listen to the lyrics of the bands that were coming out at the time," Child continues, "none of them had the depth of Bon Jovi. But then, every single one of those bands started copying Bon Jovi."
Bon Jovi recalls the band's rise. "It was so meteoric and it came at you, not in giant steps, but in leaps, bounds. Every day was another-record-set kind of time in our career: Fastest sellout, quickest No. 1-you couldn't even bask in the moments because another had come."
Torres remarks, "It's that point in any band's career when you go, 'Wow, this is as good as the Beatles.' That level where the frenzy is going on, it's like the revival meeting: One person gets into it, then two, then three, then you've got 200."
The band's 1988 album, "New Jersey," was another triumph. The RIAA certified the set triple-platinum within two months of its release. (It is now seven times platinum.) It included two No. 1 hits on Billboard Hot 100. "Bad Medicine" and "I'll Be There for You," along with the hits "Born to Be My Baby" (which peaked at No. 3), "Living in Sin" (No. 9) and "Lay Your Hands on Me" (No. 7).
BACK IN THE U.S.S.R.
Bon Jovi returned to the road to support the album. From 1988 to 1990, the band crisscrossed the globe, making history internationally (the first rock band sanctioned by the former U.S.S.R. to perform in the country) and personally (playing its first homecoming show at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.).
But the road took its toll. After touring for six years, the band was exhausted. The final shows in Guadalajara, Mexico, almost marked the end of the group.
"It just about killed us," Sambora recalls of the 232 shows on the Jersey Syndicate tour. "We couldn't even speak to each other. We couldn't even speak English at that point. We were just dead from the whole trip."
Bryan says, "Everyone around us, they wanted the machine to keep going because they were making a lot of money. At that point, we didn't care what the money was. You're tired of the same channel."
Bon Jovi also was overwhelmed, from a business standpoint and by his role as leader of the band.
"You were a 20-year-old kid that got a record deal. Suddenly, when you're 25 you're running this corporation, and by the time you're 30, your whole life changed," he recalls. "It was really confusing. Suddenly you're being asked your opinion as though it matters as the head of a big company, making decisions that employ 100 people at a time. That was a lot to ask."
The band went on hiatus. Bon Jovi and Sambora made their first solo records: Bon Jovi's 1990 album "Blaze of Glory," which was the soundtrack to the movie "Young Guns II," and Sambora's 1991 set "Stranger in This Town."
The title track to "Blaze of Glory" topped The Billboard Hot 100, won a Golden Globe Award and earned a nominations for a Grammy Award and an Academy Award. The album went double-platinum.
HEALING THROUGH THERAPY
But more hits weren't going to mend the band. When Bon Jovi regrouped, "it wasn't as if we said, 'This is over' or 'I hate you, you stole my money, you're doing too much drugs.' It was, 'Why don't I like this anymore?'" Bon Jovi says.
He and Sambora credit Lou Cox, a psychologist who worked with Aerosmith, with reviving Bon Jovi by helping the band members learn to better communicate with each other.
Torres adds, "We realized you don't have to kill yourself. 'Make the best music you can, tour without depleting yourself and have a better quality of life.'"
The group's next album was 1992's aptly titled "Keep the Faith." Amid the onslaught of grunge in the early '90s, Bon Jovi stayed true to its style, and the album went double-platinum.
A greatest-hits set, "Cross Road," arrived in 1994. It yielded the top five hit "Always," which was certified platinum and stayed on the Hot 100 for 32 weeks. The album has sold 18.5 million copies worldwide, according to the label.
The album "These Days" arrived in 1995 amid more change. Sonic shifts were apparent: The CD's production had less bombast but still rocked, its lyrics evidenced heightened social awareness and the love songs were less optimistic. Bassist Such was no longer with the band, and hip-hop and nü-metal rose on the charts. Nevertheless, Bon Jovi again reached platinum.
Although boy bands and teen pop knocked rock off the radio in the late '90s, Bon Jovi experienced another boom. It turned a new generation on to its music with the 2000 album "Crush," thanks to the success of the single "It's My Life," which peaked at No. 33 on the Hot 100.
Bon Jovi followed "Crush" in 2002 with "Bounce," a studio album greatly influenced by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and then "This Left Feels Right," a 2003 release that featured re-recordings of a dozen of the band's greatest hits.
Bon Jovi goes to significant lengths to connect with its fans. Whether it's a contest to win the house that belonged to Bon Jovi's parents (a legendary MTV promotion), a backyard barbecue with the band or kicking off the NFL season with a free concert in Times Square, Bon Jovi remembers who supports it.
The band's commitment to fans is evident again in the preparation for "100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong ..." The band invited fans to offer comments that are included in the boxed-set package. It also launched American XS Platinum, a premium level of membership in its fan program that allows participants to gain access to exclusive footage online, additional boxed set content and passwords for presales on concert tickets.
And the band already has recorded its next studio album, with a release planned for spring 2005.
When asked which band or individual achievements he is most proud of, Bon Jovi replies, "There's too many to list, and I don't mean that lightly.
"The Soviet Union, when the wall was still up, playing Lenin Stadium, that was pretty big. The three nights at Wembley [Arena in London] at the stadium or the nine nights in the arenas here in the New York area, and the 'Slippery' tour or the 51 singles or the 100 million albums, it goes on and on and on," he says.
"Just being here is the greatest accomplishment of all. And being here not in a nostalgic kind of way, not in a career retrospective. It's just one chapter in the book."