With all the authenticity of Bruce Springsteen and the glamorous swagger of Aerosmith, Bon Jovi burst onto the music scene in 1983. While they might have started out as poodle-haired pop-rockers, famous for catchy hooks and power-ballads, they quickly established themselves as a significant and weighty musical force.
However, behind the scenes, the band has suffered more than its fair share of scandals, tragedies, and challenges. It seems only fitting that, in what’s been one of the hardest years in recent times, Bon Jovi is releasing a new album, called ‘2020’. Let’s have a look at how this extraordinary outfit has stayed the top of its game for over three decades.
As any rock fan will know, the Mick ‘n’ Keef of the band are Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. From an early age, Jon had music singing in his blood, performing round New Jersey with his first band, Raze, from the age of 13. Over the next few years, Raze was replaced by Jon Bongiovi and the Wild Ones which, in turn, was replaced by The Rest. By 1980, The Rest had enough gigs up their collective sleeves to serve as openers for more established New Jersey groups.
As legend has it, Jon cut his first single, Runaway, at his cousin’s recording studio, backed by session musicians. When that song started to earn some airplay, Jon realised that it might be time to put a legitimate band together.
Another New Jersey-ite, Richie Sambora, had also been bitten by the music bug. After picking up the accordion at the age of six, he swapped it for the guitar after listening to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, giving him a solid blues-rock grounding.
Sambora’s first band, Message, flirted with success, releasing a single, Lessons, which also gained them some attention. Similarly to his Bon Jovi counterpart, Sambora went through a series of bands, before auditioning to play guitar for the legendary, makeup-slathered band, Kiss. While that audition didn’t work out, it was to start the engine running for what would become Bon Jovi.
This is the point where Alec John Such walks into the equation. Diehards will know that Such was Bon Jovi’s original bass player. Although he was given his marching orders in 1994 and replaced by Hugh McDonald, he was there at the beginning.
During his tenure as a budding bassist, Such had played in a band with Sambora. He joined Bon Jovi in the early Eighties and, after Sambora’s failed Kiss audition, recommended him to Jon. At the time, the lead guitarist was none other than Dave Sabo, who was to become one of the founding members of Skid Row.
Sambora’s story is that, with the recommendation in the air, he went to see the embryonic Bon Jovi perform in a New Jersey club, not knowing that Such had also put the right words in Jon’s ears.
According to who you believe, there are two versions of what happened next. The first is that Sambora saw the gig, went backstage and, as is widely reported, gave the lead singer “a verbal resume.” In this version, it was a few days before Jon picked up the phone and hired him as Bon Jovi’s new guitarist.
In the other version, Sambora was invited to a band rehearsal and, after showing his chops, was hired on the spot. Either way, Richie Sambora was to become the man to give Bon Jovi their electric fingerprint. For some of the rarest images of the boys in action, check out the framed Music Poster collection of Bon Jovi prints and pictures.
In the wake of the likes of Van Halen and Carlos Santana, the band opted for a two-word name, to give them that extra clout. Thankfully for the rest of us, the band skipped over the idea of being called Johnny Electric and instead opted for Bon Jovi, based on the founder’s birth name, Bongiovi.
Their first album, Bon Jovi, made its way into the bottom of the Billboard Charts and earned the band some openers for more-established bands, including Kiss and Scorpions. The follow-up, 7800° Fahrenheit saw some success with the singles, Silent Night and In and Out of Love.
However, it was Slippery When Wet that was to turn things around.
Even today, Slippery When Wet is widely hailed as one of the band’s seminal outings. Unashamedly packed with pomp-rock, rock ‘n’ roll cliches and more hooks than you’d find at a pirate convention, this was the album that made the uninitiated sit up and take notice. Songs, such as Livin’ On a Prayer and You Give Love a Bad Name might find themselves hackneyed today but they’ve stood the test of time. Released in 1986, it transformed Bon Jovi from a support act, to a headline band.
While each member of the band seems to have suffered some form of setback or difficulty, it’s the relationship between Jon and Sambora that’s commanded the most interest.
For Sambora, there have been continuous rumours about his possible addiction to alcohol and drugs. This culminated in an Unplugged session, in which he was reportedly too drunk to take part. Although this was denied by the band’s mouthpiece, it only took a few days before it was announced that he’d be attending a rehab clinic to deal with alcohol addiction. In the subsequent years, Sambora became an on-off member of the band, eventually leaving in 2013 to spend more time with his family.
Jon’s path was no less rocky. Spearheading Bon Jovi took its toll and, according to a press interview, he felt that “the weight of the world was on my shoulders.” This resulted in an attempt on his own life, which was aborted at the last second.
Jon and Sambora have not been in touch since 2013.
Despite the rock ‘n’ roll tribulations that can only be experienced by the chosen few, Jon Bon Jovi has come back swinging. Even without Sambora, the band’s latest album has garnered critical acclaim and reflects a maturity possibly unheard in some of its previous albums:
“I was so taken with the death of George Floyd and his friend talking about him dying and calling out for his mom. My eyes welled up. I went and I worked very hard on “American Reckoning,” and then I realized I could take two songs off the record and really have a different understanding of what 2020 meant.”
With so many big-hitters coming from the Bon Jovi canon, deciding which is their best tune is virtually impossible. If you think there’s something that deserves an honourable mention, drop us a line in the Comments below.