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January 13, 2006

Life beyond the '80s

Over 20 years ago, when Bon Jovi emerged from New Jersey with the irresistibly catchy yet somewhat cheesy "Runaway," few would have predicted their long reign at the top of the charts.

Life beyond the '80s

Courtney Devores
The Charlotte Observer
Published: Friday, January 13, 2006

Over 20 years ago, when Bon Jovi emerged from New Jersey with the irresistibly catchy yet somewhat cheesy "Runaway," few would have predicted their long reign at the top of the charts.

But in 2005, their ninth studio album, "Have a Nice Day," debuted at No. 1 on the charts in Canada, Japan, Australia and several European countries and at No. 2 in the U.S. and U.K. during its first week of release.

Their success continues as lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan, and drummer Tico Torres bring the "Have a Nice Day" tour to Charlotte Bobcats Arena on Wednesday.

The 1986 smash album "Slippery When Wet" cemented their status as one of the '80s biggest bands. With painted-on leather pants and teased bangs, the healthily coiffed band could have melted away along with their hair-metal-fashion peers.

Firmly rooted in the Bruce Springsteen's style of working-class rock instead of trends, Bon Jovi instead eclipsed their original genre as few bands have.

"We survived all the hair-band criticism stuff by working hard," Sambora said during a telephone interview. "There are some organizations that are able to transcend whatever cyclical turn is happening, and we've been lucky enough to be one of those bands."

With the onslaught of grunge, Bon Jovi's popularity receded during the ''90s, but 1992's "Keep the Faith" and 1995's "These Days" managed to crack Billboard's Top 10. And they continued to fill stadiums outside the country. Like Bon Jovi, their loyal fan base didn't waver despite grunge or rap-metal dominating the radio waves.

In 2000, with an unshakable rock anthem "It's My Life" (comparable in popularity to Kelly Clarkson's can't-get-away-from-it hit "Since U Been Gone" this year), they re-ignited their mainstream recognition.

"Songs like that don't get tired," Sambora said.

"I think people really relate to the songs that we write. You're singing a song to someone that becomes the fabric of their lives," he said. "That's one of the big privileges that we have, not only as songwriters, but as a band.

"We can stand up there and sing songs that, you know - I remember what I was listening to the first time I made out with somebody, Eric Clapton's 'Layla.' We've been able to (do that) with songs like 'Livin' on a Prayer,' 'It's My Life,' 'I'll Be There For You,' and some of the bigger hits. And now 'Have a Nice Day.'"

Bon Jovi also utilized its country crossover potential in 2005, performing with the Atlanta-based trio Sugarland on CMT's "Crossroads." Sugarland's lead vocalist Jennifer Nettles also duets with Jon on a bonus version of "Who Says You Can't Go Home" on "Have a Nice Day."

The country jump may seem foreign to their rock fans, but, as Sambora tells it, it's not such a big leap. Consider their cowboy-themed 1987 hit "Wanted Dead or Alive," anchored by an intimate, yet distinctly country-western acoustic guitar.

"There was such a big absence of acoustic guitar in rock 'n' roll music back then, and I brought that 12-string in and said, 'Man, let's try to do something real crazy like this,'" Sambora recalled. "We've had those elements and now it's just kind of catching up to us. We can honestly have a great crossover, especially because country is really moving more into pop than it ever has before."

Posted by riesambo at January 13, 2006 10:49 PM