Born July 11, 1959, in Perth Amboy, NJ; son of Adam and Joan Sambora; married to actress Heather Locklear; children: Ava. Attended King College, late 1970s. Education: Attended King College, late 1970s. Addresses: Record company--Mercury Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019, Phone: (212) 333-8000 Fax: (212) 333-8245.
Though Bon Jovi fans know him best as that group's revered lead guitarist, Richie Sambora has also established himself as a solo artist with a far different style than the arena-rock riffs that made him famous and helped Bon Jovi sell 75 million records since the mid-1980s. Sambora has released two solo albums in the 1990s that allow him to explore new territory. Studio whiz Don Was produced the latest of the two and expressed admiration for both Sambora's talent and his work ethic: "Here's a guy who could spend the rest of his life cruising around on a boat" Was remarked in a press release accompanying Undiscovered Soul 's debut. The producer failed to note further evidence of Sambora's good fortune (or good sense)--his marriage to television actress Heather Locklear, with whom he has a daughter.
Sambora was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey in 1959 and grew up in nearby Woodbridge. He began playing the guitar at the age of twelve, in the early 1970s, and was lucky to have his formative musical years marked by the active recording and touring of many influential bands who created the "metal" genre, such as Led Zeppelin. When he was offered a chance to join a band that seemed to hold potential, Sambora dropped out of college, a decision that upset his parents. But the Bruce Foster Band went nowhere and Sambora hit a low point in his life. In time, he joined another New Jersey act, Bon Jovi, as their lead guitarist, and by 1985 the band was being booked on tour dates overseas. With their 1986 album Slippery When Wet and the song "Living on a Prayer," Bon Jovi became one of the biggest rock successes of the decade.
Bon Jovi went on to sell literally millions of records and play to sell-out crowds of screaming fans on hundreds of occasions, but Sambora felt constrained. By the early 1990s, he knew he needed a break from the idolatry, especially after the band finished exhaustive world tours. "Playing the same ... songs every night can drive a guy crazy,"Sambora told Greg Rule in Guitar Player . "I had to break free. I needed to refine my craft, become a better musician.... I needed to find out who I was." Such desires were not easy to fulfill, though, simply because of Bon Jovi's huge international success and the group's living legend status was a mixed blessing of sorts for Sambora when it came time to do his own project. "Because of those sales, I'm expected to live up to a lot," he told Guitar Player. "To tell you the truth, I kind of ignored the living up to a lot" part. I kept the record company out of the studio. I gave people the same tape for seven months, and some would say things like, I love the changes you made to that song. I found out who was [real] and who wasn't."
While he was on tour in the early 1990s, Sambora wrote song fragments in his spare time. When he decided to make his solo record, he purchased several new guitars, and had to teach himself how to play them--a strategy he knew would help him make that stylistic break from metal that he wanted. He later admitted that he was nervous about singing, since he had not done much of it in recent years with the exception of Bon Jovi back-up vocals, though he used to be the front man in his pre-Bon Jovi bands. "After the first set of basic tracks, I was really happy with the way things were sounding," Sambora told Rule in Guitar Player. "Everything was a lot more comfortable from that point."
Before making what would become his solo debut, 1991's Stranger in This Town, Sambora had the good fortune to meet one of his idols, Eric Clapton. Sambora had once been the presenter at a music-awards show and met him then, and later was invited to sit in on a live session with Clapton, Lou Reed, Buddy Guy, and Bo Diddley. When Sambora was in the process of making Stranger, he sent Clapton a note asking him if he was interested in helping out on a track. To his surprise, Clapton was happy to guest on "Mr. Bluesman," a song Sambora wrote about his guitar heroes such as Clapton and Robert Johnson. For some of the tracks, Sambora drew upon his early, pre-arena-concert songwriting forays when he was a New Jersey college dropout; both "The Answer" and "One Light Burning" had their creative origins in the years before he joined Bon Jovi.
Sambora also drew upon even more ancient experiences for another track, "Ballad of Youth." The first single off Stranger, Sambora wanted to send a message to fans about pressures and teen angst. "I was thinking how hard it was for me to decipher being a teenager," he told Melinda Newman in Billboard. "Now I'm in my 30s and I want to say to kids, `Hey man, don't be so hard on yourself because the world's a tough place. Give yourself a break'." Themes of "lost love and alienation" seemed to bind Stranger in This Town, wrote Billboard 's Newman. "The result is a record that sounds more chunky, dense, and raw than typical Bon Jovi fare."
Sambora went back to Bon Jovi, who continued its successful formula of platinum-selling rock records and sold-out concert tours. During this time, Sambora was also introduced to the woman who would later become his wife, Melrose Place vixen, Heather Locklear. By the time the pair had wed and were expecting a daughter in 1997, Sambora decided to try his hand at another solo album. His solo debut, Sambora would later recollect, "was a real murky record because it was a murky time in my life," he told Billboard 's Deborah Evans Price. He and his bandmates, he said, "were just mere shells of the guys we were," and he felt that exhaustion had been evident on Stranger.
This time around, Sambora and his Bon Jovi label, Mercury, enlisted the help of famed producer Don Was. Records from acts as diverse as Bob Dylan to Jewel to the B-52s had benefited from Was' talents, but the Grammy-winning studio genius admitted he had reservations about working with Sambora. As Price wrote in Billboard, Was almost "expected him to pull up in a limo and fall out in the producer's driveway with a bottle of Jack Daniels." Yet Was found working with Sambora both a professional and enjoyable experience; he praised the guitarist's songwriting talents and his voice. "He can dive into the well of inspiration and hold his breath for a long time," Was told Price. "I learned a lot about making records working with him."
Undiscovered Soul , released in early 1998, was made intermittently over the course of the previous year. Was took some time off to work with the Rolling Stones in the studio, and Sambora devoted time to his wife and the arrival of their daughter. Locklear was enlisted to sing back-up for one track, and her Maltese dogs, Harley and Lambchop, are thanked in the liner notes of Undiscovered Soul . The notes also expressed gratitude to the studio musicians who helped out, including Billy Preston, who once worked with the Beatles late in their career, and Chuck Leavell, on loan from the Rolling Stones tour. A People review was less than complimentary, noting that though Sambora himself is "appealing" and a decent singer, the album shows evidence of his "eager embrace for every cliché in the rock-and-roll thesaurus." Yet New Jersey's Asbury Park Press cast a less critical eye on the hometown favorite. Sambora, wrote Kelly-Jane Cotter, "is a likable performer with unmitigated enthusiasm for the guitar. His voice has never sounded better. And his approach to blues-rock is unpretentious and brisk."
by Carol Brennan
Richie Sambora's Career
Sambora's first band was the Bruce Foster Band; since 1984 he has been Bon Jovi's lead guitarist and co-written four number one hit singles; released first solo album, Stranger in a Strange Land, Mercury, 1991; released Undiscovered Soul, Mercury, 1998.
June 1, 2004: Sambora's album, Shark Frenzy: The Early Years of Bruce Foster and Richie Sambora, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, June 3, 2004.
February 2, 2006: Sambora's wife, actress Heather Locklear, filed for divorce after eleven years of marriage. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, February 4, 2006.
- Asbury Park Press , February 20, 1998.
- Billboard , September 7, 1991, p. 66; September 14, 1991, pp. 38, 39; January 24, 1998, pp. 14, 24.
- Guitar Player , March 1992, pp. 29-33.
- People , March 9, 1998; March 16, 1998.
- Additional information for this profile was provided by Mercury Records publicity materials, 1998.