Sunday, 11 November, 2007 0:36 AM
CMA: Bon Jovi Puts a Jersey Spin
BY JAMES MIINCHIN
Nashville recording artists Bon Jovi (Tico Torres, Jon Bon Jovi,
Richie Sambora, David Bryan).
Deborah Evans Price
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
Never etched in stone,
the boundaries between genres of popular music seem more like lines
in sand. Country artists are scoring airplay at AC stations, and
veteran rockers are breaking into Country radio.
So it is with the New
Jersey stadium rockers Bon Jovi. Buoyed by the chart-topping success
of "Who Says You Can't Go Home," the duet he recorded
with Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, frontman/songwriter Jon Bon Jovi
has led his group straight into the heart of Nashville on their
new album, Lost Highway.
"It wasn't a difficult
leap," admitted Jon Bon Jovi. "We had to just make sure
we weren't patronizing the true Country format. We realized what
we were doing was making a Bon Jovi record influenced by Nashville."
That influence permeates
Lost Highway. Half of the album is produced by Grammy winner John
Shanks, whose credits reflect his own creative crossover from sessions
with Celine Dion, Melissa Etheridge and Alanis Morissette, to SHeDAISY
and The Wreckers. The other half features the handiwork of Nashville's
Dann Huff, whose credits include Rascal Flatts' quadruple-Platinum
Me and My Gang and Carrie Underwood's sextuple-Platinum Some Hearts.
As for the material,
Music Row hit-crafters Brett James, Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson
all co-wrote with Bon Jovi, and Lindsey sang as well on one track,
"Seat Next to You." Other guests include LeAnn Rimes,
who duets on the sultry "Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore,"
which will also be on her forthcoming album Family, and Big &
Rich, who join in on "We Got It Going On."
That song, which ESPN
uses as the theme for its Arena Football League telecasts, was conceived
at the home of Luke Lewis, Chairman of Universal Music Group Nashville.
"Kenny [Big Kenny Alphin of Big & Rich] and I started going
back and forth, just goofing around with a chorus, standing there
with a drink in our hands in Luke's backyard," Bon Jovi recalled.
The next morning, they
got back together to finish the song. "He called John Rich.
I called [Bon Jovi guitarist] Richie Sambora, and the four of us
sat in a room and knocked out the rest of it," Bon Jovi continued.
"It was that easy and that much fun. When you have four capable
songwriters in a room, it's not a chore."
"Those guys are
real pros," Huff added. "They show up to work and work
they do. Jon is like the taskmaster and Richie goes with the moment.
It's all spontaneity with him. They balance each other out tremendously
well, and the other guys" - Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan
and drummer Tico Torres - "are pros too."
"I have really enjoyed
getting to know Jon and Richie, two of the coolest, most down-to-earth,
stand-up dudes I've met in a long time," said Big Kenny. "It's
incredible how music always comes back around. Now it seems like
our forms of music are converging into what makes up the fresh new
Country sound today. It is simply popular music at its best."
Huff agrees. "It's
a very ballsy move to try something different," the producer
noted. "It's reinventing at a point when you really don't need
to reinvent. That takes a lot of courage and integrity. But you
can't draw a boundary around the way people are going to tell stories
about their lives and loves and the things they write about. I can't
tell you that 'Make a Memory' [the first single from Lost Highway]
is a Country song. I can't tell you it's a pop song. But I do think
it's an emotional song that people are digging. It's just about
music that touches people. So I hope the lines get blurred."
Fans and programmers
seem to have come around to this point of view. When "Who Says
You Can't Go Home" went to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country
Songs, Bon Jovi became the first non-Country act to top that chart
since 1977, when Tom Jones released "Say You'll Stay Until
Tomorrow." That acceptance prompted the band to give Country
radio another shot.
"Writing a great
story with a big Bon Jovi chorus, that's what we've always done,"
the lead singer insisted. "A lot of these new Country artists
are probably influenced by that part of our sound, so it's not a
There was another reason
for Bon Jovi's cultivation of a more Country-flavored sound. "I
didn't like what I heard on the Top 40," he explained. "I
had nothing in common with any of that stuff. But when I listened
to Keith Urban, Gary Allan and Big & Rich, I heard the same
stories I'd been writing for 25 years. I thought, 'I get it: Write
a record, go back to your storytelling days and say something about
Jon Bon Jovi has long
been a fan of Nashville, as a musical way of life as well as a city.
Certainly his awareness of Country Music dates back to his childhood
in Perth Amboy, N.J., when his parents included albums by Gene Autry
and Patsy Cline on their household playlist. By the time of his
first trip to Music City in 1991, to visit his friend Billy Falcon,
he was able to join the songwriter crowd that hung out at Third
Coast, a congenial watering hole near Music Row, and feel at home.
"I remember my earliest
memories of coming down for a week at a time and saying, 'Oh, my
goodness, I've tapped into something brilliant,'" he said.
"I'm not the first one to come into this town, hang out here
and soak up the atmosphere. That's the reason they call it Music
City. I'm not pandering when I say I have found 99 percent of the
people here have been so gracious and warm. There's such a real
sense of community that I never found when I visit Los Angeles and
places like that."
The Nashville community
holds the legendary rocker in similar high esteem. Lindsey admitted
to being nervous when she got together with him for their first
co-writing session, but he put her quickly at ease. "He was
so sweet and so down to earth," she said. "He's one of
the nicest guys and obviously extremely talented. He knows what
he wants and what he wants to sing about. And he's a brilliant singer."
Lindsey believes that
Bon Jovi is destined to succeed in the Country format. "He's
just honest in his music, and that's what Country Music is, she
said. "Of course, he rocks a little bit, but Country Music
needs that. So I think it's good." Huff has always heard Country
elements in Bon Jovi's work. "'Blaze of Glory,' from the Young
Guns soundtrack, and 'Wanted Dead or Alive,' those were almost Hank
Williams Jr.-type songs," he observed.
As he moved more toward
this direction, Bon Jovi encountered only support from his longtime
"I went to the New
York label [executives at Mercury Records] and said, 'I want to
go to Nashville. I want to make a record. I don't know what that
record is going to be, but I'm going down there and doing this,'"
he said. "And God bless them! My label, which I've been signed
to since 1983, has never questioned what I've wanted to do. Whatever
I decided to do over the years, they've always said, 'OK, we get
Bon Jovi isn't sure how
his Country efforts will be accepted, but he hopes his music will
at least be received in the spirit it was intended to convey.
"There are those
who said, 'The first time was cute - now go away,'" he said,
citing his initial Country success with "Who Says You Can't
Go Home." "Then there are those who are going to realize
that a lot of artists have been influenced by our records and audiences
who have listened to our records for the past 25 years. I've been
coming to Nashville for so many years. I've gotten my songs covered
by some honest-to-God Country artists, dating back to Chris LeDoux
[with whom Bon Jovi sang a guest
duet on "Bang a Drum," from One Road Man in 1998]. So
it's not like I just showed up on the doorstep."
On the Web:
COVER COURTESY OF MERCURY NASHVILLE
Jovi's latest album is "Lost Highway"
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