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September 28, 2007

Richie Sambora Honored

Bon Jovi’s lead guitarist Richie Sambora is back. After a stint in rehab, the ex-husband of Heather Locklear and ex-boyfriend of Denise Richards took the stage Wednesday night at the Recording Academy’s New York Chapter’s Honors show and declared, “Welcome to rock 'n' roll rehab!”

Sambora has in fact never looked better — tanned, relaxed, in good shape. Maybe we should all try rehab.

He told me before the ceremony — in which the group Bon Jovi was honored along with Alicia Keys, Donnie McClurkin and the 50th anniversary of the original recording of "West Side Story" — that he’s feeling great.

There’s a catch, though. He’s on his way back to finish rehab after taking a couple days off for this event.

“I’m sober, I’m good,” he told me. “But I’m going back just to do finish this weekend. I figured, why not get to the bottom of this and really understand it?”

Sambora, you know, like Jon Bon Jovi, is one of the friendliest, most affable nice guys in rock 'n' roll. And after a year or more of being tabloid fodder — something he’d rarely been in 25 years — this one must have been a shock to him.

The program Wednesday night was probably as good a tonic as any. Sambora — and the whole audience — was knocked out by Melissa Etheridge’s take on “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Living on a Prayer.”

Indeed, the Recording Academy Honors — held at Cipirani’s soaring catering hall, a former bank at 55 Wall Street — was one of the great events of the year. In stark contrast to, say, Fashion Rocks, this was a perfectly timed, well-executed evening of performances that took in all aspects of music: Broadway, gospel, rock and soul.

McClurkin — a pastor and recording artist — got a much-deserved nod. He was also brought to tears when the producers surprised him with a visit from his 5-year-old son, Matthew. The idea of the Honors show is to have other stars do tributes to the honorees, but McClurkin then did his own number with the Choir Academy of Harlem.

“I guess I have to do my own tribute,” he joked. But it was a good idea. No one could have done it better.

Keys got to hear her hit “If I Ain’t Got You” performed by Oleta Adams before Clive Davis saluted her with a moving toast. Adams — known mostly for her hit “Get Here” — was stunning, In the old record business, she would have been more of a superstar.

Keys, by the way, gave a beautiful speech, citing her family and mentors, but stressing how amazed she was to be up on stage accepting such a prize after six years.

“I want to thank Donnie Ienner,” she added, pointing out the former Columbia Records exec who dropped her from his label before she was a star. “No, no really,” she said. It was an awkward moment. Ienner’s mistake turned out to be one of Davis’ greatest success stories.

The Honors show also gave a Grammy to the original recording of “West Side Story,” which opened on Broadway 50 years ago. Chita Rivera and Carol Lawrence from that cast each spoke, and Lawrence sang a little a cappella. Stephen Sondheim accepted the award along with the late Leonard Bernstein’s children.

Then, to our amazement, a bunch of Broadway dancers reproduced the Jerome Robbins dance number, “Cool,” from the show under the director of Alan Johnson. Considering that “West Side Story” isn’t playing anywhere, and this was done just for this night, the Recording Academy maybe should have filmed it.

I asked Sondheim, by the way, if he’d seen Tim Burton’s movie version of “Sweeney Todd.” He has, and he says he likes it.

“It’s not the Broadway show,” he warned me. “It’s only an hour and 45 minutes. A lot of the score has been cut. They’ve made it its own thing. You have to go in knowing that. But what they’ve done is great.”

Posted by riesambo at September 28, 2007 06:17 AM