August 24, 1985
By David Huff
Bon Jovi Rocks Latest Runaway
"Whatever you do," asked Jon Bon Jovi as he peered through his sunglasses, "please don't make this story sound nice, because what I have done has been hard, very hard, and I want people to realize that."
For all of his 23 years, the life and times of Jon Bon Jovi has become a tale of local folklore that is reminiscent of another aspiring musician that preceded the singer in his home state a decade ago. His name was Bruce Springsteen.
"You have got to have heart," offered the New Jersey native, "you have got to want it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You have to be willing to not eat, sleep on a floor, give up girlfriends, families, everything that you have got, and then you'll get it. I am proof of that."
Bon Jovi is currently in the midst of a nationwide tour in support of the group’s second LP, Fahrenheit 700. Opening for last year's metal sensations Ratt, the month of August will find Bon Jovi not only travelling with the band overseas to open for ZZ Top at an outdoor festival in London, but also make the transatlantic trip back to Dallas to appear in this year's Texxas Jam. It's a far cry from four years ago when a then 19-year old Jon Bon Jovi was pushing a broom in a recording studio because he wanted to get his feet wet in the music business and make some contacts.
"In 1980 when I went to New York to live,” he recalled, “I had had several original bands and I didn't make a dime. So, I started working in a recording studio pushing a broom around, getting coffee for people, doing all sorts of crap and this lasted for two years.
"At the end of the second year, "Runaway," was one of the 100 songs that I demoed around but it got nowhere. I was really frustrated. I had seen record company after record company, knocked on doors, knew everyone at these record companies, knew all kinds of guys in important bands, but it didn't matter."
The singer’s efforts didn’t go completely unnoticed. A New York DJ fell in love the song. His radio station was preparing to put out a ‘homegrown’ album of local New York area acts and used "Runaway," as one of the songs. The album also included another unknown band called Twisted Sister.
"Hey, it was fate and yes, I was lucky," admitted Bon Jovi. "But let me tell you something that’s the God’s honest truth. If you want to be in this business, like I said, you have to live and breathe it 24 hours a day. You have to be willing to play bars six nights a week with Sunday off to hone your craft. If you want something bad enough you can do anything if you set your mind to it. That’s exactly what I have done.
"That is the attitude that I have always had. That's the attitude that my band has always had. These guys in RATT have it too. You just have to be real hungry. Every night we go onstage we are fighting to eat because there are kids out in the audience that are doing what I was doing four years ago and saying, ‘I want your gig!' "
Whether or not Bon Jovi is a product of the times is hard to say. He does feel, however, that his age is a factor in his ability to communicate with today's audiences. It shows in the songs he writes.
"I am 23 years old," he replied, "and I am not that far away from the ages of the that people are coming out to see us play. I'm young, the band is young, we can relate to our audience. A lot of the new stuff that was written for our album was geared to somebody that is from 18-20 years old, just out of high school or home from college, going out into the world.
"When you are out in the real world, you don't have mom to cook you dinner anymore. When you graduate from college, there aren't any more classes for you to attend in the morning and you are faced with the dilemma, 'What do I do now?' This album was written with the feeling of 'Good morning, get ready to feel that struggle.' "
The ‘runaway’ musician should know what he is talking about. He’s been fighting his way through the real world since his teen years. His world, however, was centered strictly around what he considered his true calling – music. He lived 30 minutes away from Asbury Park, the home of a thriving local music scene located on the Jersey Shore and part of the New York City metropolitan area.
"I used to play with all those guys out there," revealed the singer. "That included Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, members of the East Street Band, just everyone that hung out around the area. I used to go over to Roy Bittan's house, (Springsteen's keyboard wizard) and write songs with him. He did some demo's for me and he even played on the original ‘Runaway’ song.
"I missed my high school prom because I was doing a concert opening for Southside Johnny, Hall & Oates and Willie Nile before some 10,000 people outdoors. I think I got maybe a $100 for it, but it didn't matter."
Bon Jovi says he was fortunate his parents neither pushed him one way or the other when it came to pursuing his dreams.
"I don't think anybody does what they want because there dad forced them too,” he said. “If my father would have forced me to be a musician, I would have rebelled, I would have quit.
"My mother and father gave me guitar-lessons when I was a little kid. I quit going so I could play baseball. My parents said fine. I picked up the guitar on my own to fool around on it because I wanted to pick up chicks. I started singing in my bands because nobody else wanted to. I remember the first time taking singing lessons and the guy told me to forget It, I was wasting my time."
The one commodity Jon Bon Jovi doesn’t like wasting is time. Once the “Runaway” single started getting some serious air time on radio stations in the New York area, the singer started banging on the doors that had previously been shut to him.
"That homegrown album,” said Bon Jovi shaking his head. “Even that break failed to get me any attention by the labels. The song was selected for use by the station in September but the album istle wasn't going to be released until January. I had four months of pure frustration to deal with."
During this quiet interlude, Bon Jovi talked his friend and future band mate Dave Rushbaum (i.e. Bryan) about the two of them flying out to Los Angeles to try and get a deal. Rushbaum had played keyboards in bands before with Bon Jovi. He was home from college on Christmas break when his friend came knocking at his door.
"Dave's mother worked for Eastern Airlines," Bon Jovi continued, "so we could get a deal. I made Dave give me $100, I had a $100 and it paid for both tickets to the West Coast. We stayed at an A-1 hotel for $17 a day and hooked it. I met a girl at a record company and she set up some meetings. I sent some people some tapes, but nothing happened. We went back to New York and when we got there, ‘Runaway’ was being played all over the radio."
Bon Jovi ‘s song had caught the attention of deejays around the country. It was being added to radio station playlists at a fairly rapid rate. The singer was getting calls to play shows, only there was one slight problem. He didn’t have a band. His first phone call was to Rushbaum to join him on keyboards. His college education was forever put on hold. The singer then approached Alec John Such to play bass and he in turn made Bon Jovi aware of a talented drummer named Tico Torres. The musician was in-between albums with Frankie and the Knockouts so he decided to visit him.
"I went over to his house when it was snowing like a son-of-a-bitch," smiled Bon Jovi. "Needless to say, Tico thought I was crazy. I played him the tape of my music, he liked the enthusiasm and said, 'Okay, I'll do it.'
“I was amazed that Tico accepted my offer at first because he didn't have to. Here was a guy that was already with an established act, at home between albums, and he was willing to start over at ground zero with someone he had just met. It still blows me away to this day when I think of the total faith Tico had in me from just the tape he listened to."
The line-up was finally completed when Bon Jovi was approached by a local guitarist named Richie Sambora. He happened to be a friend of Alec John Such, who had invited his friend to watch them perform at a local club.
"Richie came up to me after the show,” recalled Bon Jovi, “and said he had this original band, blah, blah, had made some record before, was a real pro, and we should get together and try something. I said, 'Okay!' About a week later, he came over, rehearsed with the band and I liked him enough to hire him on the spot. I had a complete band In about four weeks."
The Doubleday record chain on the East Coast picked up the Homegrown album and "Runaway," started climbing the charts rapidly.
"We opened a show for Scandal,” replied Bon Jovi, “and everybody who was anybody in the record business was at this show. The same record companies that would never give me the time of day before were now calling me.”
Derek Shulman, the vice president of Polydor Records eventually signed the band.
"I have known some guys,” stated Bon Jovi, “that were great musicians and incredible talents that could have been superstars. The problem they all had in common was they expected somebody from a record company to come and knock on their door to sign them.
"It takes a long time to get this thing going. I could have never worked from 9 to 5. Whenever I did land a job like that, I got fired. That kind of life just wasn’t me. I wanted this thing with music bad enough to stay squarely focused on getting it. When I did, I got fired all the time because I was not that type of person.
"I realize how vulnerable of a position I'm in right now. We live in a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ type of world. Right now, I'm an opening act. Give me half a chance though, and I won't hesitate to blow the main act right off the stage."