Rock's golden boy: Jon Bon Jovi still rollin' out the hits
Chicago Sun-Times, Jul 21, 2006
Jon Bon Jovi sounds a wee bit frustrated on a recent Tuesday morning, phoning from New York. Not about the interview, but about philanthropic red tape. He needs to gently vent.

It's well-known that the singer has a big heart when it comes to helping those less fortunate. (On behalf of his band, he recently presented Oprah Winfrey with a check for $1 million for her Angel Network.) But Jon is most closely associated with Habitat for Humanity, having channeled the profits from his arena football team (Philadelphia Soul) to the organization to build homes and playgrounds. One corporate meeting later, he finds it's not always a smooth process, hence the reason for his frustration.

"I got involved with Habitat because I wanted to find that 'Father Flanagan' who needs that orphanage and then just go out and build it," he says emphatically.

"I just got a real good lesson in red tape. I've paid for six houses to be built in Philly and they're not done and it's already been almost a year. If it was up to me, they'd be done. I paid for the houses; I want them up so these families who are waiting for them can move in. Now I find out there are three organizations involved in just getting these six houses built. I don't understand that at all. There can't be 1,700 chapters of Habitat for Humanity. There should just be one."

Has he actually worked on a Habitat house?

"I'm a crummy nailer," he says with a chuckle, his frustration vanishing. "I'm better at hammering the heads of Habitat as to why it's taking so damn long."

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There are few sure things in the pantheon of rock 'n' roll. Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, the Who easily come to mind. Alive (or dead), they'll forever be a draw at the box office or your local music emporium.

Purists may scoff, but it's hard to discount one of the best touring bands in the business -- those formidable pop-metal New Jersey boys known as Bon Jovi.

For more than two decades, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, David Bryan and Tico Torres have continuously delivered the goods when it comes to arena rock. Their latest album, "Have a Nice Day," reached the No. 2 spot on the Billboard charts. Their tours routinely come in among the highest-grossing of the year. The "Have a Nice Day Tour," which rolls into Soldier Field tonight to a sold-out crowd of 55,000, will gross more than $100 million by the time it ends later this month --with ticket prices ($45-$125 in Chicago) that are well below what most of the current big arena tours are commanding for seats.

"We are very aware of ticket prices when we set up a tour," Bon Jovi says. "We don't do a cheap ticket, but we do a very fair ticket price. Forget about the cost of a concert ticket, I'm very aware of the cost of living. I can't dispute what the Stones or Madonna wanna charge, but I know that to take a date to a concert, park the car, get a T-shirt, buy a couple of beers -- that's more than a week's pay for a lot of folks. We charge less and know that 50,000 seats will be sold for Soldier Field. That's just good business."

It's all part of a winning formula that has kept the boys doing "good business" for 22 years. And that formula is feeding a new generation of fans.

"We were very surprised to find that the majority of their concert tickets on this tour are being bought up by 16- to 28-year- olds," said Randy Phillips, president and CEO of AEG Live, the company promoting the worldwide tour. "The proof is even more evident in the merchandising revenue. We've calculated that people are spending an average of $15 per head at the merchandise table, which is like a home run in this business. Believe me, there aren't a lot of 40-year-olds buying Bon Jovi T-shirts or tank tops."

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Much of Bon Jovi's appeal is Jon Bon Jovi himself -- he of the sexy voice and explosive smile. The singer seduced a generation of women with "Bed of Roses" and told the world to kiss his a-- with "It's My Life." How irresistible.

Then there's Sambora, the tattoo-festooned bad boy himself, who - - well, we all know about his very public goings-on ("Richie's doing as good as he can with the tough year he's had," Bon Jovi says). And don't discount the tremendous appeal of keyboardist David Bryan and drummer Hector "Tico" Torres, who counts a baby-clothing line, "Rock Star Baby" (along with Jon), among his successful private pursuits.

"Our band has lasted so long because we are friends first and foremost and we truly do like each other's company," Bon Jovi says. "You don't necessarily have to be friends offstage to have a successful band, but that's how it is with us. There's mutual respect and a definite hierarchy. Everyone knows where they fit in and no one's ego gets in the way. That really just comes with age, time and experience. And respect."

"It's funny, but there are certain artists that people always bet against in terms of survival or longevity in the business, and this band for a long time was one of those bands," Phillips says. "But they are just so tight-knit. No energy is spent on 'keeping the band together.' They spend their energy on writing, strategizing. It's one of the best organizations I've ever dealt with."