Sun Media, Canada
Bon Jovi talks about new disc

Two significant things occurred when Bon Jovi went about making their 10th studio record, Lost Highway, which hit stores this past week:

(1) The New Jersey rock vets set up shop in Nashville to write and record the country-tinged record, including one song (Any Other Day) with Canadian transplant Gordie Sampson (Jesus, Take the Wheel), and they invited such guests as Big & Rich and LeAnn Rimes to sing on two other songs.

(2) After two albums inspired by very public events -- Bounce, which followed 9/11, and Have A Nice Day, which followed the 2004 U.S. presidential election -- the group's songwriting became personal.

In particular, frontman Jon Bon Jovi's writing partner and band guitarist Richie Sambora had a lot to work with, after splitting from wife Heather Locklear, hooking up and then breaking up with Locklear's former friend Denise Richards, losing his father to lung cancer, and recently checking into rehab.

Band keyboardist David Bryan also split from his wife and lost his dad.

"I realized the pain that I saw my friend, my collaborator, Richie Sambora going through, and it was identical to that that Dave Bryan was going through," Jon Bon Jovi said down the line from New York City recently, in an exclusive Canadian newspaper interview with Sun Media.

"They both lost their dads, who I've obviously known for 25 years, the only sons of those dads. And I watched the bitter divorces that both of them went through. And I thought, 'There it is. There's the obvious. Let's internalize.' "

Bon Jovi said he got no resistance from Sambora in writing down his feelings on such songs as Whole Lot of Leavin'.

"I found it to be cathartic for Richie. And I'm hoping that all of those days are behind him now, and that the loss element of this record is past us -- and now the light of the tunnel of Lost Highway is going to be there at the forefront.

"Everything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Other people I've witnessed come through that, some of them are broken ... and some of them get stronger, and in (Richie's) case, I'm going to bet that he gets stronger."

Sambora said on the Today show this past week that it wasn't so much checking into rehab as "detoxing."

"I was just drinking too much," he told Today host Matt Lauer. "I needed to get my life together. I'm still in therapy. But it's good. I'm great. I feel fine."

Meanwhile, the move into country music came after the rockers -- who have sold 120 million albums over the last quarter-century -- had a No. 1 country hit with, and won their first Grammy Award for, Who Said You Can't Go Home (from 2005's Have a Nice Day), which featured Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles.

"We expanded upon what it is that we're very comfortable with," said Bon Jovi, who previously wrote Blaze of Glory for the Young Guns II soundtrack in 1990 and Wanted Dead or Alive with Sambora for the band's 1986 juggernaut album Slippery When Wet.

"And the success of Who Said You Can't Go Home opened up a lot of doors with an audience that was familiar with our catalogue."

Bon Jovi pointed out that the band previously recorded half of its 1995 album These Days, as well as two songs on their Crossroad greatest-hits CD (Always and Someday I'll Be Saturday Night), in Nashville.

"I've been there so many times since the early '90s so I knew a lot of folks there," said Bon Jovi, who split producing duties between rock producer-songwriter John Shanks and Nashville studio vet Dann Huff.

"We weren't perceived as carpetbaggers because people know I've been there for a lot of years. And country artists like Joe Nichols writes, 'She takes off her clothes to a Bon Jovi song,' or Chris Cagle covers Wanted Dead or Alive, or Chris LaDoux does Bang a Drum, or Rascal Flatts covers In These Arms Tonight. So we've had our feet in the water there many times over the years. It's not like AC/DC going down (there)."

On the other side of the coin, Bon Jovi said he wasn't concerned if there might be backlash from the band's hardcore rock fans.

"I can't think like that," he said. "And I don't write records for the marketplace. You just write records. And sometimes the magic of that, like when we wrote Livin' On a Prayer all those years ago, (sounds) like nothing on the radio at that time. In 1986, radio was Tears For Fears. And then Livin' On a Prayer comes along and changes the format of radio."

Still, he'll admit Lost Highway's first single, the ballad (You Want to) Make a Memory, is hardly burning up the country or rock charts. It sits at about No. 15 on both.

"Big Kenny from Big & Rich said, 'It's music without prejudice.' If you can get by the fact that this format isn't necessarily accustomed to playing a Bon Jovi record next to a (Kenny) Chesney record, or a Big & Rich record, and you just listen to the song, then it opens up your mind."

As for working with Sampson, Bon Jovi says one of the main reasons he went down to Nashville was to collaborate, and "Gordie's just a great collaborator."

Bon Jovi said he didn't know if Any Other Day might be released as a single.

"I can't tell you that it was one of my favourites on the record, but then again, neither was Livin' On a Prayer. Good thing I'm not an A&R guy."

Bon Jovi doesn't expect the country-flavoured songs to stick out from their signature rock anthems in a live setting, even if it will mean having a fiddler and a pedal steel player on stage with them.

"I think once the songs sink in with people, they're going to fit beautifully. And I enjoy singing them immensely," Bon Jovi said. "And we've been able to incorporate those players into some of the rock stuff, and it's working well. They can obviously sit in on Wanted Dead or Alive."