A Redemption Arc for Richie Sambora

reunion, Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction 2018

If I regretted anything about yesterday’s piece on Jon Bon Jovi’s voice, it’s not acknowledging Richie Sambora.
That’s because the conversations about this friendship between Jon Bon Jovi and departing band member (2013) Richie Sambora, happened after posting it.
And it were these conversations, that caused me to adjust my vision on Jon’s singing, from a general observation that there’s a lot that needs to be in place before he can sing his best work;
To a very specific one that for thirty years, whatever it was that Jon needed, was pretty much in place. And he was called Richie Sambora.
Don’t get me wrong.
Reports on Jon struggling with his voice date back to the eighties, but back then the grueling tour schedule was blamed for it. And it were just stories.
It was hardly something that was noticed by people visiting the shows, and from what I have seen all current criticism started in…?
Exactly.
2013.
The moment Richie left.
Jon has admitted that after ending that tour (for the larger part without Richie) he could not even sing in the shower and he didn’t touch his guitar for over a year. Jon counts it as having had three really bad years, where he was in an extremely dark place.
Late 2016 they finished their new album, This House is Not for Sale (for a moment omitting the low-key record Burning Bridges, an album created while in the midst of a fight with their record label) And in 2017 they started touring again. On a reasonably normal schedule. The phrase “better paced” has come up several times, and it refers to having longer breaks on the tours.
The goal is to make it less straining, in particular for Jon’s voice.
That was I all knew about Richie leaving, and how Jon had picked up the pieces of his band and put it together again.
I had also bought into (as I will now call it) reports on Richie having a problem with alcohol, and this being part of the reason why he left. And – and this was more explicitly – that Richie was blamed for leaving mid-tour.
The “He simply didn’t show up for work” explanation Jon still gives when asked about the split.
And there was one other aspect to the departure, to the circumstances under which Richie left. His father had been sick and he had ultimately lost him.
In hindsight, this should already have been the point when I should have noticed the red flags.
The things out of place, the things missing. The things implied and even everything that was deliberately shown, told, and repeated, in order to convey the following clear-cut picture:
Jon was the professional and Richie was having personal problems.
Richie left. Since this was mid-tour Jon didn’t have time to go after him, and next thing we know they don’t see each other until they re inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame.
The end.
Or so I thought.
Until yesterday, this all seemed very logical to me. You can’t have someone battling his demons, when you’re out there on tour. Not even if you’re on your mature better-paced schedule.
I understood the betrayal Jon had felt, and I think we all know how difficult it is to act compassionately if someone is going through substance abuse, even privately. Let alone if that person is key to a billion dollar organization.
I really thought I got it.
Until, in the aftermath of writing yesterday’s piece, little cracks began to show in my belief. Exactly what was Jon offering an explanation for, when he said: “He (Richie) just didn’t show up for work”?
Weren’t they friends?
Then why were they apparently not friends anymore, the moment Richie didn’t show up for work?
A friend would have either called Richie himself, or would have said to a manager or someone on the mental health team of the band:
“Please go after him, and make sure he’s alright. I love him, but I need to sort out this tour now.”
Maybe that was all done, I wasn’t there. But at first glance it seems as if Richie might have quit the band, but it was Jon who quit the friendship.
A friendship with someone who drank too much, and who had lost his father and who had obviously been back on the job too soon.
Before things had settled.
When people around us die, they are these big bricks that are just pulled out of the wall. There is no way of telling how it is going to affect your life. I have redesigned my business, quit it, restarted under a different name, changed it all back to the way it was: All in the 15 months following the death of my cat (!).
I ve had suicidal thoughts for the first time in my life.
I ve walked out of teaching yoga, overnight. July 2018, exactly one year ago on a Monday.
Just like Richie, my mourning had the shape of quitting and restarting. Of drinking too much or too often, and then complete abstinence. But unlike Richie, I didn’t lose my best friend.
I “just” lost yoga students and other friends, not the most intimate connections.
Being in a dark place and mourning, doesn’t make you the most easy to love person.
If Richie was behaving even half as difficult as I was, Jon must have been annoyed (but only professionally!) with a lot of the stuff Richie had or had not been doing, for a long time. The underlying thought must have been the same as the one people have been thinking about me for the past year and a half:
“Are you finally DONE?”
When their final tour started, Richie was not done.
Far from.
My real appreciation for Richie, started when I heard from two separate sources that Jon’s voice had lost “it”, after Richie had left.
That although his voice had always been sensitive, it had not been a liability, until 2013. That he himself remembers not being able to sing after that tour, might count as proof of that.
In my piece on Jon’s voice, I state that he always gives a good show. But that he needs to feel good to put on a great show. He needs to feel supported, and at that point “support” was me referring to a connection with the crowd.
However, somewhere around that time things started to click into place.
The two fans, both pointing out 2013 as the year his voice got a blow.
The realization that Richie quit the band, not feeling good.
Jon’s depression and having suicidal thoughts after the departure, and if I remember correctly I ve heard something similar about the period around 1990/1991. Also a time when it was unsure if the band would ever reunite.
All those things clicked, and offered a picture that was far from that of the irresponsible band member Richie versus the professional Jon.
It was a lot bleaker than that.
A lot sadder.
It was the heartbreaking story of two friends who had been joined at the hip, who had both tried to respect the other both professionally as well as privately. And who had both failed miserably, causing almost the exact opposite.
The only thing that went well, was that there had never been a fight. Neither one ever blamed the other publicly for anything. But maybe if you don’t talk for five years, you don’t have to.
The story I am offering you is what I call “pulled straight from collective consciousness”. I didn’t go looking for proof, nor do I pretend that it is true.
Having said all that here’s what I think happened:
Being the sensitive man that he is, Jon could sing beautifully, as long as Richie was there by his side. Richie was what he could fall back on. It wasn’t that Jon’s voice got damaged because of Richie’s sudden departure:
Richie had been an integral part of Jon’s ability to perform.
He had literally been there for him.
When Richie himself was in turmoil, he couldn’t offer that anymore. The shoulder to lean on, could no longer hold the weight of Jon.
Damn, I wish Jon had seen it this way, and had stayed Richie’s friend.
It’s been 6 years. Jon has proven that he could save the band, and that was an admirable thing to do. It can never be held against Richie that “He quit and that’s how I lost my band.”
By saving the band, Jon set Richie free.
But Richie Sambora, was never acknowledged for what he meant to Jon, and what it was he really did for him on stage. All we know is that it allowed Jon to sing beautifully for three decades, and that he felt supported, and loved.
And we know that if it’s not there, Jon gets suicidal thoughts.
Within this context it is clear to me that Richie deserves so much better than to be remembered as the one who broke Jon’s heart, cracked his voice, and gave a blow to the band.
Better than to be referred to as the man who just didn’t show up for work.
Richie Sambora, who did for Jon what no one else could and who left because he himself was broken, deserves redemption.
And his best friend coming back.

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7-Figure Rock Star Writer

This is the sixth chapter of
7-figure Rock Star Writer part 4: A New Life

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One thought on “A Redemption Arc for Richie Sambora

  1. I truly believe all that you wrote about Jon and Richie. If one doesn’t show up for work why did no one from the band EVER reach out to him and see what was going on? Richie had just got done with his solo tour promoting his aftermath of the lowdown album and he was in really good shape at the end of 2012 when he was on Craig Ferguson’s show as the band for the week. So I’m puzzled why no one reached out.

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