Smash Hits- 1986

Vive le Bon Jovi

There was some kind of party that night. The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, was playing host to the Clemson Tigers American Football team, fresh from that afternoon’s victory over the local Georgia Tech, and the rock group Bon Jovi, themselves still flushed with success after wowing them at the nearby 15000 seater Omni Stadium.

The two groups make a strange spectacle. There seem to be millions of orange- shirted warriors prowling the lobby, the smallest of them six footers and all bristling with the kind of muscle that would have made King Kong back down. They look at the Bon Jovi entourage suspiciously. Strong discipline and a strict aversion to things like cigarettes and alcohol are the mark of someone who has made it to this level of football and the Bon Jovi party just reek of indiscipline- and look as if they eat tobacco and breathe beer. They just stare back.

But as the evening draws on strange fellows emerge. Lead singer Jon Bon Jovi starts talking about working out to two of the biggest men I’ve ever seen- linebackers, apparently- and all of a sudden it’s smiles all round. Jon tells them about the punishing routines he goes through in the name of exercise and one of the big guys break up.

“Hell,” he says, “you’re fitter than we are!”

He was probably right. Jon Bon Jovi has to keep himself fit for his stage act. He leaps around the stage like a mountain goat on the Matterhorn. Nonstop, running from one end to the other, jumping up to the drum kit and smashing at the cymbals with his hands. He reckons he’s influenced by Bono’s singing but I don’t think it’s just the singing. Now and again, as he gazes over the rows of screaming fans his face takes on that idiot- happy look that I thought up to now only Bono suffered from. But Jon Bon Jovi needn’t worry. All around the world right now are people who are learning to love his act and his songs.

It’s been no overnight success story. Jon Bon Jovi is only 24 but it’s taken him nearly ten years to reach the top. As we sit in the dressing room prior to the group going on he remembers the times he nearly gave up.

“I’ve always had the utmost confidence in what I’ve been doing but there were times when I just felt like throwing all the tapes I’d made away. No one even wanted to hear them. I went to the west Coast for a while to see if it was any better out there but it wasn’t.”

Jon comes from Sayreville, New Jersey, a place where the spectre of Bruce Springsteen looms large over the fortunes of any young hopefuls.

“When you’re in a band up there,” he says, “then anything you do is instantly compared to the Boss, and the result is always unfavourable. Up until recently we wouldn’t even admit to being a New Jersey band. We were kind of waiting for people to discover us first and then find out where we’re from.”

Well people are certainly asking now. “You Give Love a Bad Name” has been a massive worldwide hit as has the album it’s from, “Slippery When Wet”. And Jon Bon Jovi is the man they all want to meet.

“I still can’t believe it”, he smiles- nearly that smile- “I can sit here and say I’ve got a Top Ten single in England, America, Finland, Japan… and Top Ten album in the States. It’s me saying that.

“I’ve been to a few parties recently and people I’ve worshipped for years are coming up and asking to meet me! People like Little Steven, Bono… it’s great.”

Jon is one of the old believers in that great spirit of rock and roll. Despite having been performing for nearly a decade he still gets as exited as a child at the mere thought.

“I say we’re an “honest” rock band. Too many groups nowadays just seem to play for themselves. I tell you, we go out there and we give everything. I look at one kid in the audience, one out of 15000 and say to him, “we’re having a good time, are you?” And if he nods then it’s great. If he doesn’t then I just carry on until he does nod. I’ll give everything.”

Believe me, the man is not lying. He had 15000 Americans in the palm of his hand last night. And he was just the support act. The success of the single has all happened since Bon Jovi agreed to support old rockers 38 Special (whose lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt fronted even older and hoarier rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd). It’s been a good bargain for both bands. Bon Jovi being looked at by a vast audience, 38 Special having a band with legs to whip up the front rows. After this tour finishes, though, Bon Jovi will be off on their own.

“We got a stage set being built right now for us in London,” says Jon gleefully. “It’ll be the first time we’ve ever gone out on our own big. We’ve spent four years working our asses off supporting others and now it’s our turn in the spotlight.”

Clearly he can’t wait. And we in Britain are to be honoured. Bon Jovi kick off their tour here. Jon has fond memories.

“Yeah,” he grimaces, “the last time we were over here someone threw a pig’s head onstage.”

Oh, is that a heavy metal compliment?

“Dumb kind of compliment. I’d really like to meet the kid that threw it. I just want to meet someone who could carry something like that around. I mean where’d he get it? The local supermarket?”

Never mind. You must have had more fun when you came over to do TOTP?

“Well… The Communards were on, Frankie were on, and Grandmaster Farley Funk…” Jon makes a heterosexual grimace… “I spent the whole day locked in the dressing room scared as shit!”

Third time lucky as they say, but it will be okay. Bon Jovi are making their own luck these days.

If Jon Bon Jovi can impress two 14- stone linebackers, and they look about as impressable as the Great Wall of China, then he can sure as hell impress anybody.