American Songwriter July/August Cover Story: Jon Bon Jovi on Finding His Voice—“I Had Realized That I Had Found Joy Again”

It all comes down to joy for Jon Bon Jovi, even if it’s been difficult to catch and bottle throughout the past few years. By 2019, Bon Jovi had completed their 15th album, titled 2020. They were unaware of what the coming year would bring: a pandemic that would upend everything, including the band’s tour. Ultimately, 2020 ended up conveying the times even better than intended. That especially goes for “American Reckoning,” a song Bon Jovi wrote following the murder of George Floyd.

Videos by American Songwriter

“Although I still love 2020, we were all in lockdown during the pandemic, and I was the narrator on all of those songs and writing from that perspective,” Bon Jovi tells American Songwriter. “Obviously, it didn’t bring a lot of joy that whole period in all of our lives. The record before that, This House Is Not for Sale, as much as I loved it and stand by everything [on it], it was a statement record, and it didn’t emanate a lot of joy.”

[RELATED: Exclusive: Jon Bon Jovi Rebounds From Vocal Strife To Be a ‘Forever’ Rockstar]

When the band’s 2022 tour wrapped up on May 17 at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, joy still wasn’t in the cards as Bon Jovi faced one of the biggest challenges of his life: he needed surgery to repair a vocal cord that had atrophied. “When you can hit those high notes, there’s no better feeling than that,” he says in the 2024 Hulu docuseries Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story.

The four-part series moves through the inception of the Bon Jovi band and its timeline through to the present. It addresses Bon Jovi’s vocal struggles, his surgery, and a recovery period during which he began writing “Hollow Man,” the first song written for the band’s 16th album, Forever.

“What was different for me is I had realized, ultimately, that I had found joy again,” says Bon Jovi on writing Forever. “With this record, and looking at the 40th anniversary and the doc, as well as the archiving with one foot looking back and the other looking ahead, I could reassess everything and really just think of joy.”

The Forever song “Legendary” serves as something of a focus track for the album, Bon Jovi says. “‘Legendary’ captured exactly what I was looking to capture, and that lyric in that chorus had deep meaning to me: Got a fistful of friends that’ll stand up for me / Right where I am is where I wanna be. At this time, after This House Is Not for Sale and after 2020, it reiterates what I was just saying about that joy and looking back while looking ahead.”

On Forever, Bon Jovi also reconnected with longtime collaborator and co-writer Billy Falcon, who has been a friend since the late ‘70s and worked with the band up until the 2000 album Crush. Falcon’s hand in co-writing was especially helpful after the departure of co-founding Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora in 2013. “He’s been an incredible collaborator over the years here,” says Bon Jovi of Falcon.

The Hulu documentary doesn’t shy away from covering Sambora’s abrupt departure from the band during their Because We Can tour. It’s an event that clearly took some time for the band to recover from. As Bon Jovi’s other half, vocally and as a co-writer from the start, Sambora’s absence is something the singer admits left a “void.” 

From his earlier days in a band called The Rest, where he first “learned songwriting,” to his momentous collaboration with songwriter and producer Desmond Child—which would produce the breakthrough Slippery When Wet album and its mega-hits “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer”—Bon Jovi emphasizes that a small army is to thank for the band Bon Jovi’s incredible story and legacy of songs.

“Everyone along the way was a part of the lesson,” says Bon Jovi. “And everyone’s contributions along the way made for us having this conversation today. But there’s certainly a lot more delight at this place in my life now than I had on the first album in 1983. Life gives an opportunity to write.”

Bon Jovi references the Forever track “Kiss the Bride” as a perfect example of the universe providing for good songwriting material. It’s a piano-driven ballad he wrote for his daughter Stephanie Rose Bongiovi and serves as a sequel to another song he wrote for her from the album Crush, “I Got the Girl.” “The ability to write about your own life,” he says, “comes into focus with experience.”

Writing generally means “emotional overload” for Bon Jovi. When he’s “in the mode,” there’s a notebook by his bed. That habit allowed him to pen another Forever ballad, “I Wrote You a Song,” for his wife of 35 years, Dorothea.

“I will wake up in my sleep and write things down, and it’s all-encompassing,” shares Bon Jovi. “The entire day revolves around it. And when I’m done with the mixes and the mastering, I can set my mind [at ease]. Up until the mixes, you’re still tweaking. You think, ‘Oh, I should change this word or make that line better.’ Then I shut it off.”

Bon Jovi adds, “When it’s time again, I know it. [I’ll be] coming up with a line or two in my sleep or during the course of the day. I just know when it’s coming again. But I’ve been confident enough over the years to know when I can turn it on or off.”

Bon Jovi (Photo by Mark Seliger)

Looking back on the band’s older songs, particularly those from their 1984 debut, Bon Jovi, is like going through old family photos for the group’s frontman. “I look back fondly on the first record, as you would your baby pictures,” Bon Jovi says. “I knew very little about the endeavor I was embarking on then. I was 21 years old. I had only been writing songs for a couple of years at that point, yet it seemed like you had your whole life to write the first one. The second one, you had three months to write, and you were rushed into it—by yourself, mind you, not by anyone else.”

The band’s disappointment with their second album, 7800° Fahrenheit, is also documented in Thank You, Goodnight. “We were rushed into the second one, but that was a very naive time as well,” shares Bon Jovi. “With the third one [Slippery When Wet], we started to realize what the process could be, and how it could be better, and how things work in a bigger live setting with a diverse audience, and not just a bar somewhere.”

He continues, “Some collaborators along the way help teach you tricks of the trade, and then you evolve, and you start developing your own personal voice. Then there are other things to say when you get married. You have things to say when you have kids. You have things to say when you have loss in your life. And given the opportunity, you can put them in rhyme and tell your story.”

Also revealed in the docuseries is the archiving of a large collection of unreleased Bon Jovi songs, including “Cadillac Man,” a track Bon Jovi co-wrote with Sambora years ago. “That’s part of this process. And with the archiving, the doc, and now the album, there’s so much right now where all of those chapters will come nine or 12 months from now,” says Bon Jovi.

[RELATED: Jon Bon Jovi on Buying Back His First Guitar, a Univox, After 45 Years: “It’s Where It Belongs”]

A recurring word uttered throughout Thank You, Goodnight is “legacy,” and although Bon Jovi’s is plenty impressive already, it’s also still taking shape. “If anything, you want to continue to make quality work, and if there’s anything I could ever ask for, it would be to be able to do it again,” says Bon Jovi. “And that’s up to…not me. But I will always be able to write a song, and at this point, I could certainly make a record.

“Then,” he adds, “the question is, ‘Can I go out on a real tour?’ And I’m working towards that. I feel confident that I eventually will.”

It’s been two years since the surgery, and Bon Jovi is still recovering. But he passed a big milestone in the process on February 2, 2024, when he turned in his first post-surgery live performance at a gala honoring him as the MusicCares Person of the Year. He sang “Legendary” from the new album and then was joined by Bruce Springsteen to cover the Boss’s “The Promised Land” and Bon Jovi’s  “It’s My Life.”

“I’m still in the process, to be honest,” Bon Jovi says of rebuilding his vocal stamina. “It’s day to day. I’m just working hard at it.” Whether the band will hit the road again is still unclear. “Who knows,” he says of touring. “I’m not at that juncture yet, and that’s okay.”

Bon Jovi is still reflecting on the past 40 years since his band’s debut. “I think the only thing I can hope for is that the songs will live in the hearts of the listener and give them the same joy that they’ve given us,” he says. “And I see that all the time. You hear these songs on your radio and streaming services, or at a sporting event, or in a school play, or on a TV show or a movie… This catalog has far exceeded anything we could have ever dreamt up.

“It’s been a fun journey.”

Photo by Emily Shur

Leave a Reply

3 Artists That Don Henley Dislikes

Why ‘London Calling’ Is The Clash’s Greatest Album of All Time