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March 04, 2008

Music Preview: Bon Jovi brotherhood helps Richie Sambora bounce back on tour

Just as Bon Jovi was releasing its latest album, "Lost Highway," last June, the band hit a bump in the road.

Richie Sambora -- suffering from depression and alcoholism and reeling from his divorce from Heather Locklear and the death of his father -- checked himself into rehab. The band had to play a few shows without its lead guitarist and key sidekick.

Part of what pulled him through, according to Sambora, was knowing that he had a musical mission ahead and an obligation to his longtime "brotherhood."

"Obviously, just because you're a rock 'n' roll star doesn't make you exempt from any of life's tragedies," he said in a recent teleconference. "I had a couple of them kind of mount up on me a bit. But, you know, the band is obviously a great, great aid in pulling me up and helping me out of all those situations -- obviously my mom and my friends but the band and, also, the fans and the work. About a week after I got detoxed and stopped all that stuff, I went right back to work."

Sambora and the rest of the veteran New Jersey band are on their way back to Pittsburgh for two shows this month at Mellon Arena, their first concerts here since playing the Steelers' championship celebration at Heinz Field in July 2006.

The band, led by 46-year-old heartthrob Jon Bon Jovi (his birthday is today), is celebrating a surprise success of its own, scoring a No. 1 debut for the first time since "New Jersey" in 1988. Having become initiated in the Nashville scene with a No. 1 single, "Who Says You Can't Go Home," in 2006, the band took a different tack on "Lost Highway," writing and recording in Nashville.

"We walked in there with a blank pad and a pen," Sambora said. "We had no idea what was going to go on and we kind of cruised. We went over to people's houses and just wrote. And it was mind-blowing. There's a lot of great, great songwriters in Nashville, and we wanted to plug in and see what was going on. You know, we just love Nashville. It's a fantastic town. As far as musicians go, it's the Hollywood of music. You know, when you're an actor, you want to go to Hollywood. When you're a musician, you want to go to Nashville. I mean, you pull up to the gas station and then you could bet that the gas attendant is going to be a musician or a songwriter or a wannabe."

As for the country elements in the Bon Jovi sound, Sambora compared it to a certain British band that was certainly an influence when they were forming in the early '80s.

"The Rolling Stones had a lot of country elements to them in the beginning ... 'Silver Train' and all that kind of stuff. There's a definite link -- for me anyway -- between country and rhythm 'n' blues and that whole kind of area down there. There's some Southern twang blues thing that goes on that really created rock 'n' roll, so it's going to be an element. I think that's going to stay in our music somewhat."

When Bon Jovi hits the road this time, the band will have one of its fans on board in opening act Chris Daughtry, who placed fourth on "American Idol" and then went on to cut one of the biggest-selling records of 2007.

"Chris is unbelievable," Sambora said. "I mean, obviously, he was a fan of Bon Jovi's when he was on 'American Idol.' He was doing a bunch of our songs and stuff like that. We gave him a test drive over in New Jersey. ... We had five different opening acts [in 10 nights], with My Chemical Romance, the [All-American] Rejects, and Gretchen [Wilson] and Big & Rich and him, and he went over really well with our audience."

That audience, he noted, has a generational range that's unusual for a band that's now lasted for 25 years.

"I think that we do have universal appeal from a multi-generational standpoint. People really grab a hold of our music -- everybody from real young kids like 10-year-olds to ... I remember when I was married, my father-in-law telling me that the lyrics of 'It's My Life' were very, very profound to him: 'I ain't going to live forever. I just want to live while I'm alive.' [Recently] we did a cancer benefit for my dad's cancer hospital. You know, my dad passed away almost a year ago, and as I was singing the lyrics of the song, those lyrics became very profound to me. The lyrics of our songs somehow translate beyond what we would say when we write them, and it becomes everybody else's lyrics."

Posted by riesambo at March 4, 2008 06:37 PM