Forget the Learjet and the limo that have carried them to Nashville; the five members of Bon Jovi don’t look at all like rested travelers. Small wonder, since two nights ago in Sioux Falls, S.Dak. the bandmates had learned that their Slippery When Wet LP had jumped to No. 1, touching off a champagne celebration that lasted through last night in Ames, Iowa. Now, a day later, the good news and pricey booze still haven’t worn off. Guitarist Richie Sambora suddenly snaps, becoming a white-boy version of Eddie Murphy, Bon Jovi’s patron saint. “We be takin’ Learjets! We be ridin’ in limos!” he crows to his smiling pals. “We got a No. 1 record! We be gettin’ so cool we be gettin’ sick of ourselves!”
If so, nobody else is. After nearly four years together the Bon Jovi boys are suddenly rockers on a roll. Not only has Slippery careened into the two-million-seller club, but its first single, You Give Love a Bad Name, has cracked pop’s Top 5. Come February the band’s midweight-metal rock will even hit the movies when two of their songs are featured in the new Michael J. Fox film, Light of Day.
For band namesake Jon Bon Jovi (born John Bongiovi), the road to rock success began 10 years ago when a lounge guitarist moved into his Sayreville, N.J. neighborhood. “I asked him for lessons,” recalls Bon Jovi, then 14. “He said, ‘What for?’ I said, ‘Chicks, what d’ya think?’ He said, ‘Good enough.’ ” Over the next two years Bon Jovi learned enough to start his own bar band (Atlantic City Expressway) and, on occasion, even to accompany some homegrown heroes at local clubs. “I’d go to high school and say, ‘What did you do last night?’ and kids would say, ‘I watched Dallas. What’d you do?’ ” he recounts, recalling one extra-special night. “I’d say, ‘I jammed with Bruce Springsteen, that’s what I did.’ ”
For a while, that was about all. By 1982 Bon Jovi was back on his own, sweeping floors in a recording studio by day and cutting demo tapes between shifts. When, at last, a song titled Runaway made it across the river and onto New York radio, execs at Polygram Records called up the contract department. Bon Jovi suddenly found himself with a marquee spelling of his Italian surname and the need for a new band. His first recruit: David Bryan (né Rashbaum), a former Expressway keyboard player who by then had two years of premed studies at Rutgers University and an offer from Juilliard. “I didn’t care if he could play a single note on the piano,” Bon Jovi now admits. “He had a Fender Rhodes [keyboard], a B-3 [organ] and a van. He was in.” Bryan, now 24, was eventually joined by bass player Alec Jon Such, 29, drummer Tico Torres, 33, and guitarist Sambora, 25, all alumni of Jersey groups.
While its music found little welcome on radio, the band soon took to the concert trail 250 nights a year, opening for Kiss, Ratt and other metal heavies. The tours generated half-million sales for each of the group’s first two LPs (Bon Jovi and 7800° Fahrenheit) and helped prompt recent acceptance on radio and MTV. “They’re playin’ us now ’cause the kids want to hear us,” shrugs Jon. “It’s the kids who put us here.”
Where the kids have put them tonight is in Nashville’s 9,500-seat Municipal auditorium. In the audience are girls barely into double-digit birthdays, T-shirted high schoolers, even some frat-boy types. There is also 41-year-old June Gray, here with her daughter Brook, 14. The latter tells of coming home and finding Mom skidding around the den to Slippery When Wet. “It’s true,” confesses June, a veteran of one other rock performance—by Lionel Richie. “The neighbors think I’ve flipped.” Onstage, Jon enthusiastically welcomes all, cruising the lip of the stage in skintight pants and slapping hands throughout the show.
Afterward the band adjourns backstage with some Bon Jovi faithful. Bryan, sporting a smile the size of a Buick grille, corners a topless dancer from Pensacola; Such nuzzles a billowy blonde he’s obviously chatted with before. Sambora, meanwhile, stripped down to red leather pants and clutching a bottle of bubbly, starts laying some major-league charm on a trio of 12-year-old girls looking for autographs. Two have enough silver in their well-braced mouths to give the Hunt brothers pause. Sambora scribbles, poses for snapshots, then jokes: “Will you sign this saying I never touched you?” The girls look bewildered.
Next day aboard the Learjet once again, Such nurses a lingering case of flu, Torres a sore throat. The band’s gig in Memphis a few hours later will end a six-week stint of one-nighters, and after a quick tour of Europe—their third—they’ll be home for Christmas for the first time in three years. By then their next single, Livin’ on a Prayer, will be all over the radio, helping ticket sales for an early 1987 tour that will mark their debut as headliners.
The boost in billing is welcome, but the group’s founder foresees little change in life-style as a result. “We’re from Jersey,” says Bon Jovi, who vows that he will “absolutely never” leave the Garden State, where he now rents a modest one-bedroom apartment on the shore. “My philosophy is a lot like Don Ho’s,” he explains. “I saw him on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. He’s got this little house, but it’s right on the beach. Don Ho gets up every morning in his crummy little house and looks right out on the ocean. Now that’s cool.”