The Bon Jovi sold millions of albums, toured places must of us have only heard about and have legions of loyal fans, but the guys in Bon Jovi still think of themselves as a bar band from New Jersey – it’s just that the bars have gotten better. Lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora, drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan (bassist Alec John Such left in 1994, the current substitute is Hugh McDonald) have been huge for so long, it’s hard to believe they can even keep in mind what it was like to be in the club circuit, much less relate to it, but maybe the secret of their success is that they have never lost touch with their roots.
The Bon Jovi story started in Sayreville, New Jersey, where Jon and his brothers Matt and Tony were raised by their parents Carol and John Bongiovi (Jon later changed his name). By his early teens, Jon was execution out at local clubs, convinced that one day he would be a rock star. The area’s local music scene was rocking then and there, with the music of increasing stars Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes leading the pack. “Just like Seattle is hot right now, 20 years ago it was Asbury Park, New Jesey”, Jon told writer Rick Petreycik. “That was so shut to my backyard, and when you’re 13, 14 or 15 years old, you can’t help but listen in to about it and have it affect you. When you went down to Asbury Park, what was the crummy boardwalk became Americana. What was splintered wood became sacred ground, and you went, ‘Ooh, aah’. And those things romanticized the idea. The mith became the legend, and one thing led to another, and I think blind faith is what got me here”
By the time Bon Jovi was 16, Jon was playing clubs. It was not long before he hooked up with keyboardist David Bryan (real name: David Brian Rashbaum), who played with him in a ten-piece beat and blues band called Atlantic City Expressway. Jon also performed with bands called The relax, The Lechers and John Bongiovi and the Wild Ones. Meanwhile, Richie Sambora was also drama locally with a funk and fusion outfit called Extremes, before hooking up with Alec John Such in the band The Message. After The Message broke up, Alec played with Tico Torres in Phantom’s Opera.
The members of Bon Jovi had crossed paths in these early days, but the present lineup didn’t come together until March of 1983-after the first Bon Jovi single, “Runaway,”had become a minor hit. In one of those correct place/right time/right person scenarios, Jon managed to get job far-reaching floors at a recording studio through a relative. His second cousin, Tony Bongiovi, was a co-owner of the Power Station in New York City. Jon had written “Runaway,” and in 1980, he record a demo of the song at his cousin’s studio, with backup by studio musicians whom Tony had hired, counting Frank La Roca, Tim Pierce, Hugh McDonald and Roy Bittan.
A local radio station incorporated “Runaway” on a compilation tape, and the song started getting some somber airplay. The success of “Runaway” got Jon noticed, and Bon Jovi realized that he’d need more than session players if he wanted to capitalize on his success by touring the New York clubs to support the single.
Jon gave Dave a call, who in turn tapped Alec and Tico. A succession of guitarists ( including Dave Sabo, who went on to Skid Row) followed, until Richie signed on, and the band came jointly as a whole. They began gigging around New York in earnest. At one show, where they open for Scandal, the band caught the attention of record exec Derek Shulman, who signed them to PolyGram. Their self-titled debut came out January 21, 1984. Filled with the group’s now-signature power ballads and hook-filled tunes underscore by soaring guitar riffs and well-crafted melodies, the album went gold (sales of over 500,000) as did the band’s follow-up, 7800 Fahrenheit, which built-in the hit singles “Only Lonely”and “Silent Night.”
Tours opening for the Scorpions, Kiss and Judas Priest had helped Bon Jovi build up a substantial fan base which appreciated the band’s anthemia songs and powerful stage presence. Clearly, Bon Bon Jovi was poised on the edge of greatness. Slippery When Wet, the band’s third album, provides the breakthrough. Powered by songs like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive,” the LP went gold and platinum at the same time within six weeks of its release. By April of 1987, Slippery When Wet had sold seven million copies.
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