The Bon Jovi Hit Richie Sambora Says He Hated and Will Never Play Again

Without the song “Runaway,” there’s a good chance Bon Jovi, the band, would never have happened. Who knows if John Bongiovi and the Wild Ones ever make it beyond New Jersey nightclubs?

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Though Richie Sambora left Bon Jovi in 2013, he enjoyed a long run with the band and is now a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. However, he doesn’t miss playing one of Bon Jovi’s crucial hits.

He’ll Never Play It Again

In 2014, Sambora told The Sydney Morning Herald, “The early Bon Jovi stuff I can’t stand. I just think we didn’t have our stylistic voice. But some people love some of that stuff.” Though fans often request “Runaway,” Sambora said, “I hate that song! I’ll never play it again.”

“Runaway” is famous for its driving keyboard riff, which may be what turned the guitarist against it. It’s also a track recorded before Sambora’s time with Jon Bon Jovi, though without it, his life would look very different.

The History of “Runaway”

Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote “Runaway” with George Karak. He recorded the song in 1982 as a solo artist, accompanied by studio musicians. The musicians included bassist Hugh McDonald (who unofficially joined Bon Jovi in 1994, replacing Alec John Such), guitarist Tim Pierce, drummer Frankie LaRocka, and keyboardist Roy Bittan from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

They recorded at the Power Station in New York City, and Johnny Bongiovi is listed as the artist on the session’s master tape. Bongiovi was turned away by record labels and management companies before “Runaway” became a radio hit independently.

New York radio station WAPP included “Runaway” on a 1983 compilation of local artists. He told NPR’s Fresh Air the radio station was “so new that I was able to not only walk into the station but knock on the deejay’s booth.”

Bongiovi handed a DJ named Chip Hobart a cassette of “Runaway.” Hobart listened and thought it sounded like a hit. The song eventually caught on in other markets, and soon, “Runaway” had the attention of record labels. The only thing missing was a band.

With keyboardist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres, bassist Alec John Such, and guitarist and vocalist Richie Sambora, Bongiovi solidified the classic lineup and recorded their self-titled debut album. (The band played on every track except “Runaway.”)

Bongiovi became Bon Jovi, similar to Van Halen, who also had a keyboard-driven hit in 1984 called “Jump.”

New York City Was a Different Place in the ’80s

The song follows a young girl who runs away from home and grows up quickly as she navigates her tumultuous existence on the streets.

On the street where you live
Girls talk about their social lives
They’re made of lipstick, plastic and paint
A touch of sable in their eyes

A young, eager Johnny Bongiovi traveled by bus from New Jersey to New York, working toward a music career. In the early ’80s, he observed kids living on the streets of Manhattan while New York City struggled with crime and drugs.  

Oh, she’s a little runaway
Daddy’s girl learned fast
All those things she couldn’t say
Ooh, she’s a little runaway

“Livin’ on a Prayer”

Bon Jovi’s first two albums sold moderately well. But major record labels are impatient entities, and the band assumed the third album would be their final opportunity.

However, Slippery when Wet became one of the decade’s biggest-selling albums. Bon Jovi hits like “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and “Wanted Dead or Alive” turned them into superstars.

Because of a relentless touring schedule, the band improved significantly between 1984 and 1986. The musicians were so inexperienced on the first album that you don’t notice the other members missing from “Runaway.”

Born to Run exists on another plane compared to the first two Bruce Springsteen albums. From the album cover to the songs and production, it’s wildly and profoundly different.

Even by Bon Jovi’s second album, 7800° Fahrenheit, they still sounded like a band that might wind up in a Michael Dudikoff film.

Shot Through the Heart

“You Give Love a Bad Name” sounds different. Sambora’s guitar playing evolved into something identifiable. Still, the most significant change is how Bon Jovi and Sambora sing together. As much as anything, that’s Bon Jovi’s signature sound.

Sambora has been out of the group for 11 years and may never have to play “Runaway” again. Bon Jovi fans hope someday he might.

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Photo by Kevin Kane/Getty Images For The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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