Faith Hope and Clarity
Just before Richie Sambora, guitarist with Bon Jovi, calls from Toronto, I pick up an old biography of the band which ends with a quote from Jon saying their next album would be more experimental, our SGT Pepper. That album, Keep The Faith, has been with us for a few months now. Does Richie feel that they've honoured the quote?
"Absolutely, but not in a way where I think we've done a SGT Pepper. We couldn't leave the expectations of the 33 million people who bought our records in the dust. We took twice as long to make this record, and tried to go in diverse directions. For instance, there's a ten minute song called Dry County that has a lot more playing on it as far as jamming goes than any Bon Jovi song before. Little Bit Of Bit Soul is more R N' B than we've ever gotten, and If I Was Your Mother is probably the heaviest song we've ever done."
As Richie said, the record took twice as long to make, a total of six months was spent in Vancouver with producer Bob Rock, in which time they recorded thirty songs, with twelve making the final set-list. So proficient were Jon and Richie that none of the tracks left over from the New Jersey sessions entered the frame.
Two words become apparent when talking about Keep The Faith. One being 'different,' the other is 'experimental.' No matter, because Richie, despite the inconviviality of phone conversations, is openly friendly and talkative. Less of my waffle, though. Richie is already onto the subject of lyrics.
"We're evolving as songwriters and lyricists. Any time you pick up your guitar or make a record you're going to get better. You become more comfortable with your craft. Due to our solo work, when we got together to make this record we had a lot of confidence and a lot more musical experience. We found we were getting into deeper lyrical stuff as we wanted to get more meat, less surface matter."
As far as the songwriting credits go Jon seems far more prolific. Each track bears his name, whereas only six are Richie co-writes.
"What happened was that when I was doing my solo stuff, Jon was itching to get going. Y'know, he was 'come on, let's go.' But I had to fulfill my touring requirements. While he was waiting he wrote."
Pretty simple explanation really.
Two cuts (Keep The Faith and I'll Sleep When I'm Dead) bear the Desmond Child monicker, a man Sambora holds in high esteem.
"Des seemed to get a bad rap 'cos he overexposed himself. The truth is that the guy is a genius. He has written amazing songs, and he adapts his style to many different writers. Jon and I, as strong writers, make his style different, just as when he works with Steven Tyler he's different. We got together and wrote two songs out of the original thirty, and they both made the record because they're good songs."
Having issued records by Aldo Nova and Billy Falcon, this is also the first Bon Jovi album to be released on Jon's own Jambco label. Did the fact that the band were working without the usual record company pressures allow them the freedom to make a more experimental album?
"No, the record company was good to us. They were never the thing holding us back," answers the guitarist. "Our management and agents would have us continuously recording and touring, which isn't good creatively. I felt that New Jersey was too similar to Slippery When Wet 'cos we didn't have the time or life experience to make a record that could be a little different. At the end of the Jersey tour we needed a break from each other so we could have time to appreciate music again, which would in turn enable is to make a record that was both new and exciting."
This absence from each others company, plus the solo offerings led to widespread stories circulating about the demise of the band. As we now know these tales bore no truth. So what is the truth? Richie explains the burn out thus...
"There's no rule book for success, and we got success very quickly. We made a couple of records together and they were doing OK but we were in debt for millions of dollars. With Slippery we knew we'd made a good record but had no idea it'd go to the moon like it did. We were literally on a rocket, and didn't know where we were going. We were on the road for sixteen months, took three weeks off in Hawaii together, then came back to New Jersey, wrote and recorded that album. It was still being mixed while we were rehearsing for the tour, and then we were off for another sixteen months. I didn't know where the fuck I was -- think I left the Richie Sambora I knew in a hotel in Zimbabwe or somewhere! There was a big miscommunication. Everyone was trying to find themselves. My solo LP was an extension of Richie trying to find himself. The press fuelled a lot of the break-up stories. We never sat down and told each other to fuck off. It's just that we weren't communicating. Jon would read that I said this. I'd read he'd said that. I guess it just got out of hand."
The split rumours ceased when the band regrouped to play an New Year's Eve show in Tokyo. And here they are. As Richie says their reasons for returning are in no way financial but more to do with making good records, playing live, and enjoying themselves.