Photo by James Minchin
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Richie Sambora has gotten used to seeing his life through tabloid headlines. At any given moment these stories and much more about singer and guitarist for Bon Jovi have helped sell papers around the world. But what is the truth?
After losing his father to cancer, a divorce after 13 years of marriage to actress Heather Locklear and struggles with substance abuse, Sambora is revealing it on his first solo album in 14 years, Aftermath of the Lowdown. As the man, who has penned such anthems as "Livin' on a Prayer" and "It's My Life," said, "The truth is the lowdown, and after you speak that truth, there's always an aftermath."
While some artists may be reluctant to share their personal thoughts, Sambora said it would have been a risk not to expose his emotions on his third solo album.
"Authenticity is what I believe makes a great record, and let's face it, I've been a guy who has been media fodder for a long time," Sambora said. "I'm a man who has fallen down, and I've gotten up. This record is a celebration of what's on the other side of it. I got through it, and I'm better for it."
Growing up in New Jersey, Sambora can still remember watching the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show when he was 5 years old. It was at that moment he knew that making music was something he wanted to do. At 14, he taught himself to play the guitar and never looked back.
Next year Bon Jovi will celebrate their 30th anniversary of making music together, and they are hotter than ever. In 2010 they were named the top touring act in the world for the second time and played to over 35 million people around the world. As he once said about playing rock 'n' roll: "It's like having sex with your clothes on." In spite of their popularity, Sambora, a member of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, remains focused on his craft.
"Every time I step out on stage I try to compartmentalize the fame and that media shit to the music," he said. "I don't let them meet. What I do on a musical level is my passion and pleasure."
Even though Sambora has the opportunity to sing a lead vocal or two during Bon Jovi concerts, people often don't think of his as a singer. Yet, he was the lead singer for all of the previous bands he was a part of. He hopes this album will help alter perceptions and realize his vocal abilities.
"People are always asking me, 'What are you expecting out of this record?' For me, as a songwriter, if people listen to this music and can relate to it and it can keep them company and doesn't make them feel alone, then that's great. That is what music has done for me throughout my life."
How is this solo album different from your previous ones?
My life is in a different place. All of that contributes to what this record is. For me, I don't know if three times is a charm or what, but the authenticity that I got out of this record -- from the writing to the recording to the actual end product -- I'm just thrilled. As an artist, you make records sometimes and they don't live up to your expectations. With this record, I covered the ground that I wanted to cover, and it came out so spontaneously and energetically.
The first single is "Every Road Leads Home To You." What does the song mean to you?
I was really talking about coming home to my family, which is my daughter. Everyone has a definition of what home is. It could be your family, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your wife, husband, your house, or even being lost within yourself. Metaphorically, it was a personal thing I was writing about that transcends into a universal subject.
In the past you've said that "flowers grow in cow shit." Obviously your issues over the past several years helped you put these songs together.
I've dealt with addiction and different demons throughout the years. For me to omit that, it wouldn't have been authentic. By no means is this an addiction or rehab record, but I had to address that piece of my life. If I can shed wisdom on it for the people who are having the same problems that I have, that's really great. When I say this record is about my stuff, the thing I really found is that my stuff is pretty universal.
What I've learned scouring the Earth like I have is that music is the most evocative and transformative language in humanity. The stuff I wrote in my bedroom sold out stadiums in 52 countries across the world.
"Seven Years Gone" is another song on the album. In it you sing: "You wake up and you're seven years gone." What does that song mean to you?
It's about me. A lot of the stuff I'm citing on this record is stuff that jolted me and made me look at my life and the choices I've made. It's like, "Hey, man, you've really got to take life seriously and be present because one day you wake up and it is seven years gone." I was looking back, and it seems that in seven years I've learned so much, and I've come so far as an adult. With the help of my daughter and help of my friends, I've had great mirrors around me.
"You Can Only Get So High" was written when you came out of rehab last year. It talks about how the tabloids tend to embellish the real truth. What did they embellish?
Obviously they are going to glamorize anything they possibly can. Hey, my baby pictures are in the tabloids. Not everybody, but a lot of people, have gone through the trials and tribulations I have. I just happen to be in one of the biggest bands in the world, and I also go out with a lot of famous women and things like that. So, I live in the glare of the spotlight of all that stuff. I try not to look at it as anything I should be ashamed of. I actually came out of it. I think that song was about me shedding my wisdom on what I've learned about substance abuse, and it gets to a point where it doesn't work.
What have you learned about substance abuse?
It's a lie. Hey, I don't have regrets. Let's face it, man, I've had a really good time. Socially and living a life that's very blessed and very lucky. I've worked hard, obviously, to make that luck. It [drinking] was part of my job. I grew up playing in bars. I started when I was 16 and back then nobody ever heard of AA or anything like that. I was hanging around with a bunch of musicians, and it was kind of what we did. It wasn't even looked down upon at that point. If you're in a bar and playing a song that people like, everybody is buying you a drink. Then you get into a big rock 'n' roll band, and it just kind of escalates. It never really got out of hand. We always took care of business. When I found that was slipping a bit -- and it took 30 years for that to actually happen -- I decided to pare that stuff down. Now I've successfully done it. I think my life is better for it.
Were you ever scared about what was happening?
I wasn't scared for myself. I was scared for the people around me because it always has a ripple effect. When I was seeing that ripple effect happen, that's what really jolted me back to reality. Nothing was waning in business, but it just wasn't working for me physically or personally. That needed to change. I sought the help, and I got it. I'm so much happier now.
You wrote the song "I'll Always Walk Beside You" for your 14-year-old daughter, Ava. What kind of father are you?
I'm a really good father. The biggest joy in my life is my daughter. One of the biggest challenges when you become a single parent is how you are going to take that detrimental situation and turn it into an opportunity to get closer to your child. I did it quite pragmatically. I went to a psychologist and learned where she was in her development. I took it very seriously. I think we've done it correctly. We became closer after the divorce.
How did the song come about?
I guess it was about two years ago. There was a picture of her and I walking down the street in my hometown when she was little. It's a picture that is shot from behind. I had it blown up and on the bottom of the picture I had "Ava, I'll always walk beside you. Love, Daddy." I put it in a frame and gave it to her for her birthday. This was the last song I wrote for this record.
As you mentioned, you do go out with a lot of famous women. Those relationships have had very public breakups. What have you learned about love over the years?
Look, I love being in love, and there are so many different kinds of love. Whether it's love with your family, romantic love, with friends, and then there is love of life. I've been lucky to experience it all. Obviously, because of my life and a lot of time on the road, love is challenged. I had to create some kind of balance. I would love to get into another relationship that had some promise. Romantic love can be fleeting. It comes in and out of scope within your life. I've learned not to have a tremendous amount of expectation about how long it's going to last. So, when it does happen, it is very special. I would like to have it hang around.
What's next for Bon Jovi?
The band's record is already done. Toward the end of my record, Jon and I started writing the band's record, and we finished it a couple months back. I was a very busy boy this year.
Whatever happened to Tommy and Gina from "Livin' on a Prayer?"
We brought them back in "It's My Life." That was the first time we ever used characters in our songs. They were the quintessential New Jersey, working-class couple. At that particular point in time, it became everybody. Everyone saw a point in their life when they were living as Tommy and Gina or they were living Tommy and Gina right now. That was a magical song. I think it was my first realization that songwriting is a very universal thing.
After everything you've accomplished, what are you the most proud of?
Obviously my daughter is number one. Then, any time you reach someone with a song is a proud moment.
"Aftermath of the Lowdown" is available Sept. 18. "Every Road Leads Home To You" is available now on www.richiesambora.com.