For 30 years, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora lived his life on the rock and roll treadmill of writing, recording and touring until 2013, when the Woodbridge, NJ native did the unimaginable: he quit.
“We were the hardest working band in the world, man,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “You're talking 24/7, and you don’t get to come home. I missed so much of my child’s life. And you get to that place where you realize, 'Oh, my god, this is really important.'”
As it turns out, timing is everything. Not only did his daughter Ava need him (mom is actress Heather Locklear), but Sambora’s own mother fractured her hip six weeks ago. Ever the dutiful son, Sambora has quietly been making trips back and forth to the Garden State to oversee her care.
“I’m her only son, so I have to come out here and make sure her doctors are OK," he explains. "But she’s doing well. Everything has its time and I needed to be with myself for the first time in a long time. I had some time to grow up, because rock 'n' roll will make you a virtual 17-year old. I needed to be with the kid, go to the parent/teacher conference, take out the garbage and pick up the dog shit, then watch her play and put on her sweet 16 party." Sambora was also on hand to support his daughter in her Disney Channel debut on the show Good Luck Charlie. “When she told me she wanted to be an actress I wanted to hang myself,” he laughs.
Time away from the road awakened Sambora's songwriting spirit (among his potential collaborators? Lady Gaga, whom Sambora met at a charity event; "We may do some writing together,” he hints) and his itch to perform as well.
On Dec. 1, the latter hankering was satiated with what he describes as a “surreal” moment: an invitation to play a song with one of his idols, Stevie Wonder, at the Hollywood Christmas Parade (which premiered on The Hallmark Channel and will air nationwide on more than 350 stations around the country on Dec. 20).
The duet, of Christmas classic "Silent Night," happened organically. Says Sambora: "I've been involved with Toys for Tots, the Boys and Girls Club and Joe DiMaggio’s Children’s Hospital in Miami over the last seven or eight years. ... When they asked me to play and said LeAnn Rimes, the Goo Goo Dolls and Stevie Wonder [were on the bill], I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I could play with Stevie Wonder?’”
The two had met before -- briefly in London at a show with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, but had never shared the stage. Luckily, Sambora knew some of the guys in Wonder’s band, who vouched for him.
Nearly two weeks later, Sambora is still pinching himself. “It is almost beyond words," he says. "He was the guy that I emulated when I was a boy, and he taught me how to sing. It was an honor to meet your teacher. The first thing I did was whisper in his ear, 'I’m sure you get this a lot, but you were my inspiration as a singer.' The first thing he said is, 'You do the first verse!'”
In addition to “Silent Night,” Sambora played his own set, which included Bon Jovi hit “Livin’ on a Prayer” and a personal favorite: “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, which he also performed at Al Gore's ‘24 Hours of Reality: The Cost of Carbon’ affair. It's one of dozens of charity initiatives he's been involved with this year. “I’m a sucker for kids,” he says. “I will do anything for anybody that asks me to do anything for a kid.”
As for looking ahead to 2014, the looming question for Bon Jovi fans remains: Will Sambora rejoin the group? “Yes, I would think about it for sure,” he says. "There’s no malice here. You get along for 30 years, that’s a damn good marriage. ... I was coming out of something a little bit different with my solo record, Aftermath of the Lowdown, and it just didn’t go in the right direction for me artistically, which is not to say it’s a bad thing."
Solo ambitions aside, months on tour and in the studio simply took away from his other life. "I did 14 cycles for 30 years, so I missed a lot," he explains. "A lot of life happened. And I also had three solo albums and tours, wrote songs for other people. ... Burnt isn’t the right word, but I almost fell out of love with music and I needed to fall in love with it again.”
Sambora insists that reports of a rift concerning money are “baloney," adding, "You look at your bank account, and you see the currency of love and happiness is more important than the currency of money."
He also explained an earlier comment during an interview in Australia about a difference of “pace” in the band. Says Sambora: “When we mature in our age, you have a different pace, because it gets so complicated with family. The guys had a different pace and I didn’t agree with it. Everybody thinks you are nuts because this rock star life is such a glamorous thing, but let me tell you something. In the ‘80s it was fantastic, but now, there is nothing going on.”
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t have love for his bandmates. When drummer Tico Torres was sidelined after an appendectomy, Sambora was there. “We texted each other all the time," says Sambora. "His mom is sick, and my mom was sick, and I’m in New Jersey at the same time. I said, 'Dude, I’m here. What can I do for you?"
Sambora continues: "When you're sick on the road, it’s the worst. That's when you become the most vulnerable and neurotic. You become scared. If I had a cold or a chest infection, and I had to sing all those high parts, there was stage fright. Because when you walk out in front of an audience of over 70,000 people, you've got to be on your game. They deserve it."
For now, Sambora is content just to play music and hinted that there is more on the way -- two albums' worth, but it won't be coming out via his Aftermath of the Lowdown label, Dangerbird."
“They blew me off the second week of my album," he says. "I put that single out and then the president [Jeff Castelaz] left and went to work for Elektra,” he says. “I want to get together with people that I like, who I have relationships with, and try to build a brand. Go out and gig on my own and make a living."
Watch Sambora and Stevie Wonder perform "Silent Night" below: