Richie Sambora, producer, singer songwriter and former lead guitarist with Bon Jovi, chats with Kevin Cooper about turning down KISS, leaving Bon Jovi, his new studio album and being a special guest on Bad Company’s forthcoming Swan Song Tour of the UK
Richie Sambora is an American rock guitarist, producer, singer and songwriter who was the lead guitarist of the rock band Bon Jovi for thirty years. After replacing original lead guitarist Dave Sabo, he and Jon Bon Jovi became firm friends and they were the song writing unit of the band.
Touring with Bon Jovi on their 2013 Because We Can Tour, Sambora did not turn up to perform for show number twenty one and for the remainder of the tour. He cited family reasons for having left the band, although there has always been speculation about differences between him and Jon.
His career has seen him release three solo albums; Stranger In This Town in 1991, Undiscovered Soul in 1998, and Aftermath Of The Lowdown, released in 2012.
He has now formed a band with girlfriend and fellow musician Orianthi, which they call RSO.
Whilst getting ready to tour as special guest with Bad Company on their Swan Song tour, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.
Hi Kevin, I’m great thanks for asking man.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today.
Ah, please my brother, thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Just how is life treating you?
I am so happy I can’t believe it man. I have just got back from playing over in South America, and thirty thousand people came out to see us one night which was pretty good. I have just played five shows in Australia which was a good way to finish this part of things off.
Can we get the elephant out of the room from the outset and speak briefly about Bon Jovi?
Yes certainly, go for it.
You spent thirty years in the band, was it an easy decision to walk away?
Of course not. I love those guys and I also love the Bon Jovi legacy which I helped to build. I had been in the band for thirty years and the problem was that we were not a band who liked taking breaks. If you look at other bands; The Rolling Stones for example will take a couple of years off from the business and more importantly, from each other. U2 will do that too, in fact most successful organisations actually do that, but we never did. To be honest with you I think that I had become burnt out simply because of all of the constant touring. I had missed an awful lot of my daughter’s life and she needed me right then and so I needed to be with her.
Also at that point in time I didn’t think that the band was growing together. Jon (Bon Jovi) and I had different ideas as to how things would be and whatever that was; it was at least time for a break.
Once you had taken the decision to leave the band did it feel like the shackles were finally off?
Absolutely. I have been making solo records since way back in 1991 so I have always had my own chops. At that point I really wanted to get back to singing again. That is one of the other reasons as to why I left the band. I thought to myself that if I was ever going to do it alone, then it should be round about now. The thirty-one years that I put into the band I am very, very proud of. We did a lot of stuff that nobody else had ever done. We broke a lot of ground and made a lot of people happy all over the world. So there you go.
So is it a case of never say never, or has the Bon Jovi ship well and truly sailed?
I don’t know. That is an impossible question to answer. You never say never because you never know what is going to happen. But there is no specific plan at this moment in time. Jon is very happy with what he is currently doing, and I certainly am with what I am doing. But you never know what is in the future. I am not saying yay or nay.
You mention your solo albums; one of my favourites is Aftermath Of The Lowdown. I have been playing that now for two years and I think that it really is a great piece of work.
Ah thank you man, I love that record, I really do. There are a lot of good songs on that record along with some great playing. I had a great time when we toured it; it was fantastic. However, at that point I ran into some really bad luck with the record label that I was working with. I was barely two weeks into my contract with the label and the President quit and the whole record company went right down the drain (laughter). You get your good luck and you get your bad luck in this business and that was one of them. You just have to shake it off and remain flexible because at some point your life will change man.
I really do love the track Every Road Leads Home To You. What was the inspiration behind that?
That song was written about my daughter. What you have to remember is that I was single when I was making that record and all of the love songs are written about my daughter. It came very easily for me because as the songs says every road leads home to my daughter, “I’ve got your picture on my phone, your voice in my head, I’m lying here alone from far away beds” I was spending my time thinking about her. I simply wanted to get back home to my daughter; that’s the inspiration behind the song. However, I kept the lyric open enough so that you are able to sing the song about your family, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your sister, your brother, your best friend, even your dog (laughter). You could sing it about anybody. It has that universal kind of theme.
You are currently working on a new studio album. At what stage are you at with that?
When we come back from the tour we will finish off the rest of the songs although there is not that much work to do on them. Perhaps we might just sprinkle a little fairy dust over them, who knows (laughter). These songs came out of me like a fountain and I have written around sixty songs. Looking at it sensibly, I have two albums worth of songs written already.
Why not put out a double album on vinyl?
I would love to. However, I personally do not think that people have the retention for a double album anymore. It’s a shame but that is just how it is today. The music industry is just so fickle.
I hear that you have an all-star cast playing on the album?
That’s right. For example, we have Abraham “Abe” Laboriel Jr. the drummer who plays with Paul McCartney and Daryl Jones who has played bass for The Rolling Stones. They are both heavily featured on the new album. Robby Krieger from The Doors came into the studio the other day and played a tremendous solo on one of the songs. You just never know who is going to walk in. What I can tell you is that the album has a lot of different textures on there.
When the album is finally released will you tour with it over here in the UK?
Are you kidding me, the UK is one of my favourite places ever. It is one of the places that I really do like to play a lot. You guys took to the thing right off the bat, you have always treated me fantastically and I have nothing but good memories and a lot of good friends over there. Back when we started in the 80s there were not a lot of countries that were speaking English and we found it hard to communicate with the audiences. But song has the most transcendent power in the world man, because even in Japan where no one was speaking English, they knew every word to our songs (laughter).
I had no idea what they were talking about but they seemed to know what we were singing. It really was astounding because you could see them all singing along to the songs and you knew that they had no idea whatsoever as to what they were singing (laughter).
Are you constantly writing?
Yes I am, I am always writing, absolutely. I do most of my writing in the evenings, and try to have a song finished by breakfast (laughter). Strangely, I tend to write most of my songs on the piano, not the guitar.
You have both written and co-written some fantastic songs. Is there any one song that has given you the most pleasure?
Oh man, I don’t know. That is kind of an impossible question for me to answer. Obviously when you are playing live it is the stuff that gets to the people the most, but honestly I think that people are really excited to see me and hear what I am up to now as a solo artist. Whenever the audiences show up and they are excited, we ride along with that. We are having so much fun on stage that the people want to see us. The new songs actually do get the people excited, they really do. You will just have to come along to the show and see how you like them.
You are at The Motorpoint Arena here in Nottingham next week with Bad Company. What can we expect from your live performance, any surprises?
I am not going to be wearing any pants (laughter).
But that’s not a surprise (laughter).
I will be pant less on stage in Nottingham (laughter). Is that surprise enough for you. Being serious, it is always a challenge when you try to get your music across to an audience whenever you are supporting someone as huge as Bad Company. We have been given an hour on stage to play so I think that it would be fair to say that on this occasion the biggest surprise will be the new songs. It will be great to give the people the chance to see us in person. We are as excited as hell; we simply can’t wait.
Does touring still excite you?
More than ever now. It is always a challenge when a new audience doesn’t know much of your material and stuff like that. You are going out there trying to win them over. I have done that backwards by going out and touring for the past two years. I was actually touring instead of writing and it just kept on going.
I will be shooting the gig next week here in Nottingham and I am looking forward to hearing the new songs.
Hey man come backstage and see us. It would be great to hook up with you up there in Nottingham.
So are you looking forward to going out on the road with Bad Company?
Yes man, I really am. We are heading out with Bad Company for three weeks and then come home for a couple of days then head off to Tokyo. We are shocking and jiving (laughter). I really can’t wait to get back out on the road over there in the UK with Bad Company; I am a huge fan. I have been a huge fan since day one. I was signed to Swan Song Records but unfortunately my record was never released.
On the subject of Swan Song Records Simon Kirke recently told me that you used to make his coffee for him over there at the record company. Is that correct?
(Hysterical laughter) Is that what he told you (laughter). Simon actually played with Bon Jovi once on a TV show. Our drummer had been taken sick so Simon came over and filled in and he was a true gent. Back in the day Bad Company toured with Bon Jovi for a little while but it wasn’t this incarnation, Paul (Rodgers) wasn’t in the band at that time. It was Simon and Mick (Ralphs). I am a huge fan, I know every song note for note and if they ever want to call me up and ask me to play with them then I’m in (laughter).
I have to tell you that I actually do play a couple of Bad Company songs in my solo set anyway. However, I won’t be able to do them now that I am touring with them (laughter). That would be a very classless move on my part. Paul is one of my idols. Truthfully, he was the main reason why I wanted to be a singer along with all of those Motown guys like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Al Green. Paul has so much soul in his voice;, he has such an amazing voice. I am looking forward to just watching him perform.
It could have all been so much more different for you had you got the job with KISS.
(Laughter) oh my lord I can’t believe that story is still going around man. I was like nine and a half years old (laughter). I didn’t get the job because they wanted to hire a total KISS-a-mania sort of guy and that simply wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like KISS but I was more of a Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and The Beatles sort of guy. I just loved a different style of music to what they expected me to play.
I take it that you are in a happy place at the moment?
Oh man, we are having so much fun. As I said the shows over in Australia were great and we had so much fun over there. However, I have to say that I have probably eaten a little too much (laughter). I have to be honest with you and say that things have never been better my man.
What was the last piece of music or song that made you cry?
(Laughter) I will have to get back to you on that one. I was recently listening to a piece of music and I got choked up. It must have triggered a memory inside me. Unfortunately, I can’t recall what it was but it definitely happens.
You have had many highlights during your career but if I had to push you for just one what would it be?
(Hysterical laughter) I have had far too many highlights (laughter). I guess that when you get your first number one record it is a real highlight. But then when you have another twenty after that then those are all highlights. After a while it felt as though Bon Jovi had become the house band at Wembley Stadium because we always sold out whenever we played there (laughter). That was a highlight. Playing at Hyde Park for the first time in front of ninety-two thousand people was a highlight. The whole process of when you know that you have written something good is a highlight.
Then you go into the recording studio and record it and that is another highlight. The next highlight is when you go out and play the song live to the people and see how they react. There are so many great pieces which make up who we are and what we do.
You do a lot of fundraising for cancer awareness, which I am sure is really appreciated.
It is, thanks. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to give something back it is a wonderful thing. That is what you do if you can. If you can put on a show and raise money for people that are less fortunate than you, or you can donate something then that is what you do. Fingers crossed, that will at least get me the cheap seats in heaven (laughter). I will need a pair of binoculars to be able to see God sitting right at the back (laughter).
What was the first record that you bought?
That was Please, Please Me by The Beatles.
Who did you see first playing live in concert?
My first live show was Deep Purple.
Who has musically inspired you?
That is impossible for me to answer. I would have to say that everybody has inspired me. Whenever you take a look back though music as much as we do, then it is hard to pinpoint anyone in particular. However, I would have to say that Hendrix, Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Albert King, Freddie King, B.B. King and Muddy Waters are just some of the great guitar players who have influenced me. If you are talking about songwriters then I would have to say The Beatles, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul Simon and Keith (Richards) and Mick (Jagger). There are simply far too many influences and that is the great thing; it all becomes an amalgamation of all of those influences that come rushing out of you sometimes. It all comes from what excited you when you heard it back in the day as a kid.
Will we be seeing a Richie Sambora autobiography at any time?
People have been asking me to write my autobiography for years but they are all asking me to write the cheap cliché rock and roll crap. I am busy working on lots of other stuff so I have never taken the subject too seriously. I am the local guy who grew up next to a swamp whose father was a factory worker, but I managed to get out of there. I will be honest with you and say that if I do get around to putting everything down on paper then I will most definitely be speaking about my escapades, of which there were many. They all want me to write the cliché book so I keep telling them no, no, no.
On that note Richie let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure.
Thanks Kevin, you take care and come and say hi when we get to Nottingham. You take care.