Lucky 98 In Their Own Words

The World According To... Richie Sambora

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Richie Sambora turns 52 on July 11. Typical of a guitarist in a band that was 2010's top grossing live act, Sambora will have to squeeze in any celebrations between Bon Jovi mega-shows in Romania and Germany, halfway through the band's current Circle tour. "My daily planner is the size of a Bible, man!" he recently quipped. And 1959 wasn't just the year of Sambora's birth, it was also the year of his most treasured guitar, a sunburst '59 Gibson Les Paul.

In 28 years of Bon Jovi rockin', Richie Sambora has experienced many ups and a few downs A member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame since 2009, Sambora is always a generous and witty interviewee, as happy to talk about songcraft, heroes and inspirations, the Bon Jovi "family", technique and his love affair with the guitar as much as his own considerable talents.

Here are some choice quotes from a guitar-man who has seen a million faces and rocked them all…

On learning to play the guitar…

"I was 14 years old when I decided to teach myself. Some kids are talented at things like sports; well, I had to work really hard at sports, even though I pulled it off OK. Musical instruments, though, were always easy for me because of my ear. I have a good ear. If I hear a song on the radio, most of the time I can go into the dressing room and within five minutes, I know it."

On whether he ever gets bored playing Bon Jovi's numerous hits…

"No, no, no. Rock 'n' roll is a contact sport," he told Musicradar.com. "The rush is to take it in front of 70,000 people and have that happen. That's what makes it great. It's like having sex with your clothes on - it's the best thing you can possibly do.
"It's the adjoining of the band and the audience that makes it still really good. And you know what? They're really good songs. Both Jon and I are pretty proud of them. We've discussed it, and we say, 'Hey, people wanna hear those songs? We're gonna give it to 'em.' That's it."

On the skills of Jon Bon Jovi…

"Jon is an amazing front man. Every night I walk on stage with him and I just go, "Wow, this guy is just amazing!" He can make a place with 70,000 people feel intimate. It's a very special thing. There's not many people who know how to do that."

Your browser may not support display of this image. On the Bon Jovi songwriting method…

"With Jon and I, the songwriting always starts with a conversation, how we're feeling and what's going on with our families or in the world," he told Star Bulletin. "It's been that way from day one - we sit in the same room with two guitars and a tape player. It's very old-school. Inspiration? There's a story on every street corner, my friends. All you have to do is open your eyes."

On what makes a great musician…

"I'm open to whatever the song calls for. I can play acoustic, I can play blues, there's a little bit of Al Di Meola in me too," he told Guitar magazine. "You've got to try and have broad and balanced tastes. Being a great musician is like being a great scholar: to be a great scholar you've got to read a lot books. Same with music – listen to lots of different musics, draw from different things. Even listen to stuff you think you don't like – it will help you decide what you don't want to do."

All my heroes were playing Les Pauls, I thought it was the most powerful guitar...

On his love of Les Pauls…

"I first had a Univox Les Paul copy because I couldn't afford a real one," Sambora told Rolling Stone. "For my first Les Paul, I worked as a janitor at a hospital for six weeks and I finally made enough money, 500 bucks, to buy my first Les Paul. And I went down to a place called Lou Rose Music in Edison, New Jersey, and got him to sell me my first Les Paul. And I had it from the time I was 17 all the way until I was 23. I was in Bon Jovi. And we were rehearsing, and we didn't have a lot of money. And we were rehearsing in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and it got stolen. It was my first professional guitar.

"All my heroes were playing Les Pauls, I thought it was the most powerful guitar. It was sexy. It's got the most output. You plug it into a good amplifier, you're going to get more out of it. That's my staple when I go to a session, my '59 Les Paul. I'm lucky enough to have two of them. When you put that rhythm pickup in and clean it up, there's so much dexterity in the Les Paul. It has so many different sounds. You listen to guys like Jimmy Page, the textures they use… the tapestry that was created with a Les Paul was just singing."

And on his admiration for the man Les Paul…

At The Les Paul Tribute concert of 2008; Sambora remembered: "He gave me this special white Les Paul - he wound the pickups himself - for my birthday, first time I met him [during the recording of Bon Jovi's New Jersey]. I play everything from heavy metal to blues to jazz on it. He just hit it right on the head when he designed the Les Paul. I like it better than most girlfriends I've had. Without him, none of us would have a job."

On crafting his underrated solo albums, Stranger In This Town (1991) and Undiscovered Soul (1998)…

"For Stranger in this Town I wrote everything in this "stratospheric" [vocal] key for myself," he told Guitar in 1998. "It was still good, but I felt that I sounded like an 18-year-old boy. For Undiscovered Soul I wanted to sound like me. I did more vocal training for Undiscovered Soul, made sure I sung a lot. Same with the songwriting. I wrote 30 songs to get to 12 on Undiscovered Soul. Songs are like houses: the more you live in them, the more they'll tell you what makes you happy… and whether it needs a few repairs or a whole new roof. I have a few houses, so I know!"

On living rock'n'roll 24/7…

"I'd have to say it's been mostly hard work, with a little bit of luck as well," he told reporter Anne Raso. "You live rock 'n' roll, man, it's not one of those 9-to-5 jobs where you leave it. Even if you go home, you're still a rock 'n' roller. It's a lifestyle. You brush your teeth with it before you go to bed and you wake up with it in the morning, 'cause it's hanging on your shoulder. You gotta give it 100% devotion and then some. And if you don't think you've got that much dedication in you… well, you should choose another career."

On his true addictions…

"I'm a firm believer in a simple rule," he told Guitar magazine. "A man can never have too many pairs of sunglasses or too many guitars."

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