[Editor’s Note: Gordon Brown posted this on Facebook today, in honor of Bon Jovi’s induction, tonight, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I enjoyed it so much — and thought it said so many important things about Bon Jovi — that I asked him if I could repost it on NJArts.net, and he graciously agreed. Brown currently forms the country duo Williams Honor with Reagan Richards; they made it onto the country charts last year with “No Umbrella,” and their video for “Send It to Me” (see below) has been named Best Video by the 2018 Asbury Park Music and Film Festival. For more on Williams Honor, visit facebook.com/williamshonor or instagram.com/williamshonor.
— Jay Lustig]
Many moons ago, as I was just entering my teens in Monmouth County, I was glued to early MTV, studying records, music magazines and songwriting. Every day I stared down and played my guitar, learning that somewhere deep within us, lies the way out …
I kept hearing about these “other new guys” a little North up the Parkway, who were about to put out their first album and get their shot at the brass ring. They had been playing in the area for a while under different names and in different bands, like Franke & The Knockouts, Phantom’s Opera, Richie Sambora and Friends, Atlantic City Expressway, John Bongiovi & The Wild Ones, and The Rest. Many of my older friends would tell me stories about them because they either worked for them, drank with them, slept with their girlfriends, were jealous, or even … wanted to BE like them.
As I started to play my first gigs in high schools and clubs, I watched this Jersey supergroup, now called Bon Jovi, get signed to Mercury/PolyGram. Over the course of five years and three albums, they became one of the biggest bands in the world.
They worked hard, they toured relentlessly, they wrote great songs, they opened for everyone. They inspired us, their songs became huge hits internationally, they slowly built their touring business and, eventually, became arena and stadium headliners. And, as if it needs repeating, they wrote GREAT SONGS that topped the charts around the world.
They tapped into the thing that makes us all tick, and we couldn’t get enough.
They never buckled to the trends of the moment. They brought hard rock to a peak. They were the band that showed the world you could have powerful hit songs and lyrics rooted in good ol’ fashioned American Jersey folklore. Giving us something we could relate to, drink to, cry to, and sing along to. They also showed many of us that anything is possible, happily following in the footsteps of a few “others” from our Jersey Shore area …
Eventually as I got older and we developed our own first act, I thought we had a great new band called mR rEALITY and a few good songs worth listening to. One night after our rehearsal in Long Branch, we drove to The Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank and I waited for the guys to walk out of their own rehearsal. I handed a work tape to keyboardist David Bryan when he came walking out the backstage door. I actually ran up to him and nervously said, “I heard JBJ is starting a label, and would really appreciate if you could check us out and give it a listen,” as I approached him. He must have thought I was some crazy young fan. At this time Bon Jovi was the biggest band in the world and had already put other acts on the map, including our area’s very own Skid Row.
On the day I happened to turn 19, Jon was performing with Southside Johnny at The Fastlane (where we lived and gigged) and someone gave me the heads up and snuck me into soundcheck so I could go meet everyone. I did the same thing to Jon that I did to David. He was very kind and even gave me his contact info to send him material.
A year goes by and our little three-piece band starts to build a following in Asbury Park at The Fastlane and The Stone Pony and we start to showcase in NYC rooms as we build a little industry buzz. As labels start to come calling, I hear JBJ is “interested” in our act for what was to be his new record label at the time.
We also get some amazing support from Skid Row’s Scotti Hill, who takes a liking to us and ushers us into Doc McGhee’s management office (Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Mötley Crüe, The Scorpions) in NYC with the hopes of having Doc and his brother Scott manage the band, along with our own manager Brian. They tell us they’re really interested in taking us on but they don’t “co-manage” with anyone. So in true Jersey fashion we tell them how much we appreciate their interest but we too have a brotherhood that’s too important to break up. Peter, Rob, Gordon and Brian. That’s how it’s gotta be.
Guess who we learned that from?
We end up having Margaret Sterlacci from their office (who wanted to break out on her own) come to co-manage us, at the time.
We then sign our first record deal with Charles Koppelman and SBK Records, who, I later come to find out, also signed Billy Falcon. (Billy was a singer/songwriter who Jon loved and watched in the clubs so he eventually signed him to his own JAMBCO label and made a great record called Power Windows.)
So our band mR rEALITY goes to play our celebratory “signing the record deal” show at The Fastlane and it’s mobbed. I’m still not even legal drinking age. I go to walk through the crowd and all of a sudden, there is David Bryan grabbing me by the shoulders, shaking me and saying, “Congrats! I can’t believe you were that kid that handed me that tape!” My first sense of validation from one of the guys that just sold MILLIONS of records around the world.
From there we went and made our first album with the producer who did JBJ’s solo album, Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (he also produced and played for James Taylor, Carole King and Don Henley). He became a mentor to me and I fell in love with making records. Once we finished our debut album, the guys asked us to open up for them at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, Pa., Toad’s Place in Conn. and their own homecoming Fastlane show when Keep the Faith was released. That was quite an honor and was our first taste of people talking about us internationally. They certainly had now sprinkled some Jersey fairy dust on us.
We got to spend lots of time with them through the years, David always was coming out to support us in Samhill and Highway 9, and even getting onstage with us.
Right after 9/11 tragically happened, we were playing our first show as HWY9. It was a victims benefit at The Stone Pony when Domenic Santana owned the club. David called Jon and they both came to the Pony. JBJ actually introduced us for the first time as HWY9 that night and we went on after him.
We went on to play the Alliance of Neighbors shows at The Count Basie Theatre with Bon Jovi, Bruce, Joan Jett, The Smithereens and so many others when our neighborhood needed it most.
The same place where I first handed David that cassette.
The back cover of our HWY9 album, shot by Danny Clinch, is from that night. Strangely enough, in that same dressing room 10 years prior, where that picture is taken, Jon once told me, “You guys are the heir apparent to our music scene.”
My guys and I were third, maybe fourth generation Asbury Park. It was a moment that I will never forget for so many reasons, one that keeps playing over and over again, with each passing year.
It was like he was passing down the torch that was originally held by Sinatra to Springsteen, to Southside, to Bon Jovi …
Can you imagine what that did for our egos? I couldn’t wait to tell the guys.
I spent lots of time with Jon and Dorothea before their kids were born. One night we went to dinner in New Brunswick with Margaret and then to The State Theatre to go see Melissa Etheridge (who John Shanks was performing with at the time).
Another night at The T-Birds Cafe in Asbury Park, there was this new kid by the name of Jeff Buckley who my label was very hot on. He was coming to play in Asbury for the first time. I sat in between Jon and Richie at a table right in front of Jeff while he blew us away with his extraordinary talent. The room only could hold about 50 people and there may have only been 5 other people in the room besides us. Richie was beside himself about his incredible guitar playing. That night Jeff played the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” … it was the first time Jon had ever heard it. It then became a staple in Bon Jovi shows and Leonard’s favorite cover version.
I have so many great stories from those days but one of my favorites …
I was in the car driving with Jon and we just left their house to do a few errands, driving from Rumson through Little Silver, and his amazing wife Dorothea calls us on speaker excitedly to say … “Guess who’s coming for dinner?” … for the very first time, Bruce, Patti, Steven Van Zandt and his wife Maureen confirmed they were coming over for dinner later in the week … but they needed more chairs. How were they going to fit the six of them at the table? Jon was as excited about that dinner as you could possibly imagine. It was the beginning of his friendship with Bruce, Steven and the guys he looked up to, the guys that inspired him … as well as the rest of us. The conversation we shared after that call was some of the most incredible Jersey Shore legendary shit you could possibly imagine. Not to be revealed.
He was teaching me, passing it down, and I’m sure he knew that.
When people believe in you, all you want to do is prove to them they were right. That’s why tonight’s induction is so important. This is their proof. There’s now another group of Jersey guys going into history, because through their music and staying together as they are tonight, they help us to believe in ourselves.
If you have any idea of what that means, than you truly know the power of Rock n’ Roll. You may even possibly understand what it means to sing into one mic with your partner. You might truly know how that spirit communicates to our deepest sense of humanity and you may also understand how you belong to something bigger than yourself.
You get through the fights, the struggles, the obstacles, and you make it all the way.
I probably could have inducted them myself tonight, only because I grew up in the bathwater of the Jersey Holy Trinity. I grew up a fan, hearing stories of the impossible feats Bon Jovi accomplished as a team, I also know how they crumbled, and put the pieces back together to become even bigger than ever … TWICE !!
It probably could have been me inducting them tonight because I am part of the true lineage to where we come from. I know where the bodies are buried, and I continue to live and breathe that spirit for all the acts that have come from our area and made it so great.
If you’re a Jersey Shore music fan, then tonight, you have something else to be very proud of and inspired by. These guys and their team around them that came from nothing and accomplished the impossible, from out of the Springsteen and Southside’s shadows and right into immortality.
Congrats to our talented friends in Bon Jovi as they stand tonight, once again United.
As they get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, cementing their legend and very own piece of our Jersey Shore music legacy …
And may they continue to breathe life, mystery and magic into their band, and onto us.