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Why life has not been a bed of roses for superstar Jon Bon Jovi in recent years

As his rock band returns with their 13th album, the New Jersey singer tells Andy Welch about the importance of loyalty and why this new collection of songs reflects his recent tough times

Published 03/11/2016

Still rocking: Jon Bon Jovi on stage
Still rocking: Jon Bon Jovi on stage
These days: Bon Jovi today without Richie Sambora

There are many words one could use to describe Jon Bon Jovi. Handsome, for starters. Not that it's polite to judge someone on their looks, but it's difficult not to be taken aback as he glides into the hotel suite, all tan, white teeth, hair just so, fitted black shirt open one button lower than most people would dare on an October morning.

He's also wearing sunglasses, but in his defence, the low-winter sun is beaming through the giant window that's next to his chair. He most definitely does not look 54.

Another adjective you might care to use to describe the New Jersey-born rocker is talented. He is, after all, just about to release his 13th studio album with the band he formed in 1983, having already sold a mere 130 million records and written a handful of world-conquering hits.

Success at that scale takes a special kind of talent and even if you've heard Livin' On A Prayer at one too many student nights, no one can deny it's a good song. You Give Love A Bad Name, Bed Of Roses, Keep The Faith, Wanted Dead Or Alive and Lay Your Hands On Me are the kinds of songs lesser artists base a career on. Bon Jovi wrote them all in the first 10 years of his career.

After spending just over half an hour in his company, however, the most accurate word you might use to describe him would be businesslike.

After all these years, he's an extremely slick operator; engaged in the interview process without over-sharing, fun without deviating from his message, friendly - but just enough.

In the best way, he's a company man, acutely aware of what an interview is for and what needs to be said.

This is his final interview of a hectic three-day schedule that's seen him talking almost non-stop.

"I'll do my best," he promises, but ever the performer, you wouldn't know he's told these tales and explained his forthcoming album solidly for the best part of 72 hours.

This House Is Not For Sale, released tomorrow, differs from most Bon Jovi albums in that, where he normally tells stories using characters - think Livin' On Prayer's fictional couple Tommy and Gina, the cowboys of Wanted - he puts himself front and centre.

"It wasn't like I set out to do it," he says. "But like every time, you don't know what you're going to get. I've written stories, songs tinged by Nashville like (2007's) Lost Highway, or things like Have A Nice Day, which was pertinent to the re-election of George Bush.

"This record was a reflection on the turmoil I've been through in the past few years. Without that, I would've written a collection of pop songs, but in light of what was going on around me, I thought it was more interesting, at least to me, to include that.

"Now people are citing this vulnerability in the songs, and I can acknowledge that. Out of great pain comes great songs. Time and time again."

The turmoil he refers to includes the permanent departure of long-time collaborator and friend Richie Sambora.

The guitarist entered rehab for the second time in 2011, and missed a run of shows. He returned to the tour, but didn't go out on the road again with the band in 2013. It wasn't immediately clear if he quit or was sacked, although Sambora's since said he just wanted to spend more time at home with his kids.

There was also the small matter of Bon Jovi parting ways with his record label, Mercury, after 30 years, prompting the band to release a fan album pointedly titled Burning Bridges, consisting of previously unreleased or unfinished songs.

A traumatic time, no doubt, but compared to the struggles some artists go through - death, divorce, drug hell - a contractual dispute and a band member leaving doesn't seem up there with the darkest of times.

Pointing this out to Bon Jovi, he bursts out laughing. "Oh please forgive me for even having to discuss it. There's no pity party here," he says.

"But, saying that, I was very proud of a 30-plus-year relationship with the company that believed in me throughout my career, and my deal was up.

"I had to pout and stamp my feet, release Burning Bridges and flip them the bird in order for them to know that I wasn't messing around, but we kissed and made up. I re-signed to them, and we'll be together until the end of my days."

For an artist of Bon Jovi's stature, it's not clear why being affiliated with a label is so important, until he states it's a personal badge of honour.

"I took great pride in it," he explains. "One label, one band, one wife... Professionally speaking, as the world knows me, loyalty rings true in every aspect of my life."

As for Sambora, he was dismayed at the behaviour.

"When there's a show in Calgary and you think, 'He's where?' Then I realised he wasn't able to continue, and then I look over to what was his side of the stage and he's not there. But I move on.

"All of those things are punches to the nose and they bloody you after a while, but you have to keep swinging."

Artistically, he says he has nothing left to prove, and to try to compete in the pop sphere alongside the likes of Taylor Swift and Rihanna would be "absurd", while hit singles are probably behind him. Albums, he says, are where he can make his mark, still inspired by the great records he listened to as a youth.

"I come from a different time, and I didn't listen to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd for the hit songs, but the whole albums."

He says he's sure he'll carry on making music for ever, but knows he won't be touring the world as he once did. In fact, when we meet, he hadn't even decided if he was going to tour This House, but he obviously made up his mind eventually, as a US tour has just been announced. He says the 150-200-date tours are a thing of the past, because the band are just not interested in being on the road that long.

If Bon Jovi and his consortium of financiers had achieved their goal of buying an NFL franchise in 2014, it's also likely music would've become more of a hobby for him, although since they were pipped to the post, he says he's remembered what his day job is, despite having several philanthropic pursuits.

Politics, he adds, is a thankless task, despite his closeness to several Democratic presidential administrations, sparking rumours he was going run for office himself.

"What do I know about roads and bridges and international relations?" he says. "I find I can do more with my foundation.

"If there's one thing I've learned, it's to concentrate on things I'm passionate about."

Bon Jovi's This House Is Not For Sale is out tomorrow

Belfast Telegraph

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