Bon Jovi takes 'Highway' to 'American Idol'
Life and love and loss and freedom. That's how Jon Bon Jovi describes the themes of his band's new album, Lost Highway, due June 19. The band will perform a new single, (You Want to) Make a Memory, on Fox's American Idol Wednesday, May 2, following performances of its songs by contestants on the previous night's show.
No one is more surprised than Bon Jovi that the band has another record so soon after the overwhelming success of Have a Nice Day, featuring the crossover hit Who Says You Can't Go Home with country band Sugarland.
"If you would ever have told me I would have a record in the fourth quarter of last year, having just completed a world tour," Bon Jovi says, "I would have said you can bet all the tea in China, it's just not going to happen.
"But because of the circumstances around our lives, they were very fruitful, and a lot of the inspiration was watching what was happening in Richie's life (bandmate Sambora split with wife Heather Locklear and is dating Denise Richards), compounded by all the good things that were happening in all our collective lives."
Bon Jovi says Lost Highway isn't a conscious attempt to capitalise on the crossover success of Who Says, which won a Grammy and became the first song by a rock band to hit No. 1 on the country charts.
"But the feeling came, and when it does, you have to know to go with it," he says. "And we went to Nashville in September, and by December, 10 of the 12 songs were written and recorded and ready for mixing. It was just in the last couple of months that, because I always do this, I pulled the record back and wrote five more, two of which made the record."
Bon Jovi thinks the crossover appeal of Who Says and the new album is the result of country radio getting closer to the band's sound, not the other way around. Two of the songs feature Big & Rich and LeAnn Rimes, and Bon Jovi says his country influences are new artists as much as the "real gods," including Johnny Cash.
"Different people, different reasons," he says. "It's all a big soup. Everybody adds a little ingredient, and that's what makes the next generation go on. You can't be a rip-off of one guy. You don't find an influence; you find your influence's influence. You take a little piece of that and a little piece of this and a little piece of the other thing, and then that's what makes you and how you get to be here for 25 years."
Today, longevity in the music industry also requires embracing multimedia opportunities to connect with audiences, such as American Idol, which Bon Jovi just recently watched for the first time.
"It's not that I didn't want to; I just didn't," he says. "I've had a lot of guys cover our songs on it, and then giving them songs subsequently for their records, but (had) never seen it. That's 30 million that watch TV, so these days, being on American Idol certainly isn't a bad thing.
"You got to get music out there however you can," Bon Jovi continues. "Radio is getting smaller and smaller; the record business is getting smaller and smaller. There are things that are fantastic, like the Internet, (but) it's tough because it's created something none of us knew 10 years ago, and you have to learn to roll with those punches. But it's not the way it used to be; it's not the record business that I grew up in."
American Idol is among just a handful of TV shows and odd performance dates in support of the album until the world tour next year. Yet Bon Jovi is busier than ever.
"Sort of like Levis, man, we're everywhere," he says, laughing.
This is even more true of Bon Jovi himself, who appears in Kenneth Cole ads to raise money for the Philadelphia Soul Foundation, named after the arena football team he co-owns (with Sambora and others), which builds houses for people who need them.
In September 2005, he presented Oprah Winfrey with a US$1 million check from the entire band on her show to aid her Angel Network's Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
"I knew that with our determination we could make a difference," he says, "and families live in 28 homes that we paid for by the one-year anniversary. And in the Lower Ninth, as you can tell, it still isn't rebuilt, but you get some powerful people like Oprah behind you, and they tend to get things done.
"There's a lot of wonderful causes and none of them is more important than the next, but you can't be at everything, you can't do everything, and you've got to find things that you think you can make a difference in. And for me, it's been affordable housing through the Soul Foundation because ultimately, I don't need scientists to come up with a cure. I can do this with time, effort and money. It's something that we as just average guys can really make a difference."
Bon Jovi also continues to squeeze in some acting. His favourite TV show is The Sopranos, and he recently appeared at a benefit for cast member Michael Imperioli's New York theatre company, Studio Dante. Playwright Adam Szymkowicz raved about his performance in a blog the next day.
"You know that classic line from The Godfather, 'Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in'?" Bon Jovi asks. "That's how I feel about the acting. Now I'm getting more offers than I can shake a stick at. And they're really good studio pictures. I'd like to do more; it's just that, thank God, I have a very successful day job."
Bon Jovi fans around the world, both old and new, can't get enough of the band's signature blend of big sound, optimistic lyrics, showmanship and sex appeal. During a concert in Albany, N.Y., on the most recent tour, a lucky few had a very nice day when they found themselves embraced by Jon, and their adoration could be seen and felt across the arena.
"I started every show in the audience on that last tour," he says, "and it's good because as we play these bigger and bigger and bigger and multiple nights at football stadiums, sometimes it's hard to see the people, let alone touch them. So it was an idea that I'd get out there among the crowd and play 'Last Man Standing' and let the folks in the back have the front-row seats for the first song. We've always been about inclusion with our audience, and I think that's probably another facet to our success. That was just one of the examples of it."