With over 120 Million album sales, it’s kind of surprising that Bon Jovi have never had a comprehensive A-Z out until now. Putting that one right was the job of prolific metal and rock author Neil Daniels, whose previous books have included biographies of Judas Priest, Robert Plant and Al Atkins.
The writer’s attention to detail is one of his greatest strengths and so it proves with The Bon Jovi Encyclopedia. The author pulls together hundreds of pages of trivia and factoids about the songs, people, merchandise and occasional oddities associated with Jon-boy and his cohorts.
Whilst their career over the years has been patchy at best, it’s undeniable that their longevity does demand a certain amount of respect and with this book, Daniels does his part in commemorating their many years in the biz. Not one to let the grass grow under his feet, the metal writer himself is currently as busy as ever with several new projects on the go. Thrash Hits caught up with the chap for a chinwag.
This is one hell of a project to pull together; how did it come into being and how long did it take?
It was the publishers idea; Chrome Dreams. They already had similarly themed books out, including Metallica, AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses. It’s quite a cool idea and as I wanted a change from the usual biography format, and as I’m a big fan of Bon Jovi’s earlier material, I was up for the challenge. It actually didn’t take as long as you might think. Around seven to eight months, I think. I worked on it every day even just a few lines. It’s not like writing a straight forward bio because with an A-Z book you can write little entries each day; some entries are obviously longer than others. The question of who and want to include under each letter was the toughest thing about the book; and writing reviews of every Bon Jovi album was also quite difficult too simply because you know you’re going to piss some people off so you have to stay objective. And man, Bon Jovi fans love the music… and the t-shirts and the posters and…
How do you decide what’s in, and what’s out in terms of information?
As I said, it was a difficult part of the book. I started by working on their solo material because that’s less bewildering than working on the band’s entire back catalogue. I just thought: who and what is most important to the band? Well, photographers, songwriters, musicians, producers, journalists, support bands et al are important but not the editor of a film Jon had been in or a small time actor Jon (or even Richie Sambora) had shared a cameo with because that’s obviously too tenuous. Who helped Bon Jovi become the band they are today? Some stuff was edited out during proofing but I think I hit the nail on the head with most, if not, all of the entries although I admit I have forgotten to include one person who I won’t mention. On the whole, there’s loads of stuff in there and all of it is a hundred per cent relevant.
You admit you find their career patchy – what’s the high point and low points in the band’s career?
Oh well, I love their first four albums; great American eighties melodic rock but in the nineties they completely changed their music and their image: Keep The Faith and These Days are a little patchy in my eyes. Not bad but not great. Crush and Bounce are decent enough but I sure don’t like This Left Feels Right (what was the point?) and Lost Highway (dull!). They still haven’t made a good live album as well. But without question Have A Nice Day was their best album in 20 years; it’s a solid, confident rock album. But hey, that’s just my opinion. I think Jon wants to stay distanced from that whole hair metal/hard rock scenes of the eighties and be more like his heroes U2, hence the change in sound. Can you imagine Bon Jovi on the same bill as, say, Whitesnake? Nah, it won’t happen again. (I would like to be wrong on that one though!)
Who would you have liked to interviewed for the book if possible?
I got in touch with Sebastian Bach but he won’t go there; I can understand that. Most people will know what I mean here; they have a topsy-turvy history. I would also have liked to have interviewed Dave Sabo from Skid Row but there are entries in the book with secondary quotes. Oh and there’s Tony Bongiovi, Jon’s father’s cousin and a very important figure in the band’s early history. I got in touch with his people but he declined. Again, I have still included an entry.
Who were your favourites to interview?
The fashion designer Ray Brown is a cool guy. There is a lengthy Q&A in the book with him. He designed clothes for the band in the eighties; in fact, he designed clothes for nearly every eighties rock band, including Motley Crue, Ratt, Sabbath, Priest and Whitesnake. He was so busy he had to leave LA. Every band was asking him to design clothes for them. He was important in shaping the image of Bon Jovi in the eighties post-7800Fahrenheit. The photographer Mark Weiss is an interesting guy; he shot the cover for Slippery When Wet. I’m also pleased legendary rock lens-man Ross Halfin agreed to an interview which is included in the book.
What were the biggest surprise(s) in pulling this together?
That I could actually do it whilst still working on Dawn Of The Metal Gods; my book with ex-Priest singer Al Atkins. Summer of 2008 was busy for me. I guess the other big surprise was how great those first four Bon Jovi albums sound; they’re so much fun to listen to. Even 7800 Fahrenheit is a good album; very underrated. It has some killer rock tunes but the band themselves hate it. I also think Ritchie Sambora’s solo stuff is underrated; he is very talented but doesn’t get he credit he deserves. I much prefer his solo stuff to Jon’s. I can’t remember who said it, but one guy said if Sambora wasn’t in Bon Jovi he’d be the American Eric Clapton. I agree with that.
Tell me a bit about your career; talk us through the books you’ve published to date (and of course your writing career elsewhere).
I started writing for webzines like musicOMH and even Drowned In Sound but then I moved into fanzines like Fireworks and Powerplay which I am still loyal to. In 2007 I pitched the idea for a biography of Judas Priest (Omnibus) and followed that up with a biography of Robert Plant for IMP (it was their idea for the book) which I got some stick for in the media but you can’t win ‘em all. I’m glad I wrote it; it’s a good chronology and it was a learning curve. It will be published in Germany next month. As I said earlier, I wrote Dawn Of The Metal Gods and this Bon Jovi book simultaneously. Dawn…was written with ex-Priest singer Al Atkins; it’s basically his autobiography. There are loads of great pics and photographs of memorabilia. I mean, Judas Priest supporting Thin Lizzy with tickets something like £1. That is great stuff for metal archivists. Al is a really down to earth working class Black Country man and I hope his personality is reflected in the book. Sure, some will give him (us) stick for it but the serious minded Priest and metal fans should find some interest in it. Most people don’t know the Priest era 69-73. It should be published in the next month or so. I’ve written a few bits for Rock Sound, Big Cheese and even the Guardian and write the odd thing for Record Collector. I often contribute to getreadytorock.com as well.
And what’s next for you?
I’m writing a rough guide type book on Linkin Park for Chrome Dreams which may come out before Christmas. It’s a plotted history of the band with track by track analysis of the album plus endless lists and trivia. And then…who knows?
One thing I would like to mention is my archive of exclusive rock scribe interviews at my website neildaniels.com. It’s a little project of mine that I hope will be of help to budding writers and it also clears up some things I wanted answered. It’s also made me some valuable contacts and I love reading about the rock scribes of the seventies and eighties: people like Lonn Friend, Steven Rosen (in the US) and Chris Charlesworth and Chris Welch (in the UK) have some great tales. There are also interviews with Joel McIver, Gavin Baddeley, Martin Popoff and Ben Myers et al. It seems to be getting quite popular; the feedback has been really good. Of course, there’s still a bunch of writers I’d like to interview: Charles Shaar Murray, Mick Wall, Johnny Rogan, Chris Salewicz, David Fricke, Neil Strauss and others. I also think metal writing is underrated so I have obviously included several interviews with metal scribes.
Because there are quite a few interviews online now at some point in the next few weeks my webmaster is going to alphabetise them so as an archive it’ll be much neater. We’ve yet to add Mick Middles, Jeb Wright, Greg Prato and I’m hoping to also add Tony Fletcher and Keith Zimmerman soon. I’d love to collect them into a book but I may have to self-publish it (unless a publisher is keen?) I’m a big fan of Rock’s Backpages and there is a book of rock criticism culled from past publications called The Sounds And The Fury: 40 Years Of Classic Rock Criticism. A book of interviews with the people behind the rock criticism would make an interesting companion.
Would Bon Jovi get signed in 2009 if they were a new band?
Yes, I think they would. There are so many labels dedicated to melodic rock and hard rock and heavy metal that Bon Jovi would easily gain notice with their earlier stuff. I mean, Frontiers – the Italian label – is great and there are so many bands signed to that label who owe a debt to Bon Jovi. There’s a whole world of music outside of what is sold at HMV and what is published in the mainstream music press. So yeah, Bon Jovi would find a label. I doubt EMI or the like would be interested though. Maybe when The Darkness were around but not now.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
As previously mentioned there is a whole world of rock music out there that is easy to find now because of the Internet. I’m spending the first part of 2009 rocking out old school style: the new Saxon album is first-class. The recent EMI reissues of albums by Saxon, MSG and Deep Purple’s Stormbringer are fantastic. I’d recommend you check out a band called Heaven’s Basement (previously Roadstar); they are brilliant and need to be signed ASAP! I’ve currently got a pile of CDs I have yet to listen to: The Answer, Queensryche, Marillion and a load of others.
The Bon Jovi Encyclopaedia is out now on Chrome Dreams. Check out NeilDaniels.com for more information.