Jon Bon Jovi recalls the early days and how Livin' on a Prayer changed everything
Ahead of band's Macau gigs, Jon Bon Jovi talks about the New Jersey scene in the 1970s and their breakthrough hit
Nothing is as easy as it first seems in the world of rock’n’roll. And so it was when Bon Jovi burst onto the global music scene, seemingly fully formed and ready for the fame that would follow.
However, the true story had far more twists and turns, both in the lead-up to the release of the chart-topping Slippery When Wet (1986) and in the aftermath of the album as the band blazed a trail around the globe, lighting up stadiums as well at MTV with their brand of working-class New Jersey hard rock.
Ask frontman Jon Bon Jovi these days what was the turning point and he points to the song that was the second single to follow the release of the album, which went on to sell about 12 million copies in the United State alone.
“Livin’ On A Prayer,” is how the now 53-year-old responds to our question asking if can he recall the exact moment when he first felt fame had arrived. “Many people look back at their career and look for the tipping point. For us it was Livin’ On A Prayer. That changed our career and brought us to the next level.”
Slippery When Wet, the band’s third album, showcased a stream of hits that would become the band’s signature tunes in the decades that have followed. Apart from Livin’ On A Prayer, the singles You Give Love A Bad Name and Wanted Dead or Alive still receive heavy rotation on all modern forms of media, while belting out any of these tunes remains a rite of passage in the rooms that lead off to those darkened karaoke house hallways throughout Asia.
The immediate change the band felt, according to Jon Bon Jovi, was in their travelling arrangements – “We started staying in nice hotels… and having our own rooms” – but the success also allowed him to put on concerts that had been years in the planning as the singer-songwriter worked his way up from sweeping floors in a New Jersey recording studio and slowly formed a band that could lift him out of the local pub circuit.
“I went to Sayreville High School, in New Jersey. I was a loner,” says Jon Bon Jovi. “Both my parents worked six days a week. I played in bars starting in the late ’70s. It was hard, but it was magic, too, because I was lucky enough to be in Asbury Park when it was in its last stages as a scene. This was after Springsteen, but you still had the feeling that the next big band could come from there.
“I guess it was a little like that in Seattle a few years ago, or anywhere else where a music scene has happened. In my day, the only way to be successful was to play covers. But I realised in high school that the only way to get out of that scene was to play my own stuff.”
While Jon Bon Jovi was soon able to surround himself with talent – forming a songwriting partnership for the ages with guitarist Richie Sambora, who only left the band in 2013. Initially, however, it was just the singer, and the demo tapes he started hawking around local radio stations.
An early track – Runaway – found its way on to a compilation of the work of young New Jersey bands in the early 1980s and led to a recording contract and, across the more than three decades of the band’s existence, more than 100 million records shifted. Along the way Jon Bon Jovi has expanded his interests to acting – most notably on TV with roles in Sex and the City, 30 Rock and The West Wing – while opening up the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a non-profit group noted for its work among the impoverished which provides them with housing, shelter and food.
Given the nature of the industry he’s in – or at least its reputation – he’s also managed to do what seems beyond so many of his peers, and that is hold on to his reputation, and to his marriage. He was wed to childhood sweetheart Dorothea Hurley in 1989, and they are still together, and Jon Bon Jovi is quick to reinforce the image he has cultivated as a decent human being, plain and simple.
“Some journalists tell me, ‘You’re not very rock’n’roll’. If all they think is that I should throw a TV out the window, then I’m not interested in talking to them. I don’t live the cliché, rock-star life,” he says.
Before heading out on the upcoming Asia tour, which includes dates at the Venetian Macao’s Cotai Arena on September 25-26 (which organisers say are not affected by the cancellation of two mainland shows), Bon Jovi released a package titled Burning Bridges, which coincided with the band’s split from their long-term label. “It’s songs that weren’t finished, that were finished, a couple of new ones like the one we released as a single [We Don’t Run]. It’s sort of a hint as to where we’re going musically, but the new album, the real new album, will be early next year,” he says. And Jon Bon Jovi reminded Chinese audiences of his many and varied talents with a stirring rendition of the Teresa Teng classic from the 1970s, The Moon Represents My Heart.
But playing live is still what it is all about for the singer and Bon Jovi told us that the buzz he gets from getting on stage has never dimmed.
“There is nothing more fun than a live performance,” he says. “The energy from the crowd creates something unique that you cannot find anywhere else. Fans’ expectations are always high and they expect a great show. This has not changed.
“We have always delivered a great show and Macau will be no different. We are bringing a great show and the fans will get what they want. Live entertainment cannot be replicated, duplicated or replaced.”
Bon Jovi, Sep 25-26, 8pm, Cotai Arena, Venetian Macao, HK$580-HK$3,580, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 853 2882 8818
Three of the best
With these three consecutive albums, Bon Jovi ruled the hard-rock airwaves in the late 1980s and early ’90s
Slippery When Wet (1986)
Bon Jovi’s third studio album was their commercial breakthrough and remains their best-selling album to date. Slippery When Wet produced the hit singles You Give Love a Bad Name, Livin’ on a Prayer and Wanted Dead or Alive – all of which hit the Billboard top 10.
New Jersey (1988)
Desperate to prove they weren’t one-hit wonders, Bon Jovi followed up with an album that spawned five Billboard top-10 hits, giving the band the record for the most top-10 singles produced by a hard rock album. The singles included Bad Medicine and I’ll Be There for You.
Keep the Faith (1992)
Bon Jovi’s fifth album saw the band move away from their signature glam-metal sound and adopt a new groove that included piano-based ballads and long guitar solos. Four singles were issued in the US – Keep the Faith, Bed of Roses, In These Arms and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.