BON JOVI (1983–PRESENT). Jon Bon Jovi (vocals), Richie Sambora (guitar), David Bryan (keyboards), Tico Torres (drums).
One of the most successful groups from the “hair metal” era of the 1980s, Bon Jovi’s particular blend of pop sensibility and working-class lyrical themes, along with a string of MTV videos showcasing Jon Bon Jovi’s good looks, gave them a wider appeal and longer career life than almost any of their direct peers, to the extent that they have continued to enjoy a viable career into the new millennium.
Jon Bongiovi (his real name) got his start through his cousin Tony Bongiovi, who owned the famous New York City recording studio The Power Station. After recording a series of demos at the studio, one of them, “Runaway,” became a local hit on New Jersey radio. Bongiovi subsequently put together a band featuring his longtime friend keyboardist David Rashbaum, drummer Tico Torres, bassist Alec John Such, and guitarist Dave Sabo. The band soon became the object of an intense bidding war between a number of record labels. Ultimately, the band signed with Polygram in 1983. Before the release of the band’s debut, Bongiovi changed his name to Bon Jovi, Rashbaum changed his to Bryan (his middle name), and Richie Sambora replaced Dave Sabo (who would later go on to success with Skid Row).
Released in 1984, Bon Jovi was a success with “Runaway” replicating its previous success as a hit single on a national scale. Unfortunately, Tony Bongiovi sued the band, claiming that he had served to develop their successful sound. The suit was ultimately settled out of court. The band’s sophomore album, 7800° Fahrenheit, released in 1985, also did well. Seeking a higher level of success, the band hired professional songwriter Desmond Child to collaborate on new material, which was subsequently test marketed to teens in the New York/New Jersey area. All of Bon Jovi’s R&D paid off with the 1986 album Slippery When Wet, which would go on to sell over nine million copies. Aided by a series of lush performance- oriented videos on MTV, the album made the band superstars. Featuring two number 1 hits in “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and the top ten “Wanted Dead or Alive,” the album became the quintessential album of the pop-metal/hair band era.
New Jersey (1988) utilized the same production template and achieved almost the same level of success, giving the band five more top ten hits, including the two number 1 hits “Bad Medicine” and “I’ll Be There for You.” The album sold over five million copies and was supported by more MTV videos and an 18-month-long tour. After the tour, the band went on hiatus, during which Jon Bon Jovi provided the soundtrack to Young Guns II. The soundtrack, released in 1990 as Blaze of Glory, produced two hit singles, and its western imagery only cemented the band’s all-American appeal.
By the early nineties, the shelf-life of hair bands was ebbing, and grunge would soon come to dominate the music scene. Nonetheless, such was Bon Jovi’s appeal that Keep the Faith, released in 1992, was a commercial success and showed that the band had staying power, and a loyal following. As the band continued recording and touring into the nineties, they gradually eschewed the trappings of heavy metal, trimmed their hair and focused on songwriting that tapped into the heartland themes that were the cornerstones of their lyrics. 1995 saw the release of These Days. Branching out, Jon Bon Jovi began a part-time acting career, appearing in the film Moonlight and Valentino in 1996. A year later, his debut solo album was released.
In the year 2000 the band released Crush, which featured the hits “It’s My Life” and “Thank You for Loving Me,” and ultimately sold eight million copies. The band continued to perform well throughout most of the decade, releasing the albums Bounce (2002), This Left Feels Right (2003)—featuring rerecordings of many of their previous hits—and the box CD/DVD set 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans
Can’t Be Wrong (2004). Have a Nice Day followed in 2005, and featured the song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” which was subsequently released as a duet with country singer Jennifer Nettles from the band Sugarland. The single became a hit on the country charts, and hinted at Bon Jovi’s country crossover appeal, ultimately winning a Grammy Award for Country Performance with Vocals.
In 2007 the band took their mainstream crossover appeal into a country direction, releasing the Nashville-inspired Lost Highways, which featured duets with LeAnn Rimes and Big & Rich. The album debuted at number 1, becoming the band’s third number 1 album.
Discography: Bon Jovi (Mercury, 1984); 7800° Fahrenheit (Mercury, 1985); Slippery When Wet (Mercury, 1986); New Jersey (Mercury, 1988); Keep the Faith (Mercury, 1992); Live (Mercury, 1993); These Days (Mercury, 1995); Crush (Island, 2000); Bounce (Island, 2002); This Left Feels Right (Island, 2003); Have a Nice Day (Island, 2005); Live from the Have a Nice Day Tour (Island Def Jam, 2006); Lost Highway (Island, 2007); Cross Road (Mercury, 2007); The Circle (Island, 2009).