by Randi Reed
I hope everyone affected by the subject of this post understands why I’m writing it. Longtime readers of MusicBizAdvice.com know my mission: to give musicians the truth and help them protect their interests, even when it’s hard to hear. This post has certainly been hard for me to write.
Today I’m breaking my policy of never speaking publicly about an artist, because someone’s health is at stake, and our mutual friends and colleagues are worried. It concerns Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora and his future with the band.
2013 is the 30th anniversary of the release of Jon’s first single, “Runaway” and of the subsequent formation of the band Bon Jovi. Unfortunately, the band’s anniversary is overshadowed by Richie Sambora’s absence from their current tour to promote the band’s 12th studio album, What About Now.
“Personal issues” was the explanation given for Richie’s absence. Guitarist Phil X was hired to stand in, and the first leg of the tour came and went. Richie was still absent when the band hit the UK and Europe on the next leg of the tour, and Jon Bon Jovi said questions regarding Richie’s absence were best answered by Richie himself. (Bon Jovi have never been a band to air their dirty laundry in public, and as Richie Sambora’s employer, legally Jon Bon Jovi can’t speak about him due to privacy laws.) Meanwhile, Richie stayed mum and began promoting his fashion line with Nikki Lund, leaving fans baffled as speculation about his employment status went public via the tabloids. Now well into the band’s August break, Richie appears to be more focused on the fashion line than music.
I’ve been in and around bands since I was a kid, and I’ve seen this scenario play out before. From a personal standpoint, it’s especially sad to see this happen, because Bon Jovi was the first globally successful artist whose entire career (thus far) I’ve observed.
There’s much I could say about Bon Jovi from a professional and personal standpoint…like that time when, as a young intern new to the job, I picked up my boss’s phone to hear a voice I recognized from MTV interviews. It was Jon calling to negotiate his own deal. (It took maybe less than five minutes, everyone hung up happy, and it’s still the most amicable negotiation I’ve ever witnessed. I learned a lot from Jon that day.) Since then we’ve had many mutual colleagues and friends, and I’ve known the real story of what’s happening with Richie and the band for a while.
Again, it’s not my policy to speak publicly about artists. But the tabloid media are spreading tales that my colleagues and I know are lies, and it’s getting uglier, so here’s the truth:
1. Richie has NOT been fired. As one of my colleagues said, “Jon’s not going to kick a man when he’s down.”Additionally, Bon Jovi band policy is, as an original member of the band, Richie retains the title of “Bon Jovi Guitarist.” Whether or not Richie is actively using his title depends on him.
2. Richie is in control of his own destiny in the band, and there are conditions and parameters for his return if he wants to come back. He can’t just walk in and be welcomed back with open arms as if nothing has happened. Jon and the band love Richie and want him to be well, and his health is the most important thing to everyone. They want to welcome him back, as long as he’s healthy.
3. If you have a job, no matter what your title is, from Walmart Associate, to CEO of a Fortune 500 company, to Wall Street magnate, if there are multiple instances when you don’t show up for work and no one can reach you, there are repercussions. If you’re an athlete on a sports team and are a no-show without talking to the coach or the team, you’re suspended. If you’re in the army and you don’t show up, you go jail. And for all those jobs, when you show up, you must be physically able and ready to perform your job.
Being a rock star is no different. If you don’t show up or are physically unable to perform when you do show up, there are repercussions.
People count on you to be there: the audience who paid to see you (and maybe even traveled to do so). The fans who support you. Your crew members who take care of you and help you sound great and look pretty. Your Brothers onstage. Your singing partner. The talent buyer, record label, and partners in your 360 deal. Your corporate sponsors, and the TV and radio networks who invest millions of dollars to present your talent. The venue staff. All those people count on you to show up and do your job with the same excellence you ask of them.
4. It kills me to say this…but I happen to know there are multiple times when Richie didn’t show up for work, or was unfortunately physically unable to perform.
There are multiple, documented times when Richie was physically unable to perform at the band’s important events– including live concert broadcasts attended by press and music industry people who are important to the band’s career. The “Unplugged” show in Brooklyn is just one example of an event when Richie was unreliable.
5. This is not about slagging Richie. It’s about concern for Richie’s health.
6. Everyone wants Richie to be healthy, happy, and well. They all love Richie and are united in this. There’s no “Team Jon” and “Team Richie.” It’s The Brotherhood.
7. The major news organizations who copied and pasted or cited the “Rumorfix” article as a source never called the Bon Jovi organization for comment. They did this to stretch out headlines and get more ratings and page views out of it. When people learn the truth, there’s no more story.
8. Someone who has a lot to gain–I won’t mention names–is orchestrating a full-on media takedown of Jon Bon Jovi, and they’re taking advantage of the fact that Jon, as Richie Sambora’s employer, is legally prevented from saying anything about Richie’s absence from the band. Even worse, the people orchestrating the attack are using unsuspecting, well-meaning Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora fans to do it.
That’s why I’m writing this: my colleagues and friends are hurting, and we all hate what these people are doing.
9. It’s painful for Jon’s friends and colleagues to watch Jon take the fall for his Brother Richie’s actions and take the high road while people make up tabloid lies about Jon. (Would you be strong enough to do that for a friend?)
Everyone I’ve ever known in the industry who has worked with Jon Bon Jovi says he’s a good guy who inspires decades-long loyalty. I’ve never heard anyone who’s worked with him say anything bad about him (and believe me, they say plenty about other people).
10. Everyone I’ve ever dealt with in the Bon Jovi organization has been a pleasure to work with. In any organization, the CEO sets the tone, and it comes from the top down. Bon Jovi’s teamwork, loyalty, and “can do” spirit start with Jon Bon Jovi.
One of the things people like about working with Jon and the Bon Jovi organization is that when the project begins, their first question is a sincere, “What can we do to help?” Or “What do you need from us?” Later, they follow up with “Do you have everything you need?” It’s such a simple thing, but Bon Jovi is the only artist I’ve ever dealt with who does this consistently.
So to see Jon Bon Jovi portrayed as the bad guy by people who have their own agenda (or by their team of minions who’ve never worked with, let alone met anyone in the band’s orbit) is unfair beyond words. It’s also unfair and disrespectful to Tico Torres, David Bryan, Hugh McDonald, and Bobby Bandiera, who have known and worked with Jon since he was a teenager. It’s also unfair to Phil X, who’s doing a fantastic job in a strange situation.
I’m not a spokesperson for the band, nor do I work for the band, but I’ll try to address some concerns Bon Jovi fans may have, based on what I know:
1. “The Brotherhood” is real. As a band, Bon Jovi may be big business, but they’re not just business. After 30 years together, the ones on the inner circle think of each other as Brothers. That doesn’t mean they don’t have disagreements, or that they don’t get angry or frustrated with each other. As in any family, you can laugh with your brother, you can cry with your brother, or you can be irritated or even angry with your brother, but you still love him no matter what and want him to be OK.
2. The band and crew hate the whole “Team Jon” and “Team Richie” thing. Jon hates it when the band’s fans fight amongst themselves. That goes against the concept of the Brotherhood. These are the guys who wrote “Undivided,” remember?
This situation isn’t about hate. It’s about love…tough love, but love nonetheless. It’s also about worry, and about fear for someone’s health.
3. The onstage chemistry between Jon and Richie was real. Here’s how I see it: I once saw a T.V. interview with Lucille Ball in which she talked about working with Desi Arnaz on “I Love Lucy”(a huge pop culture phenomenon of a TV show) and about making people laugh when their marriage was collapsing. Lucy and Desi were collaborative partners who were great onstage together. In the interview, Lucy said, “It helped to go to work.“ What she meant by this was, onstage, the magic was still there. I think that’s how it would be with the band if Richie came back healthy.
4. As to why Jon didn’t cancel the tour, this answer is based only on my experience in the industry:
i. “The Show Must Go On” for the people who bought tickets, and for the crew, who count on that employment. There are only so many tours out at a time, with very few crew slots available.
ii. Contractual obligations to AEG and the label. A recording contract includes promotional clauses that require artist and label to each do their part to promote an album, and a 360 label deal structure brings additional weight and meaning to the word “promotion”. Jon’s label is owned by one of the largest media organizations in the US, so it’s advantageous to keep them happy. Regarding AEG, the Michael Jackson O2 Arena contract for ten shows had a clause that gave AEG the right to sue for $24Million if Michael could not perform. You can imagine how large that figure would be for an entire long tour. (Tour insurance coverage varies depending on the situation…I’ve seen a situation where an artist with a cancer diagnosis had a hard time getting the insurance company to pay, and another where a flaky artist cancelled with no hassle from the insurance company. Then there’s the question of whether or not everyone in a given band is insurable.)
There you have it. I’ve given you facts and I stand by my words enough to post them under my real name. Hopefully, you understand this was written out of concern for Richie’s health and that no one wants anything to happen to him. He has not been fired, and the band wants to welcome him back if he’s healthy and meets the conditions and parameters for his return.
August 27, 2013