Together and with The Power of We, we can start a revolution. One Soul at a time... ~Jon Bon Jovi *** There's a Story on every street corner, my friend. All you have to do is open your eyes... ~Richie Sambora

QnA with Richie Sambora...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Q&A: Richie Sambora, Bon Jovi Guitarist

Richie Sambora, guitarist for Bon Jovi, talks about how the iPhone and home theater affect today's music.
If someone were to put a soundtrack to Generation X, it would require at least a few selections from Bon Jovi. With a career that includes more than 120 million albums sold, countless worldwide arena tours and a recent nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bon Jovi is, along with U2, arguably the most enduring rock band of the last quarter century.

Led by the songwriting duo of singer Jon Bon Jovi and guitar player Richie Sambora, the band’s hit list includes classics like “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and “It’s My Life” plus soon-to-be classics like “Have a Nice Day” and “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.”

It’s been a milestone past year for Bon Jovi, Sambora, keyboard player David Bryan and drummer Tico Torres, who along with their original bass player Alec John Such, received the Hall of Fame nomination (the band was passed over for induction this time around), journeyed through another world tour and released a Greatest Hits album.

We recently sat down with Sambora to talk about the music business and home theater.

How does a veteran musician like yourself adapt to the trends of the music industry and sustain a career that’s been as successful as yours for so long?

There are a lot of components to that question. Number one, it’s the songs … they are the foundation of the business, whether you are selling records or touring. Number two is the dedication to evolution, from continuing to learn - I still learn all the time - to the dedication to touring. The most simple analogy I can make is, if you have a dog and you don’t pet it, it’s not going to like you - it’s going to bite you. So, in essence, when I play South America, South Africa or Australia, I have to keep going back to those places.

Very interesting, on stage [recently] in Toronto Jon said, “Now finally after 27 years we’ve effectively played every venue in Toronto” - starting out at the El Mocambo club, where the Stones played and where they recorded that live album [side three of Love You Live], to two nights at the Rogers Center.

The dedication to touring is a very important component [to long-term success]. Making sure that you go back to the area, doing the press to other commitments, it’s a very meat-and-potatoes kind of way to look at things.

Is being a musician different now than it was when you were breaking into the industry?

Yes! It’s lifestyle basically. Obviously, you mature and as you get older you have to take care of yourself physically. So the approach is very different in that respect. In the 1980s, everyone was [just] living. Think about it - just imagine what one of the biggest bands in the world was doing, and multiply it by about 20 on a daily basis. So the approach now is a lot different.

Essentially, the playing part of it is just the same. The way the band plays, our dedication to putting on great shows, but now we couldn’t live that way [we did back then].

How has technology aided you and the band to create and record music, and do you prefer the older analog technologies to digital technologies?

Yes, basically Jon and I recorded a lot of our songwriting sessions on iPhones. Both of us backed them up on iPhones. But we’re also old-school guys. Pro Tools [popular recording software] has become a great help to be able to edit and move things around so quickly, it’s a definite help.

If you listen to our older records, which are analog, they sound great too.

People listen to everything from low-resolution MP3 files to high-res 24-bit/96kHz WAV files. Do you have preferences?

The WAV file is better than a low-resolution file. It’s harder to transport, because it’s a dense file when compared to low-resolution file. Look,compressed music is not going to sound as good as analog ever, it just can’t, but the ear does get use to it.

From a musician/songwriter’s perspective, do you think that compressed music takes away from the listening experience?

Honestly, what happens is the ear trains itself to listen to it. A lot of people don’t know what analog sound is - I would say the majority of people. You have to be, what, 40 to know what analog was even, and then to actually remember it?

For my birthday someone recently got me an amazing gift. Somebody bought me a bunch LPs [vinyl], and now I’ve got to go out and get myself a record player. I’m looking forward to [playing them], and that I’ll be an analog freak. I can’t wait to go out and get all this stuff and re-visit all of that [vinyl and analog].

My ear is now trained to listening to digital music. It’s all conditioning.

Do audiophiles make too much of the differences between lossy and lossless music files?

No, I think it’s a different experience. If you are a music lover you should experiment to see which one you like better.

I use my iPod all the time. I’m always in the gym and it comes in handy. I have 4,000 songs on my iPod, and I have a myriad of everything, but right now I am stuck on the new Stones Exile on Main Street [re-release of the 1972 Rolling Stones double album]. Bob Clearmountain and Don Was, who also produced my second solo record [Undiscovered Soul], did an amazing job. I was a big fan of Exile when it came out, and then I lost it. The original analog version was pretty murky, but they remixed it and I was, like, ‘Wow!’ There is stuff going on there that I didn’t hear [on the original version].

In this case it is the reverse of what was happening, but when they were doing the double record Exile, they … kind of dismissed the sound quality in the mix. Now they’ve paid attention to it, and boy, it kissed me! I can’t stop listening to it.

You’re known as a guitar player who’s not afraid to use new equipment - how have your equipment preferences evolved and how does your live rig compare to the equipment you use to record?

I use all kinds of stuff in the studio. Live I use Marshall Amplification and have used Marshall for years. I was honored - back when we were in England, Jim [Marshall] came to the show and [told me] they’re making a Richie Sambora signature Marshall.

I went to the factory and played through a lot of different heads [amplifiers] for all different eras. I’m also a vintage collector and I have a lot of vintage guitars that I bring on the road. I have about 30 guitars I bring on the road and I have the Richie Sambora model guitar that I also use. I use about five of the Richie Sambora model guitars for half of the show.

The thing about Marshall Amplification is that it sounds good with every guitar. I’ve tried other amps before, but they don’t have the dexterity that I need because I switch guitars so many times during the show.

As far as pedals, I use a lot of analog pedals these days. I do try stuff. I have about 15 pedals on my pedal board and I’m just messing around up there, having a good time. That’s what I do.

If you could recommend any Bon Jovi or solo material recording (videos and CDs) for a killer home theater/music system demo, what would you choose and why?

All of our stuff sounds pretty good. Obviously, if you’re looking for a classic Bon Jovi album, Slippery When Wet is that. I think as an audiophile [recording], New Jersey may be the best-sounding record that we’ve made, because it’s the last analog record that we made. The production team of Bruce Fairburn and Bob Rock [put together New Jersey], and unfortunately Bruce died [in 1999]; it was Bob’s last album as an engineer. (Rock went on to produce Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood and Metallica’s “Black” album immediately following his work on New Jersey.)

To put Bruce and Bob together with the songs that Jon and I wrote - Jon and I were also becoming producers at that time - to put four record producers in the room who really wanted to make a great record, that really wanted to do something special, and to follow up Slippery when Wet was no easy task, but we did. We had more top-10 hits on Jersey than we had on Slippery.

DVD wise, I would say Bon Jovi Live from Madison Square Garden from the last tour is the best sounding that we have so far. It’s also well shot by a guy named Phil Griffin, and it’s mixed by our longtime cohort and engineer Obie O’Brien. He did an amazing job.



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I am and always have been a Bon Jovi fan. This blog is just my obsession taken a step further, my imagination in high gear if you will. I love to read and decided to see what would happen when I took that love of the written word and ramped it up a bit.

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