Lead singer Jon Bon Jovi performs at a concert in Madrid in June 2010.
Lead singer Jon Bon Jovi performs at a concert in Madrid in June 2010. Paul White/AP
Although the band Bon Jovi is most associated with hits from the '80s like "Livin' on a Prayer," "You Give Love A Bad Name," "Wanted Dead or Alive," "Runaway" and "I'll Be There for You," their 2009 CD The Circle debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
A month after The Circle was released, Bon Jovi's lead singer Jon Bon Jovi joined Terry Gross for a conversation about the album and his band's path from playing small radio stations in New Jersey in the early 1980s to leading worldwide tours.
"Playing regionally at that time was about as big as you imagined ever being," he said. "So, the idea of No. 1 records, forget about it, you know. The idea that I could talk to you now about the hundred-plus million albums, I had never thought about in my wildest dreams."
Take My Hand, We're Almost There
Bon Jovi began playing in bands when he was a teenager growing up in New Jersey. At the time, he would open for other acts like Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, but his bands mainly played cover songs.
"It was very hard to keep an original band together in the early '80s because cover bands in New Jersey and New York and Long Island were making money," he said. "But playing your own stuff — you'd be lucky if you could split $100, if you were really lucky. And the idea of keeping a band together wasn't very easy."
Bon Jovi says he realized that to make a name for himself, he'd have to write original material. So he recorded some singles and decided to visit a new radio station just outside of New York City. While the DJ was on the air, Bon Jovi knocked on the studio glass and held up his cassette demo tape.
"On a break he came out and he said, you know, 'Who are you, what do you want?' And I told him who I was and what I had. And he said, 'Well, stick around. When I get off the air, we'll yap.' And I did and I played him the stuff and he says, 'Boy, that sounds like a hit song to me.' "
That chance meeting led to other radio stations playing Bon Jovi's songs. He didn't have a manager or a band — but says he realized he needed to take advantage of the airplay quickly.
"Subsequently I put together the band, which really became this band for what ... I thought [was going to be a] three, four-week period of getting my name out there, trying to build upon the success of the one track and maybe I'd get to play a couple more clubs as an original act," he said. "And 27 years later, I can't get rid of those guys."
Both Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009. The band is ranked No. 9 on Billboard's top 25 touring bands of the past decade.
"Whenever I perform, be it for 50 [people] or 50,000 [people], I want to be the very best that you can be. And sure, there are going to be those days that you're a little more physically tired, and that could just be jet lag or monotony. ... The preparedness is half the battle, and leaving home for a year or so at a time — every time for a quarter-century now — you have to get yourself ready for it. And I'm the guy that has his fingernails embedded in the driveway as they're dragging me up it to leave. But on that very first night, when I get to the hotel room for that first time, and, you know, you close the door with that suitcase, you go, 'Oh, right. This is what I do for a living.' And then it all just comes right back, and it's riding a bicycle again."
On writing songs about the working class
"I come from, as do my band mates, a very blue-collar background. And, you know, where, when I grew up in the city I grew up in, there was really two choices. You joined the service, or you went to work in the factories. I didn't know anybody who even went to college. You went right out from high school and went to work. Fortunately for me, I was a dreamer and chose a different path that worked out, but we were surrounded by that. Our parents were that. Our neighbors were that. Our friends back home are still that. And so it comes from a very genuine place, though it is once-removed. We understand that plight."
On his father, a hair dresser, cutting his hair
He cut it probably until his retiring in '86ish. So some of those hairstyles that you saw at the height of [the album] Slippery When Wet, he would have been responsible for, most definitely."