NEAL CONAN, host:
It's been almost 25 years since five guys from New Jersey formed Bon Jovi in the mid-80s, at a time when hard rock was barely heard on the radio. Bon Jovi's third album, "Slippery When Wet," reached number one on the billboard charts, and they've been, well, superstars ever since, thanks to well-crafted songs and tireless tours.
Now, they're crossover start. Last year, Bon Jovi became the first rock group to reach number one on the Billboard country charts with "Who Says You Can't Go Home." The collaboration with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland also won their first Grammy Award for country collaboration. Go figure.
Bon Jovi went to Nashville to record their new CD "Lost Highway," but they are quick to add Please don't call them country stars. If you have questions about the band, how they stuck together all these years and how they can be a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, give us a call. 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail, email@example.com. Or you can add your comments to our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.
Jon Bon Jovi is on his way to our bureau in New York. He joins us by cell phone from his car in traffic. And I'm sorry you couldn't get to the studio, Jon.
Mr. JON BON JOVI (Lead Singer, Bon Jovi): Yeah. So am I. I'm disappointed. But I'm just trying to make it there by hook or by crook. I'm virtually walking up 42nd Street to be with you.
CONAN: Well, it's going to be 9 West 42nd Street there. And we'll see if the cell phone works in the elevator. In any case - you've been flirting with Nashville for a long time. You were first there in 1991, I read.
Mr. BON JOVI: Yeah. I'd been going through Nashville nearly - I don't know -17, 18 years now. We've recorded there before. I've certainly collaborated with artists, produced artists down thereand had our songs covered down there. But because this influence of the Nashville spirit is all over this record, it's catching a lot of people's eyes and ears in attention, and then, of course, just being the first rock band ever that had a number one country single. Richie and I were quite pleased having written that one that people expressed interest in our crossing over into their market.
CONAN: Well, I was interested, you worked with some songwriters in Nashville and I know you've thought a lot about how the story kind of song that you do and that they do aren't so dissimilar. Hello.
Unidentified Man: I lost him. He's just…
CONAN: We're losing Jon Bon Jovi, who sounds like - we're hoping he's getting in the elevator and that's why we've lost the signal. He's on his way to our bureau in New York. He's talking about his new album, which is just out, I think, yesterday. It's called "Lost Highways" and it's recorded in Nashville, though it has a lot of the regular Jon Bon Jovi sound. And you will not be surprised by some tunes and you will be surprised by some others, in particular, some of the collaborations that are included on this album, with some people who are more familiar with Nashville.
While we're waiting to reestablish contact with Jon Bon Jovi in New York, let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And why don't we go to Trey(ph). Trey is with us from Denver Colorado.
TREY (Caller): Hi, I love your show.
CONAN: I thank you.
TREY: And wanted to say, in 1989 or '90, I saw Bon Jovi as my very first concert ever in Sacramento, California. It was incredibly cool. He popped out of the smoke. I mean, lots of energy. Just, you know, blew my teenage years apart. I was just like, wow. This is super cool. And then I actually just saw him not too long ago here in Denver and doing all his new stuff, his old stuff and it was just as much fun. Even though he didn't come flying out of the smoke, it was still a lot of fun.
CONAN: You still wish he'd come flying out of the smoke?
TREY: You know, it was actually - I'm a little older so I could afford better seats. So I'll be a little more close, so it was still a real good time.
CONAN: All right.
TREY: But, you know, you have a great show. I heard you have Bon Jovi on and I've been calling since, like, 15 minutes trying to get on just to make sure I got that comment in.
CONAN: All right. Well, thanks. We'll pass these remarks along to him when we get him back on the line.
TREY: Okay. Have a good day.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Trey. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and this is Shelley. Shelley is with us from San Carlos in California.
SHELLEY (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Shelley. I'm afraid we're still waiting to get Bon Jovi back on the line, but if you have a question…
SHELLEY: Big bummer.
CONAN: Big bummer. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I think he is back on the line. Jon Bon Jovi, are you there?
SHELLEY: Oh, my God. Can I just tell you hard my heart is beating...
Mr. BON JOVI: Elevator
SHELLEY: ...right now.
CONAN: You were in the elevator or you're in the elevator now? Whoops, I, maybe I was premature. I did hear a voice there very briefly.
CONAN: Shelley, we know you're still there.
CONAN: You're - for about four nanoseconds, you were on the line with Jon Bon Jovi.
SHELLEY: Oh, my god.
CONAN: And if you have a question him, I'll write it down and pass it along when he does get on the line.
SHELLEY: I do have a question. I would like to know when they're going to launch their new tour and when - if he knows when they're coming to San Jose, California, because I will be there.
SHELLEY: And I just wanted to let him know I'm 35 now and I started listening to him back in seventh grade.
CONAN: I'm sure that'll make him…
SHELLEY: …devoted fan since then.
CONAN: All right. Well, I'm sure his heart will be warmed and he'll feel very young.
CONAN: Shelley, thanks very much for the call.
CONAN: Well, we'll let you go, Shelley. Thanks. We're talking or we're actually, we're not talking with Jon Bon Jovi as we keep losing the cell phone signal somewhere on the west side of Manhattan. You're listening, however, to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And Jon Bon Jovi, I think, is there in the studio now. Jon, can you hear us?
Mr. BON JOVI: I am finally. Thank you.
CONAN: Oh, it's great to hear your full frequency. Shelley from San Jose wants to know when your new tour is going to start and when it's going to San Jose.
Mr. BON JOVI: Well, Shelley, we'll begin a world tour in January and I'm sure that we'll be back to San Jose just to see her.
CONAN: Just to see her. It's interesting, you come out with an album normally you would, in years passed, go out on tour to support the album. Is that not the way it works anymore?
Mr. BON JOVI: No, it certainly is. It's just that with personal commitments, we're just going to stay local and do 10 nights in our local arena here in New Jersey before the full-fledged tour begins, and that can't be because of schedules until January.
CONAN: Okay. And I wanted to get back to what we are talking about before -we're so rudely interrupted there - and that is the kind of songwriting that you do compared with the kind of songwriters you were working with in Nashville.
Mr. BON JOVI: Well, I don't think that there's that much of a difference, to be honest with you. You know, it's good old story telling at the end of the day. But to clearly define the type of music that we made is I'd like to consider the Bon Jovi record influenced by Nashville. And if you consider the radio formats, which I'm sorry to say that these days that's the truth, is that it would be termed new country and it's the Keith Urban, Sugarland, Big & Rich, Kenny Chesney. That's where the Bon Jovi record broke and that's why it was number one last year.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And in fact, Big & Rich are on this record.
Mr. BON JOVI: Yes, they are, two wonderful men whose talents I immensely respect. And I hope newfound friends that'll last the next 20 or 30 years. (Unintelligible) so much for the love and respect they have for us.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get Tom on the line. And Tom is with us from Milwaukee.
TOM (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Mr. BON JOVI: Hi.
TOM: Jon, how's it going?
Mr. BON JOVI: Very well. Thank you.
TOM: Hey, thanks for the memories. I just want to tell you I think the band, you know - no offense to you. You're a great guy. You're supertalented. We love you here at the badger state, but what a band you've got behind you. I mean, Richie Sambora, you know, he's been so overlooked, I think, by the critics, certainly not the fans, but. I mean the guy, you know, you can't take anything away. We have converted people through, you know, large screen concerts that we've watched where people were doubters. They sit and watch the band and just boom, you know. And how do you think the music (unintelligible), I mean, the stuffs from back from '84, '85?
Mr. BON JOVI: Well, some of your old relics are more valuable than others, but the truth of the matter is…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BON JOVI: …some are considered antics and some of them are considered relics. But the truth of the matter is that we've written a catalogue of music and thank you for the nice words because Richie collaborated on a good portion of them with me. And he's somebody who I love to death and have, you know, always had at my right arm for nearly 25 years now. And thanks for converting those who need converting and, you know, we'll be back in Milwaukee on the 5th of July.
TOM: We'll be there.
CONAN: Tom, thanks for the call.
TOM: Thanks, again, Jon.
Mr. BON JOVI: Thank you, Tom.
CONAN: Mixed blessing. Is that why you're not so bad - but you got a great band.
Mr. BON JOVI: Yeah. No. It's - you know what, I love to see when an artist name such as my own is the name of the band, you know. It's hard to get that notoriety for each of the individuals, but trust me, the band sound could not be the sound without the guys. Having side musicians and I've had those instances where I'll go out and do a charity work or something, but you'll always have guys that are emulating the band…
Mr. BON JOVI: …and never being the real guys. That's the magic.
CONAN: Now, here's an e-mail from Caroline in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I'm a huge Sugarland fan and really enjoyed your duet with Jennifer Nettles. I was also an Ally McBeal fan and enjoyed your character on that TV show. Any chance you're going to be doing more acting?
Mr. BON JOVI: Well, I'd like to, but like every actor who's struggling, they have to keep a day job. And I, too, have a day job.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: That's how you think of it, as the day job.
Mr. BON JOVI: That's how I think of it. I have a day job. You know, it's just that mine's quite a busy one.
CONAN: Let's see we can get one caller and before we have to go, Tyler, Tyler with us from Florence, South Carolina. If you can make it…
TYLER (Caller): Hello. Hey, Bon Jovi.
Mr. BON JOVI: Hi.
TYLER: Hey, John. I was in a movie with you called "National Lampoon's Pucked" on one foot. I really like your new album. My favorite song on it is called "Make a Memory."
Mr. BON JOVI: Thank you.
TYLER: And I really like all your songs. I've been singing them in public festivals and places like that where you sing it in public.
Mr. BON JOVI: That's nice. That's great, honey. Thank you. That's the magic. There's a classic case of crossing generations.
CONAN: There you go.
Mr. BON JOVI: There's this young lady, sounds about 21.
CONAN: Easily. Yes.
Mr. BON JOVI: But the idea that the music has touched so many people for so long now that you do realize that the body works, speaks for itself when it crosses generations like that.
CONAN: And it must be nice after a while to stop asking yourself, what are we doing, are we doing it? Do you get a chance to relax after a while?
Mr. BON JOVI: Most certainly. I think in our, well, second and now third decade, we wised up. And when you're a young man in you're 20s and 30s and you're trying to build a legacy, there comes a time in your mid 40s where you want to leave one. And I want to smell the roses and enjoy all the fruits of our labors. And we have, we truly enjoy this. We're not chasing anyone or anything.
CONAN: Jon Bon Jovi, good luck with the record. Thanks so much…
Mr. BON JOVI: Thank you. It's been great to be on the show.
CONAN: …for getting into the studio. All right. We appreciate it. Jon Bon Jovi. The new CD is called "Lost Highway," got into stores yesterday. He joined us from our bureau in New York and points in the west side of Manhattan.
I'm Neal Conan. And it's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.