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Bon Jovi brings a little Detroit metal and muscle on the road

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013

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The idea of Bon Jovi rolling into town has a different meaning these days.

The key feature of the group's stadium shows on its current Because We Can Tour is the massive front end of a 1959 Buick Electra 225, prime Detroit metal that's been recreated in 131-foot-wide form to sit behind the band, complete with working headlights, and gives frontman Jon Bon Jovi a second level to romp around. It's an arresting and unique image -- and nearly didn't happen.

"Like every stage, I sit in on design meetings, and the guy we use, Spike Brant, presented me with a couple designs that were the usual kind of bandshell look," recalls Bon Jovi, 51. "And on the last page, in the corner was a little rendering of a car. I said, 'Can you build it?' He said, 'Yeah, I can?' 'Is it practical?' 'I think it can be.'

"And he delivered. Sometimes I've hit it with stages and sometimes I've missed. But this one is one he hit the grand slam with. It's really spectacular."

The massive vehicle has been named Sofia -- after the Bulgarian city where it debuted on May 14 -- and Bon Jovi says it worked perfectly for the tour's European leg.

"I think that we are so representative of American pop culture the world over, so it's a natural fit," explains the New Jersey rocker. "It's Americana. It's who and what we are. That hood and the hood ornament and the way it stands there and shines and changes its hue. It's really great.

"So, yeah, I'm very anxious to take it to America. You want to show it to your friends and neighbors from Met Life Stadium in New Jersey to our first time in (Detroit's) Ford Field to (Boston's) Gillette Stadium 'cause we're so proud of it. And then we get to take it to Japan and Australia and South America -- so I'm getting ot use it a lot, which is nice...

"Especially for what it costs!" Bon Jovi adds with a laugh.

Bon Jovi is no stranger to big, of course. Since 1983 he and his band have sold more than 130 million albums worldwide and scored a slew of hit singles, including chart-topping smashes such as "You Give Love a Bad Name," "Livin' on a Prayer," "Bad Medicine" and "I'll Be There For You." Bon Jovi's touring statistics are just as impressive; more than 35 million fans have attended the group's 2,800 concerts in 55 countries.

Another two million are expected to be added to that total by the time the Because We Can Tour wraps, while the album it's promoting, "What About Now," became the group's third consecutive No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 when it was released in early March.

It's not been a completely smooth drive, however.

In April, guitarist Richie Sambora -- who released a solo album, "Aftermath of the Lowdown," in September -- abruptly left the group before its April swing of Canada for unspecified "personal" reasons, which led to speculation about some sort of schism between he and Jon Bon Jovi and also between Sambora and Bon Jovi's wife, Dorothea. Sambora had taken a leave of absence during Bon Jovi's 2011 tour to enter rehab.

Bon Jovi maintains that Sambora's situation is "a personal issue" and that the other band members "miss him, love him and he's welcome back when he's ready. He's going through some stuff -- that's all I can tell ya. It's difficult for me, but that's the story." Sambora, who co-produced "What About Now" and co-wrote five of its songs, recently teased the idea of returning in September but nothing has yet been announced.

Meanwhile, Bon Jovi is moving forward, promoting an album its namesake says came as something of a surprise.

"At the end of the last tour, in August of 2011, I told everybody that we weren't going to work for awhile," he recalls with a chuckle. "And as I have done before I stretched the truth. By September of 2011 I was anxious to start writing." And he had a firm idea of what he wanted to write about.

"It was a moment in time," explains Bon Jovi. "My palette was going to be the world around me at the time, so this is a snapshot of the world in which I lived from August of '11 to June of '12, and it included a first-term Obama America as well as what was happening with corporate downsizing and America coming out of the economic downturn, as well as where we were in our own lives -- in addition to a couple of fictional stories, like 'Amen.' "

It's hardly typical sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll fare, but Bon Jovi argues that he's been doing much more than that since he wrote about the working class plight of Tommy and Gina in 1986's "Livin' on a Prayer" -- starting a charitable Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation in 2006, building the JBJ Soul Kitchen in Philadelphia and serving as a Founding Ambassador for Habitat For Humanity and is part of the White House Council for Community Solutions.

He also recently donated $1 million to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.

"You can say, 'Oh yeah, well, you're a famous rock star with lots of money. You're disconnected.' I understand. But I'm not. I pay attention," Bon Jovi says. "Yeah, at 21 all I cared about was a first record and at 25 we were blessed with the opportunity to have (1986's multi-platinum) 'Slippery When Wet.' But, thank God, I did say when I was 25 that I didn't want to be 50 years old, painting 'Bitch!' on my belly and painting my fingernails black.

"Fortunately, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, because I didn't."

Bon Jovi and the J. Geils Band perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 18, at Ford Field, 2000 Brush St., Detroit. Tickets are $19.50-$129t. Call 313-262-2013 or visit www.detroitlions.com.

Web Site: www.detroitlions.com

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