- 21 Jan 19
To commemorate the release of the self-titled debut, we revisit Stuart Clark’s 1993 interview with Jon Bon Jovi.
Bon Jovi, released on this day in 1984, was the iconic American rock band’s full-length debut. The album peaked at 43 in the Billboard 200, and spawned the group’s first hit single, ‘Runaway.’ Bon Jovi have since gone on to become one of the best-selling bands of all time, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
On the 35th anniversary of the debut album’s release, we’re revisiting Stuart Clark’s interview with Jon Bon Jovi from 1993.
"ACTUALLY, I HEAR he's only 5ft. 2", has crap skin and the breath of a rancid sewer rat," was my rather acidic retort to those female acquaintances of mine who went all wobbly at the knees when I mentioned I'd been granted an audience with King Rocker Jon Bon Jovi. I tell you, I've never had so many people offering to hold my tape machine or act as my Biro roadie for the day.
I'm amongst friends now, so I don't mind admitting that the main reason for my antipathy towards the singer is the sharp contrast in our lifestyles. We're both thirtysomething but whereas Jon's rich, successful and disgustingly slim, your's truly is brassic, works for Hot Press and has a spare tyre that's in dire danger of turning into the Michelin factory.
"I reckon being a journalist is even more unhealthy than playing in a band," laughs Jon who, true to form and much to my disgust, is looking the personification of effortless cool this afternoon. "You'll have to give up on the liquid lunches and start looking after yourself a bit. I've got to confess there was a time, not that long ago, when I was partying too hard and starting to burn myself out. It's easy to do - especially on the road where there's always someone, usually Richie (Sambora), saying 'let's go check out the bar.' I still do that occasionally but last night, for instance, I went straight back to my hotel room after the gig, had a bite to eat, called home and then went to bed. It's great waking up the next morning without an explosion going off in your head."
With Bon Jovi barely half-way through a world tour that's set to take them right up to Christmas, it's just as well that their leader is on a major health kick. After all, what was euphemistically referred to as 'road fatigue' is the main reason they took a three year sabbatical after 1988's New Jersey album and very nearly threw the towel in altogether.
"Yeah," he sighs. "That whole phase of our career got pretty heavy towards the end but at least we learnt from the experience. To tell you the truth, there's nothing that can happen anymore which I haven't already seen. Tour for 16 months and the only things you know how to do properly are pack your suitcase and 'phone through to room service. You're sacrificing the other 22 hours of the day for the two you spend on stage but that's the deal, that's the way it works. Your best option is to make it as painless as possible and that's why we're insisting on taking regular breaks and maybe three rest days a month rather than one or none at all.
"Forget the physical side, at the end of the New Jersey tour, I'd have been mentally incapable of going back into the studio and recording another album. There was nothing in my head worth writing about, so there was no alternative but to break free of the madness and reacquaint myself with normality."
'Normality' for Jon Bon Jovi was lazing around at home with wife Dorothea and doing bar gigs at $75 a throw as a hired hand of old mate Southside Johnny.
"I don't want to sound glib about this," he resumes, "but there are enough zeroes at the end of my bank balance for me not to have to do stuff for the money. It's got to be fun and that's what squeezing onto a tiny stage with Southside Johnny & The Jukes was.
"I'm not going to let myself become a prisoner of rock 'n' roll - there's no reason why I can't hang out in a bar and have a few drinks like a regular guy. I'm not into this bullshit of going to an exclusive nightclub with ten security guards and getting my picture in the paper. If Madonna or Prince were in Dublin and wanted a pint in the Pink Elephant, there's no reason that they couldn't stick on a baseball cap and a pair of jeans and just blend in."
While I honestly can't imagine either of those two popping into the Pink for a swift half of shandy, it's nice to know that at least one superstar rock icon isn't totally divorced from the concept of reality.
In addition to boozing with his buddies, Jon also recorded the soundtrack for Young Guns II: Blaze Of Glory and, as a self-confessed celluloid junkie, scored the ultimate fix by landing a bit part in the film. His performance wasn't exactly the stuff Barry Norman's wet dreams are made of but it certainly proved he was over-qualified for Eldorado.
"It really was of the 'blink or you'll miss it' variety," he laughs again, "but I enjoyed myself and if a more substantial role comes along in the future, I'll definitely consider it.
"I'd rather be in a cult movie than some big blockbuster which takes its $40 million budget and uses car chases and explosions to plaster over the cracks in the plot. Look at Quentin Tarantino - he was given loose change to make Reservoir Dogs and it's a classic. Another favourite of mine is State Of Grace starring Gary Oldman and Sean Penn which doesn't do anything fancy but has brilliant dialogue. I can't see myself doing Wayne's World or something else where I'm basically playing myself. There's no challenge in that."
It has to be said that most rock stars are to acting what Saddam Hussein is to international diplomacy but are there musicians who Jon genuinely admires for their big screen achievements?
"Cher is a great actress and I think Sting and David Bowie have made a good job of most the films they've been in. What's let them down, maybe, is not always selecting parts that are right for them. You've got to know your limitations - I haven't seen it myself yet but I hear Madonna is dreadful in Body Of Evidence whereas in Desperately Seeking Susan she was okay.
"Hopefully, if I ever get out of my depth, someone will say, 'Jon, that sucks!', but it'll probably happen too late and I'll make a fool of myself. Just because you can sing, it doesn't necessarily mean you can act. The opposite's true, as well. There are a few actors I can think of who should never have been allowed near a recording studio."
What, like Bruce Willis?
"You said that, not me!" he chuckles with what a Hollywood scriptwriter would doubtless describe as 'a wicked glint in his eyes'. The multi-platinum success of the soundtrack proved that Jon is well able to produce hit records without the rest of Bon Jovi and gave him the chance to boss around some of his childhood heroes like Elton John and Jeff Beck.
"'Boss around' is maybe too strong a way of putting it but, yeah, I had a vision of how I wanted the songs to sound and I gave the guys a brief which they were professional enough to follow. It was funny on occasions because I just couldn't believe I was sitting there telling Jeff Beck, one of the all-time greats, how to play guitar. It was the same with Elton though - they both respected where I was coming from and we bounced off each other really well."
Is it true that a lot of the album's outlaw imagery was inspired by Phil Lynott?
"Yeah," he nods in affirmation. "I often thought, 'How would Phil handle this?', because he was a modern day outlaw himself. Other bands were influenced by Kiss and Cheap Trick but my heroes were always Thin Lizzy and 'The Boys Are Back In Town' was the first song I learnt how to play properly on guitar. Phil's lyrics were so poetic - the words weren't just there to rhyme, they meant something to him."
While critics accuse Bon Jovi of being standard bearers for mainstream American rock, they might be surprised at the diversity of Jon's personal tastes which can in no way be described as conservative.
"I'm as big a music fan now as I've ever been', he enthuses, "and I've even set up my own label, so I can indulge myself while helping other people. It's not an active situation where I have to sign 'x' amount of bands to keep the lights on - if I stumble across something I like, I'll get involved. I recorded an album with a guy called Billy Falcon last year which is coming out soon and I've asked Denis Desmond at MCD to pass on any interesting tapes he receives so, who knows, we could be doing business in Ireland.
"Actually," Jon reveals, "I was all gung-ho to sign Black 47 until I discovered they'd already gotten a deal. I'd love to unearth a budding Ice-T because I think the rap community's saying stuff that the whole of America - and certain sections of white society, especially - should be listening to."
As the father of a four month old baby girl, what are the bugbears and social problems that concern him most?
"Everything from the economy to ecology, I guess. It's natural for parents to want their kids to grow up in a better environment than they did and after the disaster of the Reaganomic era, there now appears to be an air of optimism attached to the Clinton administration which will hopefully result in some kind of meaningful change.
"Prejudice - and the frustration resulting from that - is the single biggest issue that needs addressing. Maybe I was naive but I never imagined the Los Angeles riots happening and, you know, that hit me hard. If L.A. can descend into a state of complete lawlessness, why not New York or Detroit or wherever?"
Getting back to the musical side of things for a moment - Jon's passion for rap and hip-hop seems genuine enough but why have Bon Jovi continually shied away from absorbing different influences? I'm thinking in particular of the Jesus Jones remix of 'Keep The Faith' which a guy from their record company commissioned and the band then tossed into the bin.
"That's not quite what happened," argues Jon sounding a tad defensive. "Somebody suggested getting in Mike Edwards, I'd heard of him and liked what he did, so we said, 'yeah, give it a shot.' It came back, he'd done a fine job but the structure of the song had been changed so much that, one, it didn't fit in with the rest of the album and, two, we were worried that we wouldn't be able to recreate it live and there was no way we were prepared to use backing tapes. That's not our style."
Bon Jovi's Sleep When I'm Dead tour is currently zig zagging its way round the States but crosses the Atlantic again in mid-September when Jon, Richie, Tico, David and Alan will get to play to over 100,000 fans at the Milton Keynes UK National Bowl. Their Dublin show in May proved that the group are still masters of the big stage spectacle but having to deliver night after night must take its toll and I wonder if they'll need another prolonged break when the travel cases are finally put into storage?
"Well, the plan is to spend Christmas at home and then, early in the New Year, go back into the studio with Bob Rock and do another album. We've already written a lot of the songs and played a few of them live which is great because we can see how they go down in front of an audience."
And what about the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the bank manager as he discovers you're no longer splitting your royalty cheques five ways?
"Sure, I'm interested in pursuing an acting career and doing my own solo stuff, but for the moment Bon Jovi is my focus and I have absolutely no desire to jump ship or change the situation I'm in."
He may be too hunky by half but, beneath it all, Jon's not a bad lad!
Have a look at the video for Bon Jovi's 'Runaway', the single that catapulted the band onto the world stage: