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Italians Who Changed Rock and Roll: Jon Bon Jovi

Step foot into a wedding reception going into its final hours or a dive bar with a digital jukebox, and you’re liable to hear boomers, eighties babies, and millennials alike belt out the story of Gina and Tommy, holding onto what they’ve got with the same fervor fans had in 1986 when “Living On A Prayer” first came out. For some, listening to Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet is like a time capsule to the bygone days of hair metal and rock decadence. In reality, it's anything but that: Jon Bon Jovi and his band brought metal to the mainstream and changed rock and roll forever. 

Born John Francis Bongiovi Jr. in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Jon Bon Jovi grew up Catholic with Italian roots linking his family back to Sicily. From an early age, he gravitated to music. At thirteen years old, he was already playing in his first band. At 16, he met and started playing with David Bryan – with whom he would go on to found Bon Jovi in 1983. 

In the early 1980s, metal was still sidelined when it came to mainstream rock. Rock’s radio waves were on a softer tuning, with bands like Journey, REO Speedwagon, and Duran Duran dominating. When Bon Jovi hit the scene, things got a whole lot heavier. 

“Runaway,” the band’s first single, was released in 1984. It was loud, bold, and it introduced the band’s thrashing, in-your-face power. Penned by Jon Bon Jovi and George Nick Karakoglou, it had equally defiant lyrics to match its sound. 

While “Runaway” caught traction, it was the band’s third album that charged them to superstardom and set the foundation for their enduring legacy. The album, of course, was Slippery When Wet – a record where worlds collided and something new emerged. Drawing from the hair-band playbook and the burgeoning metal scene, Bon Jovi created a new sound. In the span of just 10 songs and 43 minutes, rock anthems and power ballads lived side-by-side, as did the everyman and the cowboy. This formula would be immensely successful for Bon Jovi– and also influence generations of musicians to come, from 90s rockers like the Goo Goo Dolls to even country stars like Jason Aldean. 

This is just one of the many reasons why Jon Bon Jovi was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009, and Bon Jovi (the band) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. 

According to a statement from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “Bon Jovi… stood among the first metal bands to receive heavy rotation on MTV. They helped Skid Row get their first record deal and gave them access to huge audiences by having them as an opening act on the New Jersey tour.”

The legacy of Jon Bon Jovi – and his band – extends beyond bringing metal to the mainstream, although that is no small feat. For decades, Bon Jovi has infiltrated the hearts and lives of hundreds of thousands of fans, creating a holding space for the fighting spirit of everyday people. If new generations have learned and loved “Living On a Prayer,” it’s because it speaks to the part in us that dreams, works, hopes, and fights. This is Bon Jovi’s legacy. 

Natalli Marie Amato 

Natalli Amato is a music and lifestyle journalist from Sackets Harbor, New York.  Her bylines include Rolling Stone, Vice, and The Boot. She is also the author of several collections of poetry.