Three Decades Into Its Career, Bon Jovi Remains an Arena Rock Staple


  • David Bergman
In the past 30 years, arena rock acts have come and gone. One staple throughout that period has been the New Jersey-based rock act Bon Jovi.

Shortly after forming in 1983, the band found itself on major tours with the Scorpions and KISS.

When its third studio release, 1986’s Slippery When Wet, topped the charts thanks to the success of commercial radio hits such as “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” the band became arena rock favorites. It hasn’t looked back.

At 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 19, it performs at the Q as it brings its world tour in support of its latest effort, This House is Not For Sale, to town.

Despite a recent lineup change that saw the departure of guitarist and songwriter Richie Sambora, who played with the band since the early days, the band remains a huge draw. So what's the key? How has it been able to sustain its popularity when other acts from the '80s have either split up or seen diminishing returns?

“I think for us, really, we say we’re a current classic,” says multi-instrumentalist David Bryan in a conference call with drummer Tico Torres. “We strive to have new records. We strive to have new songs on the radio. I mean, we’ve [released our] 14th record. And that feels really good that we can gain those new fans and [that] our fans have been there with us for some of the ride, all of the ride, to keep on the ride.”

Bryan describes recording and touring without Sambora, who simply didn't show up for a gig on the band's 2013 tour and then reportedly told the band's manager that he didn't intend to join the guys on the rest of the tour.

“But there’s new life, and I think when you have new people, you have new energy,” he says. “And, of course, the creative process, the way we’ve worked together, is working with each other in the room. And the song dictates. And if everybody’s on the same page, it makes beautiful music. You know, of course, we had some wonderful years with Richie, but if he wants to move on in his direction, it’s one of those things that you can’t avoid, and we carry on because the premise of this record is the roots and the fact that we’re still together and strong and love playing music together.”

In the wake of Sambura’s departure, Bryan says the band took an old-fashioned approach on This House is Not For Sale. They recorded at the Avatar, which used to be the Power Station, where they recorded their self-titled debut. As the songwriting process began, Bon Jovi saw a picture that became the album cover and realized the sign “this house is not for sale” represented resilience and pride on a larger level. "This house was built on trust," he sneers on the album's title track, which features call-and-response vocals and a beefy guitar riff ready built for arenas and outdoor amphitheaters.

“[The songs suggest that] we don’t want this to end,” says Torres. “It’s not going to give it away. And that’s it. And it’s really about integrity. And then it started, like [Bon Jovi] said, it started with ‘This heart, this soul.’ And then at the end, [there’s] this house, which is inviting everybody in. So I think it’s like a journey of the themes where we’re at is in that record.”

Both Bryan and Torres maintain the album captures a certain moment in time.

“It’s about whatever you’re feeling at the time,” he says. “And it’s a snapshot of where you are at that time; when you’re 21 years old, you’re not going to write like you’re 50 years old. So it’s life experience. It’s your age. It’s all those combinations of where you’re at, just a snapshot. So each one is where we’ve been at. And this one is where we’re at – a different world. It’s the first record, really, without Richie, and we were really built up on our integrity of what we wanted to do. And it’s our choice to stay here. We went into the studio and said, ‘Let’s bang this thing out as musicians looking at each other,’ all of us in the one room together, which we were. And then taking songs and really building these songs and breaking them down and trying them different ways and really making it a cohesive, from the band, from us guys, in there making this record. So, yeah, that’s why it feels like it has that different kind of energy.”

Even if they're a bit by-the-numbers, This House is Not for Sale tunes such as "Knockout" and "Born Again Tomorrow" possess that larger-than-life sense of defiance that typifies the band's back catalog. Bryan says the band tries to slightly alter the set list each night to include new songs, hits and deep tracks.

“I mean, there’s certain staples that people expect and probably deserve,” says Bryan. “I mean, I remember when I was very young and watching three of my favorite bands in one night, I’d want a hit. I want to hear the songs that brought them to that pinnacle of success. And we try to keep those in there. We change our sets just about every night. And we have a big roster to pick from, so depending on the shows, we get to play with them and bring them in and out, which also makes it fresh for us and great for the audiences. You know, we try to do as long a show as possible to fit them all in.”

Torres says the band ultimately strives to continue to make music that matters rather than rest on its laurels.

“We’re still going forward, if that makes sense,” he says. “You know, if you look at the past, we’re blessed. If we talk about before Slippery and how we had to tour the whole world just learning. The third record that was so big. It was just the right time. And then, you know, after that, it’s usually, you’re going to try and beat your last record, and it’s a big circle. And I think what we learned through time is in this day and age, just to do what we feel and live more in the present, and it just really helps us to create with a little more freedom.”

Bon Jovi, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 19, Quicken Loans Arena, One Center Court, 216-420-2000. Tickets: $19.75-$149.50,

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