Bon Jovi is a rock band whose enormous popularity made them famous worldwide in the 1980s, and that fame has kept them going into the 21st century. The band, fronted by lead singer and namesake Jon Bongiovi, blends energetic guitar riffs with emotionally charged power ballads to create a highly popular sound. They also maintain a strong presence on the live stage, where they have earned an international reputation.
The group started in Sayreville, New Jersey in 1980. It was founded by Jon Bongiovi and bassist David Bryan, who recruited drummer Tico Torres from a local cover band and guitarist Alec John Such from another local band that had a record deal with Polygram. They recorded a demo called Runaway, which got some regional radio play and caught the attention of major label executive Derek Shulman. That got Bon Jovi’s name out there, but it took some time to get the band established.
By the end of the decade, Slippery When Wet and New Jersey had become huge hits. The band toured relentlessly, and the massive success of those albums led to an appearance at the first Farm Aid concert in 1985. It wasn’t long before Bon Jovi surpassed their MTV glam peers and became one of the biggest American rock bands of all time.
But unlike many of their big-haired ’80s peers, Bon Jovi managed to adapt to changing times without losing their identity or fan base. They lessened their dependence on arena rock guitars, emphasized melody and added some elements of soft rock and country. It was a move that helped them remain relevant as the decade drew to a close, and it has served them well into the current era.
With the release of the aptly named Bon Jovi 2020, the band is once again at the forefront of mainstream American rock. Its lyrics are both direct and politically charged, qualities that crystallized on the album’s pre-release singles American Reckoning and Do What You Can.
As Bon Jovi prepares for a tour that will take them to every corner of the world, GQ spoke with lead singer and songwriter Jon Bongiovi about his career and the state of America at large.
When I interviewed Jon in February, prior to the pandemic lockdown, he and his wife were still running their two community restaurants and food bank near their homes in hard-hit New Jersey and Long Island. During the lockdown, they were working around the clock to support thousands of people in need.
When I met him at his Hamptons home in March, the house was full of family and friends. He was celebrating the launch of a new line of rose wine, Diving into Hampton Water, that he and his wife created with the help of well-known French winemaker Gérard Bertrand. The wine is produced in the Languedoc-Roussillon region and is sold for $25 a bottle. A portion of the proceeds will benefit their foundation. Jon’s priorities have never changed.