The career highlights and vocal challenges of Jon Bon Jovi

This is a new series of posts that serve as a tribute to some of my favourite singers and songwriters. These are artists within the rock and metal genres who I consider to have made giant contributions to changing the musical landscape as we know it. These artists are collectively responsible for spawning hundreds of thousands of imitators, but the originals can’t be beaten. Previously we talked about the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne.

Today we’re going to focus on the star studded career of Jon Bon Jovi. In particular, we’ll talk about the vocal challenges that he has been enduring over the past decades. We’ll also discuss how and why his voice broke down in the way that it has, and the high-tech vocal procedure that Jon recently received in the hopes of recovering some of his iconic vocal tone, strength and range.

As a vocal coach that specialises in working with both rock and metal singers, I have to say that Bon Jovi’s music holds a special place in my heart. During my teenaged years, Bon Jovi’s music served as the backdrop to many parties, summer breaks and good times.

The man and the band

Jon Bon Jovi was born John Francis Bongiovi Jr. on March 2, 1962. He is a successful singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor from the United States of America. He is best known as the founder and frontman of the rock band Bon Jovi.

Jon was 20 years old when he received his first Bon Jovi recording contract. Even though they’re a band, Jon received the recording contract for all intents and purposes as a solo artist. He then promptly went out and found the best artists he could to collaborate with, putting them under contract. Right from the beginning, Jon was a very smart businessman.

In March 1983, Jon called Alec John Such (bass player), then Alec called Tico Torres (drummer) and Richie Sambora (guitarist and vocalist) to meet up. Bon Jovi, Sambora, Such, David Bryan (keyboardist), and Torres became the founding members of Bon Jovi.

First steps to fame

Jon Bon Jovi’s first big hit was “Runaway”, which was recorded at The Power Station, New York’s hottest recording studio.

In 1983, Bon Jovi visited new, local radio station “WAPP” in New York. He spoke with DJ Chip Hobart and to the promotion director, John Lassman, who suggested that WAPP include the song “Runaway” on the station’s “New York Rocks” 1983 compilation, which was an album featuring local homegrown talent. Jon reluctantly agreed and gave them the song.

The success of Runaway led to a new recording contract with Atlantic Records. Jon Bon Jovi and his newly formed band took the initial momentum and ground it out on the local and national concert scenes and were beginning to build a loyal fanbase.

Fastforward now to 1986 and Bon Jovi released their groundbreaking album, Slippery When Wet, which ended up selling 28 million copies worldwide by 2011. Slippery When Wet included three top ten singles. Two of the singles went to number one; “You Give Love A Bad Name”, and “Livin’ On A Prayer”.

The Slippery When Wet tour ran from 1986 to 1987. It was Bon Jovi’s first worldwide tour and consisted of over 200 concerts, which were on about 3-4 nights every week (sometimes even more while touring the USA).

The start of Jon’s vocal challenges

Growing up, one of Jon’s early vocal influences was Bruce Springsteen (“The Boss”). The Boss is well known for his aggressive, balls-to-the-wall vocal style which creates a lot of pressure and tension on a singer’s vocal cords.

Jon Bon Jovi created a similarly styled vocal delivery for Livin’ On A Prayer. The second chorus of the song in particular goes from a D5 up to an Eb5, which really does separate the men from the boys. This is one of the crucial factors that started to erode away Jon’s vocal strength. Night after night, hitting high D5s and Eb5s regardless of what shape the voice is in, is going to take a massive toll on anyone’s vocal endurance.

In live performances as early as the 1990s, you could really hear Jon starting to struggle. Those long concert tours can be murder on a vocalist’s instrument and voices need time to recover when vocal cords are swollen or under large amounts of vocal fatigue. When this happens, vocal cords do not thin down anywhere near as easily, which makes it harder to hit the signature high notes of a song.

In singing a back-breaking song like Livin’ On A Prayer, there really are very few places to hide and often a singer is left very exposed. The band did their very best to step up and support Jon with killer backing vocals from both David Bryan (keyboardist) and Richie Sambora (guitarist).

When you have an extensive touring schedule, you don’t just have to perform concerts to sold out arenas around the world. You also have to do press conferences, radio interviews and TV shows in order to promote the album you’re touring for, to stay in the charts long enough to do it all again next year.

The Bon Jovi sound

Jon started his career as a real chest belting kind of singer. He would use his chest voice very aggressively to create the foundation of his vocal sound. Over the years, Jon has consciously changed his vocal style and has started using more of a pharyngeal sound, which is essentially creating a mixed voice and singing more into the pharynx area of your throat to help sustain vocal stamina (and to make it easier to achieve a mixed voice).

We’ll discuss this anatomy and vocal style more in a future post.

The purpose of adopting the pharyngeal vocal placement was to begin to take some of the excess weight and strain off his vocal cords. This created a brighter sound for Jon, which he has used to craft his own unique vocal style, different to the sound he used in his early career. This has now become the signature Jon Bon Jovi sound.

In my personal and professional opinion, through the tours to promote “New Jersey” and right up to the “These Days” album, Jon had done and amazing job of keeping his vocals together even though the cracks were showing. This led to some shows being better than others.

The one thing that you could never doubt with Jon Bon Jovi was his dedication to his fans, his band and the energy that he put into each and every performance to make it the best it could possibly be on that night. That man was dedicated!

Over the course of all of these tours, behind the scenes Jon was experiencing a singing voice that was taking longer and longer to recover between shows. The temporary fixes that the singer resorted to were becoming more dire.

The iconic, chart-busting songs like Livin’ On A Prayer, Bed Of Roses and You Give Love A Bad Name were continually being tuned down from as early as the “New Jersey” tour until they were almost unrecognisable from the original keys. Still Jon’s voice struggled to hit the high notes. He was sounding hoarse and the writing was on the wall that the singer simply couldn’t go on this way.

As a vocal coach, I long suspected that Jon was suffering from some form of a paralyzed vocal cord and/or undisclosed neurological condition.

High-tech surgery

I didn’t want to be the one to air Jon’s dirty laundry in public as I have massive respect for Jon both as a singer, songwriter and a performing artist. Instead, I chose to stay silent on the subject until such a time that Jon has actually come out himself and has explained the vocal condition under which he has long been suffering.

In his own words, one of his vocal cords was atrophying (shrinking in size). Vocal cords generally require a high degree of symmetrical closing in order to be able to thin down and produce higher pitches.

“One of mine was as thick as the thumb, and the other one was as thick as a pinky. So, the strong one was pushing the weak one aside, and I wasn’t singing well. So, my craft is being taken from me.” – Jon Bon Jovi

Jon is describing that his vocal cords are usually thick with above average mass. One of his vocal cords was as it should be, but one was decidedly thinner. This creates a problem because the vocal cords can’t come together symmetrically in order to hold back air and create both a pleasing sound and a quality tone. As a result, Jon’s singing voice was sounding progressively weaker than it had ever been before.

What was happening in Jon’s case, was that the strong vocal cord was pushing the weaker one outward and to the side. This would let a lot of excess air pass through the vocal cords and as a result Jon’s voice would be shaky and would lose a lot of volume. This is very noticeable on his later albums, like “Crush”, “This Left Feels Right”, “Have a Nice Day”, “This House Is Not For Sale”, and others.

Bon Jovi underwent vocal surgery in February of 2022.

Jon was fortunate enough to find an ear, nose and throat surgeon (ENT) in Philadelphia who was able to perform a medialization laryngoplasty. During the procedure, Jon’s surgeon placed a plastic implant into the weaker, semi-paralysed vocal cord. The objective of the implant is to help position the non-functioning vocal cord closer toward the healthy vocal cord to allow for better closure when the voice is phonating (making vocal sound).

The road to vocal recovery

After the surgery, Jon has said he spent approximately 19 months in rehabilitation. This would involve re-learning how to produce his vowel sounds and also to be able to re-engage the weaker vocal cord into everyday speech. This would progressively move to a regime of vocal exercises that will be designed to help him regain the strength and flexibility that vocal cords require in order to be able to thin down, and to physically change registers between chest voice, mixed voice and head voice.

I suspect that during the time Jon has said he was rehabilitating, a large part of it was spent touring. Recorded concerts show that he was performing with his band right up until September of 2022.

If you’re a singer that has been progressively losing strength and range in your vocal cords and you suspect that you might have a partially paralysed or atrophying cord like Jon, contact me as soon as you can for frank discussion about options to help preserve your voice.

Your first stop should always be to seek a consultation with a qualified ENT. I have experience in this area and have successfully helped to rehabilitate clients that were experiencing partial paralysis in their vocal cords and other related vocal conditions. I can help you with a customised vocal exercise programme to reduce the time it takes to safely rehabilitate your voice.

Finding out more

If you’re interested in learning more about Jon Bon Jovi directly from the man himself, I can highly recommend getting a copy of his biography.

Here are some links to get copies directly to your door:

Want to hear more from Bon Jovi? Their music can be found on your favourite streaming service, or click here to order their music in vinyl form.

Disclaimer: If you make a purchase from one of the above links, a tiny commission goes to supporting the site. In keeping with my “No BS” policy, I only ever recommend products that I personally use or know are beneficial to my readers.

Better information leads to better singing.

2 thoughts on “The career highlights and vocal challenges of Jon Bon Jovi”

  1. Bon Jovi was always a favorite growing up in the long hair band Rock N Roll 80’s. I can remember when my son was only a year and half and we were playing on the beach in Cape Coral Florida kinda sitting in the water. This little girl comes running up to us and yelling Bon Jovi wow can I have your autograph. We indeed looked just alike back then same hair same facial features. Her mother comes running up stating oh honey that’s not Bon Jovi. The little girl insisted that I was the real deal. I had to explain to her that I was not Jon Bon Jovi. Some times people can resemble other people almost to an exact. I gave her a huge hug and she smiled away. The good ole days. Sincerely, Sherman Dunn

    1. Thank you Sherman for sharing your thoughts on Jon Bon Jovi. I hope you enjoyed the blog!

      I’m sure in that moment when the little girl insisted that you were the real deal, that you were able to give her a lasting memory of one of her favourite artists.

      Be sure to check out the rest of my blog series where I am featuring the top rock singers of all time!

      – Paule Enso

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