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February 18, 2006

Good Lyrics and Strong Ballads Keep Bon Jovi on Top of Charts

theledger.com Good Lyrics and Strong Ballads Keep Bon Jovi on Top of Charts

Twenty years later, rockers still drawing sold-out crowds.

The rock'n'roll landscape is littered with leftover hair-band rockers from the 1980s who saw their careers go flat once the gel ran out and the sheen wore off. But unlike other groups from the era, members of Bon Jovi succeeded in trading such early-band trappings for journeyman rock status.

The whammy-bar histrionics and tousled hair of "Runaway" (their first hit song) has long since evolved into the mature sight and sound of 2000's "It's My Life" and current hit, "Who Says You Can't Go Home."

Consider this: Nearly 20 years since their first heyday, the New Jersey rockers' ninth studio album, "Have a Nice Day," debuted at No. 2 on the charts last year and has sold more than 1 million copies so far.

And the group's current tour, which lands in Tampa tonight and Saturday, has sold out most dates so far, including multiple-night runs in such cities as Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Toronto.

Namesake leader, singer and New Jersey flag-carrier Jon Bon Jovi points, somewhat predictably, to the songs themselves as the reason.

But the sincerity that he, guitarist Richie Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan and drummer Tico Torres bring to such songs as "Can't Go Home" can't be overestimated.

"It's not nostalgia, and it's not rehashed reunion or anything silly, you know what I mean?" Bon Jovi told the Toronto Sun. "We've had our ups and downs, mind you, but in the grand scheme of things, it's been positive.

"It's really humbling to do what you love to do and do it at the level that we do it at."

Guitarist Sambora, a key architect of the group's sound along with Jon Bon Jovi, acknowledges that the band's older hits play a role in bringing fans back, initially at least.

"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,' " Sambora told the Observer.

"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.' "

But the guitarist also contends that if the group's current music wasn't up to snuff, fans wouldn't hang around very long.

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

If so, current hit "Who Says You Can't Go Home" is Exhibit A. The band recorded it in two versions on its latest album: once as a standard Bon Jovi track and once as a country-flavored duet, with Jennifer Nettles, lead singer of the country trio Sugarland.

The group has released both takes as singles, and the duet version has become a Top 20 hit on country radio.

But their hit of today isn't that far removed from one of their signature songs from 1987 -- the acoustically driven "Wanted Dead or Alive."

"There was such a big absence of acoustic guitar in rock 'n' roll music back then, and I brought that 12-string and said, `Man, let's try to do something real crazy like this,' " Sambora said.

"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 February 18, 2006 10:46 PM