Jon Bon Jovi talks strippers, scenery, and hype as Slippery When Wet tops the charts


By Steve Newton

Talk about moving up in the world! It was a little more than a year ago that New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi played the now-defunct Embassy on Davie. They were in town recording their Slippery When Wet album, and they wanted to see how the new material would go over with a hard rock crowd.

They got up on stage and did two or three songs, including their big hit “You Give Love a Bad Name”. Hardly anyone noticed. Most of the crowd seemed to want the night’s top-4o band back on.

But times have changed. Nowadays Bon Jovi is the biggest draw on the rock circuit. And the album they previewed at the Embassy has gone on to sell nine-million copies (seven million in the U.S. alone). But the group’s amazing success has not fazed lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, who called the Georgia Straight last week from Salt Lake City.

“This time at least we could do two nights at the Embassy,” chuckled the 25-year-old rocker. In actual fact, they’ll play B.C. Place next Thursday (July 2), and it’s expected they’ll draw roughly 30,000 fans.

Whether you like Bon Jovi or not, it’s pretty hard to ignore a band that can move such a mountain of vinyl in so little time. But just what is it that made so many kids have to have a copy of Slippery When Wet?

“Death threats,” quips Jon. “I don’t know. It was meant to be a fun kid of summertime album, and that’s just what it was–nothin’ more, nothin’ less. It wasn’t supposed to change the world, just offer a little bit of a smile.”

Jon’s boyish good looks might have helped sell a few copies as well, at least as far as his sizeable female following is concerned. More likely it was a matter of timing, since hard rock is a real commodity these days (five of Billboard‘s top six albums are from that genre, namely albums by Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, Poison, Motley Crue, and Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads).

As far as Bon Jovi’s music goes, “Livin’ On a Prayer” is a super tune: it’s got a bouncy rhythm lick throughout, a neat talk-box effect, a tasty lead break, and a chorus that can’t help but make you feel good. The rest of the album might not be on the same level as “Livin’ On a Prayer”, but the superb production (by Bruce Fairbairn) and engineering (by Bob Rock) sure helped. The group recorded the LP at Vancouver’s Little Mountain Sound last year and, according to Jon, the city played a big part in making the record.

“The attitude surrounding the studio had a lot to do with it, because the people don’t get any better. But the city itself is a picture postcard. We had a gorgeous little apartment to live in–till they kicked us out–and when you look out the window it’s like everything is in line. There’s the ocean, and the mountains, and the Expo. What an atmosphere to work in.”

Despite the scenery, Jon and the boys in the band made a habit of frequenting our city’s strip joints (or “go-go bars” as Jon calls them) during the eight weeks they were in town. In fact, they came up with the title of Slippery When Wet after a trip to Gastown’s No. 5 Orange, their favourite haunt.

“The original title was going to be Wanted Dead or Alive,” says Jon. “We shot a cover for it, and then later that same day we dropped into the No. 5. We were watching one of the girls shower, and we thought, “Man, I bet that’s slippery.’ And that was the new title, Slippery When Wet. We threw the cover in the garbage and started from scratch.”

Another cover was then shot for the second title showing a woman in a shower wearing a t-shirt that said “Slippery When Wet”. But the record company thought it was too sexual, and that cover was also scrapped. The band ended up with a rather cheap-looking cover that has the title written in the moisture on a pane of glass. Six curvacious women wearing the “Slippery When Wet” t-shirts were relegated to the LP’s inner sleeve, where they’re pictured washing cars with the five band members.

Ugly cover notwithstanding, the Slippery When Wet album has struck a real chord with young rock fans. To make sure that their material would do just that, Bon Jovi recruited a group of New Jersey high school students to come over to the studio where they were rehearsing and listen to some demos. The songs the kids liked the most were the ones that made it onto the album. Jon Bon Jovi also knows his audience pretty well.

“I can relate to the kids,” he says. “Even now when I go to a show, I wanna touch that guy up on stage and say, ‘Yeah, I’m part of that’. And that’s where we’re coming from. We’re not 40-year-old guys with toupees pretending to be kids.”

As a youngster, Bon Jovi got his start in rock after approaching distant cousin Tony Bongiovi, the owner of the Power Station in New York,  to ask if he could work at his studio and learn about the music biz. So for 50 bucks a week Jon (real name Bongiovi) was the studio’s go-fer.

“I’d sweep the floors, pour the coffee, go to the bank–do whatever they needed me to do. And I got to record in the middle of the night.”

With the studio at his disposal, Bon Jovi assembled a band from the cream of the East Coast club circuit. That lineup–guitarist Richie Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan, bassist Alec John Such, and drummer Tico Torres–is the same today.

Their first break came when a track included on a local radio sampler gained extensive airplay throughout the U.S. Soon they had a record deal with Polygram, heavy-duty management from the same team that handles Motley Crue, and a chart hit with their first single, “Runaway”.

Support tours with Scorpions in North America and Kiss in Europe helped solidify the band’s name, and led to them snagging the opening gig on Judas Priest’s Turbo tour of ’86.

Before their show with Priest at the Pacific Coliseum last July, I asked Jon whether that wasn’t a tricky pairing, considering Bon Jovi are more pop-oriented, while Priest is more on the heavy metal side.

His response showed a real rock ‘n’ roll attitude. “Anywhere we can play is okay with me,” he said. “As long as there’s a plug, we’ll plug it in.”

And that’s what Bon Jovi has been doing ever since. That Vancouver date was only the first gig in the Slippery When Wet tour, and they’re still at it. Only now, with the album doing wonders, they’re the headliner. Four weeks ago they played to 50,000 people at a gig near Cleveland, Ohio, and this summer they’ll have top billing at the famed Castle Donnington rock festival in England.

Other bands on that bill include Dio, Metallica, W.A.S.P., and Cinderella, the band that opens for Bon Jovi here. He basically discovered them in a Jersey bar, got them a record contract, and sent them on their way up the charts. Their debut Night Songs album has sold well over a million copies.

The buzz on Bon Jovi is so big these days that you can hardly walk into a magazine shop without seeing his face on the covers of half a dozen teen fanzines. One would think he might be worried about over-exposure, the same media burn-out that fried a certain moon-walker a few years back. And he is.

“Oh absolutely. You know, I don’t think I’ve done a phoner [phone interview] in months. We don’t really do interviews, and only because of that. We do plan on comin’ around next year, and then the next year after that, so we don’t want to cash it all in right now.

“And as far as those fanzines are concerned, they write ’em themselves, and they get the pictures from the vaults, you know. It’s nothing that we consent to or anything.”

With Slippery When Wet aiming at the incredible 10-million sales figure, it’s not too likely that Bon Jovi’s next record will be budget-bin material even with the current overdose of hype. Jon says he wants to make the next LP in Vancouver as well, at the same studio and with the same personnel. He’s not too worried about out-doing Slippery either.

“We expect to do better next time but we expect it because we’ll work for it, know what I mean? We’ll fight for it the way we did for this one. We’ll take our time and make sure it’s right.”


To hear the full audio of my interview with Jon Bon Jovi from 1986–and my interview with Richie Sambora from 1993 as well–subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 250 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Melissa Etheridge, 1990
Joe Jackson, 2003
Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, 2001
David Ellefson of Megadeth, 1992
David Lee Roth, 2003
Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
John Popper of Blues Traveler, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Ellen McIlwaine, 2001
J.D. Fortune of INXS, 2006
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
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Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
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Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
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Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
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Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
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Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
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….with hundreds more to come



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