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November 10, 2007

Richie rocks on

Richie Sambora has had a tough year, with the death of his father, divorce and the end of his relationship. But the Bon Jovi guitarist is back on the road, he says

As a way to kick-start your new album, it wasn't ideal. In June, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora announced he was going into rehab just as the band released arguably the most divisive album of their career, the country-tinged Lost Highway.

Sambora is the first to admit he'd had "a rough year". That included ending his relationship with Denise Richards, a move that made him a papparazi magnet.

In April his father died of lung cancer. That same month his divorce from Heather Locklear, mother to daughter Ava, came through.

It was at a Bon Jovi Unplugged show in June that whispers started to circulate about Sambora's "issues" -- he was reportedly drunk during the filming, which meant copious breaks as the band waited for him to sober up, and there had been some out-ofcharacter six-string mishaps.

"It was me at the bottom. It's a strange thing to look back on now. It's a total reality check though, man, it's like looking in the mirror," Sambora says.

Soon after news of his Unplugged performance leaked, Sambora entered a treatment centre in Los Angeles to get his alcohol problem under control.

"I had to clean my act up a little bit, which I did," he says.

Bandmate Jon Bon Jovi says post-rehab the "fun" Sambora of old is back.

"What happens masks itself with substances. I got back to who I really was," Sambora says.

Even at his lowest point, he didn't lose all his fun. Before rehab he had written and recorded with Shannon Noll. When Sambora was needed for some post-production, producer Luke Ebbin found out he was in treatment. Sambora called him, singing Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues.

"You have to keep your sense of humour. You have to laugh through bad times sometimes," Sambora says.

It was during those bad times -- his father dying, his marriage and relationship ending -- that Sambora was in Bon Jovi mode for Lost Highway. It gave him and his bandmates endless motivation for lyrics and emotion.

"A lot of those songs are about what was happening in my life," Sambora says. "Even some of the songs Jon wrote without me, he said he was thinking of me.

"My pain was the fodder for this whole album! There's an air of optimism in the lyrics, though."

He's now reliving that pain each night on stage.

"It's cool, man. Any time you write a song, there's something going on, whether it's your viewpoint on society or something happening in your life. It's a moment in time.

"This time it happened to be me. I was the moment."

The ordeal also meant the unthinkable happened -- Sambora missed a Bon Jovi show on June 8 in Puerto Rico.

"It was a corporate gig, not a real concert where people had paid money. I would have shown up for that. It was easily rectifiable."

Since then, Sambora has been on board for the Lost Highway world tour.

The band has flirted with country sounds before -- riding on a steel horse as far back as 1986 for Wanted Dead or Alive -- but Lost Highway was earmarked as their country album.

It follows a song from their last album, Who Says You Can't Go Home, being recorded as a duet with country artist Jennifer Nettles, which gave them an unlikely country No.1 last year.

Sambora says that song was "kind of a fluke" but baulks at the "C" word to describe Lost Highway.

"I don't think it's our country record. When you listen to it, it's a Nashville-influenced record. Though the lines are being crossed these days, country is definitely going more pop and rock, some rock guys going towards country.

"From a songwriter's standpoint we always fancied ourselves as storytellers; it kinda fits into what we're doing. There have been ins and outs of that (country) stuff in the past; this time it just really stuck. We're happy with the way it turned out.

"Quite frankly, going in there I was saying to myself, 'What is happening? What are we actually doing?' Then it all came together."

The guitarist admits it was the album they were most nervous about releasing. It went on to become their first album to debut at No.1 on the US chart and their first US chart topper since 1988.

"It was like throwing a hand grenade, closing your eyes and putting your fingers in your ears. Lo and behold, it was No.1 in 16 countries around the world. I don't think it has given us a new audience. It's our fans, the country market is listening, but our fans are accepting our evolution.

"That's a mainstay of what's going on. If you break it down, if you extracted the fiddles and the banjos, which are quite sparse to begin with, it's a good old Bon Jovi record. I'm really proud of the songwriting; they're good songs."

A fiddle player and a pedal steel player have joined the Lost Highway world tour to replicate certain songs from the album.

But fans shouldn't expect a hoe-down to replace decades of hits such as Livin' on a Prayer, Always, Bad Medicine, It's My Life or You Give Love a Bad Name.

"We play 'em all," Sambora says.

"That's going to be a staple. People want to hear the songs they want to hear, songs that were a part of their heritage. We're lucky enough as a band to be part of people's lives; those songs accompany them through their lives. My favourite artists did that for me."

The band has rehearsed 73 songs for the tour, planning on long shows that won't repeat the same set list each night.

"We try to give the fans a different show each night. We have a six or eight-song swing each evening. There's a good dose of the new album Lost Highway because we're proud of it; it's the name of the tour.

"By the time we get to Australia it will probably change. The fans should get on our website, tell us what they want to hear. We definitely read that stuff. It's an ever-changing set list. There are a lot of albums; there are songs we want to do this time. If a fan makes a request from a site, we'll definitely look into it."

Though Sambora has songs for a solo album in the can, his priority is Bon Jovi. He says their next release will be a Greatest Hits Volume Two, with a handful of new songs.

"We're due for another Greatest Hits, then that will get us ready for the next studio album," Sambora says.

"The band has made five records in a row, five tours in a row. We're still having a great time, the band's getting along real good. This train shows no sign of stopping."

Bon Jovi, Jan 19, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, tickets on sale Nov 15 from Ticketmaster.

Posted by riesambo at November 10, 2007 08:27 PM