Richie Rich

Bon Jovi is back, and guitarist Richie Sambora's got the statistics to prove it.

Bon Jovi, with SR-71 Gund Arena, 100 Gateway Plaza 8 p.m., Saturday, May 5

$37.50/ $47.50/$60


Bon Jovi: Still filling an arena near you.
Bon Jovi: Still filling an arena near you.
Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora can rattle off statistics relating to the band quicker than a geeky sports nut can tell you how many innings Roger Clemens has pitched this year.

Talk to the guy (who's married to Heather Locklear, by the way) long enough, and you learn the band played 42 countries when it last toured six years ago, its greatest hits album has sold 16.5 million copies, and it played to 72 sold-out stadiums on the last tour.

"We've been playing for 30,000 to 50,000 people per evening," Sambora says. "We have another 21 stadiums coming up in Europe. And we end up in America. We have two nights sold out in Giants Stadium. The first night sold out in one day, and the second has about 2,500 tickets left. That's 62,000 people a night.

"We wrote about 60 songs for the 12 we needed," Sambora continues, tossing around even more numbers, this time referring to the band's latest album, Crush, which came out last June. "We recorded it in about four or five months. It was a timetable of about four years that we didn't release a record. But we definitely were not sitting at home resting."

And Crush, despite the odds, has succeeded. Sambora can tell you how many copies it's sold ("We're a little over seven million records right now"), but more impressive is the 18-year-old New Jersey band's radio rebirth after a five-year absence from record stores (1995's These Days stiffed).

"It's not a comeback," Sambora sniffs, paraphrasing L.L. Cool J's great opening line from "Mama Said Knock You Out." "After doing 42 countries on the last tour, we looked at each other and said, 'You know what? Let's take a break.' Jon wanted to get into the movies, and I wanted to do a solo album. Two years later, we got back together and began to write Crush. That took about a year, and then the company got sold. And they weren't ready to handle a Bon Jovi record. We were actually witnessing them fuck up a lot of good records, so we held it back."

Integrity in check, the band eventually released Crush, its seventh album, and true to form, the songs -- particularly the Grammy-nominated "It's My Life" -- charge along the same Bruce-worn path of American blue-collar rock that guided such past tunes as "Livin' on a Prayer," "Bad Medicine," and "You Give Love a Bad Name" to big-haired, nostalgic glory. Bon Jovi has been around the world and back in support of the album, recently completing a sold-out tour in Japan, where, surprisingly (or maybe not so, considering the country's love for chunky guitar riffs), it's enormously popular. Sambora credits "Westernization" for much of the band's continued success overseas.

"English is a mandatory language in many of these schools, so they get the lyrics," he says. "And we write songs that people really can relate to, about real stuff. That's why we're such a big band worldwide: because everybody has real issues; they have real stuff going on in their lives. Music is something that keeps you company when you're lonely or when you've got a problem. If somebody's singing what you're thinking about, you don't feel alone. It's a real part of what this band does."

It's true. We've been lifted from many a blue funk by massive doses of "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Wanted Dead or Alive." Nothing combats misery like singer Jon Bon Jovi's earnest declaration: "I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride."

"Jon and I really write these songs for us and what we're feeling," Sambora continues. "Like 'It's My Life' is about putting your life in a positive direction. For us, it's about breaking back into the marketplace. That's what it means to us, with all the metaphors we use. But for everybody else, it became their song, their anthem. Jon and I have always been able to capture that."

Sambora believes time in the songwriting trenches has made him and Bon Jovi better songwriters. It's sharpened their skills, he says, to the point where "we're better record makers. With Crush, we just wanted to make an optimistic rock and roll record that people would love to see live. And, boy, we hit it right on the head, man. The tours are completely selling out all over the world.

"We're a reliable band. Jon and I are dedicated to writing good songs that people can relate to. It's a diligent thing on our part, and we don't put out a record unless we have the right songs."

Still, there have got to be a few regrets along the way.

"There are a lot," he somberly says. "But we don't play them."

Sambora says that, after nearly 20 years together, the band -- which in addition to Bon Jovi and Sambora, includes keyboardist Dave Bryan, drummer Tico Torres, and bassist Hugh McDonald -- can afford to relax and smell the money.

"The band just sort of happens now," says Sambora, who doesn't have the acting aspirations of Bon Jovi, star of such big-screen classics as Moonlight and Valentino and The Leading Man. "We're the kind of guys that go, 'What would we do if we didn't play music for a living?' We'd sit around and do nothing, and quite frankly, that doesn't seem attractive to me. Maybe some people dig that, but that's not the way we operate. I personally love the fact that I can play music for a living and evolve myself as an artist and learn more about making records. I want to continue my evolution in this business. It's a great education, if you keep your eyes open."

Bon Jovi recently started a second leg of its U.S. tour, which will take it through July. Sambora says a sudden rush of energy will probably find the group back in the studio by the end of the year for a new record in 2002; he doesn't want another five years to come between albums.

"We refuse to be disposable," he says. "We're like cockroaches. Making a record is a funny thing. It's your record, but when you're done with it, you give it to the people. It's like throwing a grenade: You throw it out, put your fingers in your ears, close your eyes, and see what happens."

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