When I first started writing about Bon Jovi back in 2009, I discovered that in terms of fan adoration, there are two distinctly different camps.
One pulses like an electrical wire for lion-like band namesake Jon Bon Jovi, and another is passionately consumed by the dark, mysterious, flippant but fragile power that is Richie Sambora.
With their love of Bon Jovi in common, they draw the line when it comes down to "their boys". Either or, individually. Cat-fights have erupted and friendships have been ruined by divisions that make the Hatfields and McCoys come to mind.
“If you’re gonna write about our Richie”, one lady fan told me, “you better be gentle or you’ll get ripped to smithereens”. The more I got to know various Bon Jovi fans around the world, the more amazed I grew that this sentiment is legion.
Let’s face it: writing any negative words about Bon Jovi is always a life-altering experience, resulting in this writers' numerous deep dives into the nearest foxhole for protection from the maddening throng much like the villagers chasing Frankentstein.
But the Richie Sambora fans have magically found a way to actually jump through the computer or pad screen, grab a writer by the throat, and thump them up and down like a horny gorilla madly in love with its keeper.
OK, maybe not that badly, but you get the idea.
In short, I Feared The Sambora.
Of course, it didn’t help that I came to this Bon Jovi party late in life, and I had some pre-conceived notions about Lil’ Richie SamboHo.
Namely that he was the one who broke up the band briefly when he did his solo record; and, that a massive ego required him to have an obligatory---and mediocre---guitar solo on every single Bon Jovi song known to mankind.
There’s an old saying, "Ignorance is bliss and the truth shall set you free”.
Well I’m happy to report ignorance just means you’re stupid and clueless, and the truth about Richie Sambora opened my eyes to a supremely gifted---and professionally under-rated musician and song-smith who completely defied my preconceived notions.
A deep dive into Richie’s solo work taught me to not Fear The Sambora, and his music set me free.
Let’ start with Richie’s look.
Sure he’s got the bohemian rock star vibe with his bolero hat, velvet pants, t-shirt with ‘Blessed’ on it and a fashionable cross around his neck and the latest in vogue sunglasses. But get past all the surface stuff and peer into the eyes.
Ah, the eyes.
They are deep, soulful, and here is where Richie differs from band mate Jon Bon Jovi: his eyes are one moment mischievous; another sensitive and full of unlimited depth of emotion.
Jon Bon Jovi is more handsome than any man should be allowed to be, but there are times when you gaze upon him and depending on his mood, he can leave you cold, as though he controls a scrim that can be drawn over his emotion at will, but you’ll still see those deep baby-blues and that electric white smile...unless of course, he is in full Stink-eye mode.
Sambora, on the other hand, has a smoldering Mediterranean look, a look that says it’s okay to touch me and burn your hand, but please don’t hurt me.
Deep down inside.
I just might not be able to take it if you do.
Don’t get me wrong, the man is capable of plenty of mischief, duly noted by Dorothea Bon Jovi, Jon’s wife, in an interview when she intoned that Richie is the Devil incarnate; the bad kid sucking the good kid into his trouble.
But then get down to the music.
In Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora is indeed Ying to Jon’s Yang, the rock rhythm with the workman-like solo and the higher vocal octave to back up notes Jon can’t reach.
Yet essentially there are two Richie’s: the one that works for and with Jon Bon Jovi, and the other a supremely talented songwriter, singer and blues-man in his own right.
For the uninitiated---or, if like me you Fear The Sambora---a good way to familiarize yourself with Richie’s World is through solo efforts.
Songs like Ballad of Youth which have meaty guitar lines and a defiant strut sandwiched between growling vocals; or the autobiographical Made In America which honestly tell you his story growing up in Jersey, heavily influenced in music by John Lennon and awoken from his rock n’ roll reverie when “Lennon found the wrong end of a gun”.
Bon Jovi songs jointly penned by Sambora, Bon Jovi and long-time collaborator Desmond Child serve as the foundational core of a band of men doing what they love, following the lead and vision of their professional pied piper.
Yet Richie Sambora on his own---even in lustful walks down a passionate memory lane like Rosie or the classic ode to unrequited love One Light Burning---reveals a vulnerability that feels like each solo record comes with a key that the listener can use to open up Sambora’s heart.
Notably, his solo efforts afford him the musical freedom to delve into the blues; an indulgence that largely leaves him empty and unfulfilled in the pop world of Bon Jovi.”
Stranger In This Town showcases classic blues guitar accents framing the peaks and valleys of the life of a music man on the road with B.B. King inspired vocals and Clapton influenced chords. It’s a stark declaration that in a band or on his own, Sambora lives for his music, and the music lives within.
And Downside Of Love showcases the endless yearning and frustration of a grand romance gone bad, with vocals and guitar lines that exorcise the passion and the pain and give them wings with which to fly from the heart.
And you want to talk deep?
Seven Years Gone and You Can Only Get So High are very personal-made-public musical diaries about his recurring visits to rehab.
But it’s his timeless song, The Anwer that burrows deep into your heart, gives you goosebumps and serves notice that Mr. Bluesman is much more than the sum of his Bon Jovi parts.
But don’t take my word for it.
Indeed there are no reasons to fear the Sambora. Get your hands on Stranger In This Town, Undiscovered Soul, and Aftermath Of The Lowdown and be enthralled and amazed by all that he freely shares through his own unique brand of rock.
Be sure to find and follow Glenn Osrin on twitter @wizardofosrin