- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

The next time you feel like cracking a New Jersey joke, pause for a second to ponder the musicians the Garden State has given us. Some rank among the country’s most successful in a host of genres, including Frank Sinatra, the Four Seasons, Queen Latifah, Bruce Springsteen and, of course, Bon Jovi.

Bon Jovi has been delivering its brand of hard rock for close to a quarter century and, in that time, has sold more than 120 million albums, performed more than 2,500 concerts worldwide, and provided college co-eds and suburban moms alike with such perennial singalong favorites as “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “It’s My Life.” In a recent teleconference with reporters, Bon Jovi band members said the secrets of their success were songwriting skill, performance ability and, yes, their good old New Jersey roots. “Being from Jersey,” said drummer Tico Torres, “it’s more street and attitude.” Also, the foursome lived close to New York City — a proving ground for young artists, a major industry stronghold, and what Mr. Torres calls “a mecca for world music.” Getting a foothold there early on in the band’s career allowed Bon Jovi to leap into the global market rapidly.

“There’s always been a little saying … in Jersey: If you made it in New York, you made it worldwide,” Mr. Torres said.

For Bon Jovi, music hasn’t just been a way to attract fans and sell albums; it’s been a way to help and to heal. Last year, for example, when guitarist Richie Sambora was dealing with his father’s death from lung cancer, the finalization of his divorce with Heather Locklear, a split with girlfriend Denise Richards and substance abuse issues, getting back on the road with his band mates was just what the doctor ordered.

“Just because you’re a rock ‘n’ roll star doesn’t make you exempt from any of life’s tragedies,” Mr. Sambora said. “I had a couple of them kind of mount up on me a bit. But the band is obviously a great, great aid in pulling me up and helping me out of all those situations.”

This past summer, Mr. Sambora checked himself into a treatment facility to confront a drinking problem. “About a week after I got detoxed and stopped all that stuff, I went right back to work. And we just started touring and promotion on [our new] ‘Lost Highway’ album, and between the band and the fans in my face, it got me through it.”

Bon Jovi has done quite a bit to help others through their tunes, as well. On Feb. 12, the guys played an intimate show at Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom to kick off the Stand Up for a Cure concert series, which will feature several other artists throughout 2008 and raise funds for cancer research.

The band members also do what they can to boost younger musicians’ careers. This has meant coaching “American Idol” contestants, holding radio contests where local artists compete to open up one of the band’s dates, and inviting nascent talents on the road for prolonged periods of time.

The music business is “getting harder and harder to figure out,” Mr. Sambora said, “because … the old model is failing and the new model needs to work. So any opportunity we have to give a new act a chance, no matter what genre they are in, we usually do it.” The latest recipient of Bon Jovi’s goodwill is “American Idol” season five contestant Chris Daughtry, who has the honor of warming up the band’s crowds on its current world tour. “He’s doing a really, really good job,” Mr. Sambora said.

Bon Jovi began this particular tour in the fall with a 10-night run at Newark’s new Prudential Center and will make stops across the U.S. for several more months before going overseas. Partly, this is a “greatest hits” tour, yet it’s also meant to promote the group’s 2007 release, “Lost Highway,” an unexpectedly Nashville-influenced offering that garnered Bon Jovi its first No. 1 debut.

“You never know what we might come up with,” Mr. Torres said. “We always want to try new things.”

Bon Jovi plays the Verizon Center (www.verizoncenter.com) on Thursday. Mr. Daughtry opens the 7:30 p.m. show.

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