Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora has done everything he can to live up to his job description. He's shredded solos in stadiums across the planet, married and divorced a famous actress (Heather Locklear), been to rehab and experienced all the excesses, pitfalls and perks of international superstardom. As the song goes, he's seen a million faces and he's rocked them all.
However, Sambora is sometimes portrayed as the
Robin to Jon Bon Jovi's Batman, the Watson to Jon's Sherlock. Now that
Bon Jovi has some downtime between album and tour cycles, Sambora is
stepping into his own well-deserved spotlight with his third solo album,
Aftermath of the Lowdown, out September 18th. For the first
time in his 30-year career, Sambora signed with an independent label,
Dangerbird, instead of sticking with the majors (Bon Jovi has stayed
with Universal Music Group, home of Sambora's previous solo albums).
Sambora chatted with Rolling Stone about his master plan for
his new album and asserting his independence while staying fully
aligned with his legendary main band.
Aftermath is a totally different animal than your previous solo albums.
very, very happy with this record. When you're making a record, you try
to achieve stylistically what fits on you. Like a good old coat, you
know what I mean? With this record, I've achieved that. I feel really
very good. The reason I called it Aftermath of the Lowdown is
because when you give somebody the lowdown, that's the truth. And when
you tell somebody the truth, there's an aftermath to it. So the songs
are the aftermath of my particular story, of my life experience over the
Bon Jovi recently came back from an
incredible, extremely successful world tour. You were selling out
stadiums around the globe. At what point did you start getting material
together that was specifically for a solo album?
didn't start writing until the tour was over. We did a mammoth
18-and-a-half month tour, 52 countries. The first 12 months was named
the biggest tour on the planet; that was pretty amazing. Actually, you
know, I got home, I took a 10-day vacation with my daughter, and I came
back to my house and I was extremely energized and I knew that was going
to be my window. So right then and there, I started. I didn't know what
was going to happen. I just said, "You know what, I'm going to start
writing some songs and see what happens." Once I started writing, I
really liked the material and it was authentic, passionate and honest.
And that's what makes a really good record. So there was a bit of magic
happening right off the bat. Building the foundation of this record,
obviously, was the writing process.
The lyrics are very
heartfelt. You have, "Every heartache's a blessing/ Every knockdown was a
start." I know you touched upon this with the album title, but did you
intentionally set out to make a record that was so intensely personal?
I found, interestingly enough, through the ups and downs of my life
over the past decade since I made my other solo record, and all the
stuff that I've gone through in my life over the past decade – this
record is basically about my stuff. And what I really found out is that
my stuff is pretty universal. The stuff that I've gone through isn't
that alien. The stuff that I've gone through, anybody can go through in
their lives and they probably will. Ups and downs and things like that.
So I really felt like everybody can relate to these lyrics and make them
their own. At the end of it, when I looked back on it, that's really
what I've found.
You're exactly right except, perhaps,
for "Seven Years Gone" because of the specific number of years. That
one's about your ex-wife?
About seven years ago, life for me
started to take kind of a little bit of a dip. I was getting divorced,
my father was dying of cancer at that point in time, so things were
definitely at a transformative period in my life. And then all of the
sudden, I looked up, when I started writing this record, and I said,
"Wow! Seven years gone!" It really went by very quickly. I started to
think about the transference of time. My God, it's like, all of the
sudden, I've been in this business for 30 years now and all the amazing
stuff that's happened to me. So I guess it was kind of a reflection on
all that kind of stuff, and I think anybody can relate to that.
know what else I found during the making of the record? Pain and
struggle are necessary, and challenging situations like that are
necessary, for you to actually find your freedom and move on. The
essential message of this record is freedom. A song like "Taking a
Chance on the Wind" – about "Raising my flag/ And taking my chance on
the wind" – it's all about risk. But, it's like, people ask me, "Why'd
you make this record, Richie? Wasn't it a risk to make such a record?"
And I say, "It would've been a risk not to make this record." I had to
get this stuff out. It was a cathartic thing for me to do this album.
And also, just to express my individuality away from the band.
think that's probably why I went with an independent record company.
That's why I went with Dangerbird. All this about "raising my flag" –
independence. That's what I wanted, you know? I wanted independence from
stuff that I knew before.
When I first heard some of
these songs, they sounded like they came out of jams. There's this
freshness and immediacy to it that feels like a bunch of guys in the
studio playing from their hearts.
Thank you. That's what it
was. At the end of the day, I was trying to capture my independence
through this music. I love being in Bon Jovi and I'm going to obviously
continue with that band and it's going to be fun. But when you can
actually break free as an individual and have the great opportunity to
go in and make a record like this, where, like you said, a guy like
me... I don't really care about the press. I don't mean to sound like
an asshole but I don't care about the press. What I do care about is
having an artistic opportunity like this.
It's a classic
rock album in a sense. There's metal, there's rock, there's blues – the
elements. It's a timeless kind of music. But I know you have a teenage
daughter. Does she keep you updated with new music and new styles like,
for instance, electronic stuff?
Ah, bro, check it out. This
new record also definitely sounds modern. The guys that I play with are
younger than me; I made sure of that. So we added very much of a younger
flavor and my voice actually sounds younger than I am.
daughter is an essential part of my listening process; she turns me onto
stuff all the time. We went to Coachella this year together. I stayed
for the whole three days and saw everybody. It was a blast. And to be
honest with you, I had never really experienced this electronica stuff
before. I really took a shining to this kid Madeon who's a DJ but he
adds music and he really plays to the crowd. I thought he was really
brilliant. I got a chance to talk to him afterwards.
But I'm the kind of guy [where] I buy two or three new records per
week. I spend a lot of time on the treadmill staying in shape these
days, so I like to listen to new records when I'm on the treadmill. And
also I got a lot of friends that send me their Spotify playlists. The
other musicians in my band and my producer, who did a stunning job on
this record, is always giving me stuff to listen to. Always inspires me.
Anything that's out new I like to pick up and listen to and then I've
got my classic diet of old blues that I bring out of the closet too, you
This is a solo project, not a side project. You
get to assume the role of dictator. In Bon Jovi, does Jon assume the
dictator role or is it a democratic process that you all get to
At the end of the day, Jon has to be out
there; he has to be the mouthpiece. So I mean, even from a writing
standpoint, essentially, I'm really writing for Jon to actually sing
those lyrics. But luckily, we grew up five miles away from each other, a
couple years apart, in the same place, the same kind of blue-collar
work ethic of New Jersey and stuff like that. We have a lot of common
ground, so it's quite easy. But obviously when I'm making a record like
this, like you said, the words for me are uncensored because I get a
chance to tell my story here.
And also I think what was important
to me as I'm growing up – because I always think I'm growing up and I
still think of myself as a kid – [is that] I hope I'm going to be able
to change people's perspective as to who I am. As a lead vocalist, as an
artist in his own right, away from the band. Because I think that my
music also has merit and I think that it has a lot to offer people.
had a very, very interesting view of the planet over the last 30 years,
touring as excessively as I have. And music is the most evocative,
transformative, connective force in humanity, man. I've seen it
firsthand. I've seen it all over the world, how it connects people. I'm
hoping that my music can be a part of that whole energy.
last question, something I just have to ask: Alec John Such left Bon
Jovi in 1994. Hugh McDonald has handled bass duties since then, but he's
rarely in any of the official photos nor is he listed as an official
member. Eighteen years into it, is he finally part of the brotherhood?
exactly where he is right now. It's exactly where he came in, but he's
obviously a treasured piece of what the band is. I think that Jon just
wants to keep the integrity of the five guys that started this unit and
that's what it is.