Bob Burger

An Onstage View of the Event of the Year

Success in life, and certainly the music business, is often determined by one's ability to take advantage of opportunities. It's also a matter of being in the right place at the right time. If you can get both at the same time, magic happens.

The Hamptons, on the eastern shore of Long Island, New York, is a popular summer destination for the rich and famous. The parties, especially those at the end of summer, are often highlights of the social calendar and are much talked about in gossip columns and media publications.

This past summer's most talked-about event was thrown by Jon Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea in early September. The rock superstar threw a surf-and-turf dinner with a guest list that included included Renee Zellwegger, Naomi Watts, Howard Stern, "Today" anchor Matt Lauer, designer Donna Karan, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner and "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels.

Tapped to lead the house band for the event was New Jersey singer/songwriter Bob Burger. The popular Jersey shore fixture has been well-known along the scene for years, noted for his collaborations with Bobby Bandiera and two critically-acclaimed solo albums, "Cymbals At Dawn" and "Surprise Party".

What made the evening notable - enough for Howard Stern to devote considerable airtime on his show to discuss it and Q104.3's Jim Kerr to have Burger on his radio morning show - was a impromptu jam that was held after dinner. While guests may have expected Bon Jovi to hit the stage to entertain guests at his own event, they couldn't have expected the stage to fill with no-lesser music legends than Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Roger Waters and Jimmy Buffet tearing through a series of rock and roll classics. With Burger and his band providing the beat, and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine leading the the dance floor, the standard was set for next summer's events.

One guest was quoted as saying, "It was the first Hamptons party in years that was actually fun."

Chorus and Verse spoke with Bob Burger to get his take on this once-in-a-lifetime dream concert and catch up on his own recording plans and goals for the year ahead.

You were an important part of a major music happening in September when you were the house band for a party at Jon Bon Jovi's East Hampton estate. Can you give us a quick overview of how you first found out about the gig and came to be invited to perform?

My friend, Bobby Bandiera, had originally been asked to put together the house band, but couldn't do it because of other commitments. He recommended to Jon that I could fill in.

Was the band for the evening a usual group that you perform with, or was anyone invited especially for this event?

I've worked with all the players before. My "band" is made up of different players on different nights. But most were the guys that I often play with on my regular gigs, Jimmy Leahey, Jerry Gaskill, Jon Rogers. For the party, Jon Bon Jovi requested I add a keyboard and sax player. I tapped Mike Mancini on keys and Tommy LaBella on sax. I have to say that the players in the band are stars in their own right. Jerry has played with King's X for 25 years. Jimmy works with John Waite, Glen Burtnik and many others. And Jon Rogers plays with Blue Oyster Cult. There was an amazing collection of players before the big guns even hit the stage!

Did you do anything specific to prepare for the show, especially knowing who would be attending, or did you treat it as just another show?

Jon asked us to be prepared with a lot of "party" songs, so we did rehearse some old dance favorites. Mostly Beatles and R&B stuff. We also went over Jon's "Who Says You Can't Go Home" and Billy Joel's "Say Goodbye To Hollywood". But truthfully, we didn't know who would really be attending.

Talk about your set before the guests began to join you on stage. You've played at a lot of high-profile events, including backing Bruce Springsteen, but was seeing so many music legends in the audience intimidating?

We played in the back end of the yard while the guests were having dinner close to the house. We really couldn't see any faces. I did talk briefly to Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel before we went on. But knowing there were legends out there wasn't really intimidating. I was comfortable that I had truly great players on the stage.

Did you notice anyone who seems really into the set or did anyone go out of their way to complement you or the band?

When we started out, the crowd was very quiet. The crashers out on the street were actually more responsive! After the show, there were tons of complements.

How much of the final part of the show, when several of the luminaries joined you on stage, was discussed with Jon beforehand? Was this a case where a good idea turned into an amazing idea, or was it totally unplanned?

That wasn't the final part. The luminaries were on stage during the middle of the set and then left. The final part was really back to me and the band.

During sound check, Jon went over a couple songs with us. The plan was for Jon to join us on those tunes to get the party rolling. Nobody was sure what would happen after that. But everything just clicked, even though we really didn't know what we were going to play.

Once Jon hit the stage and was being joined by Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Roger Waters and Jimmy Buffett, who was picking out the songs and sort of controlling the action? Did all of the egos just sort of melt away and how well did the band manage to keep up with everyone?

There were no egos at all. I think Billy came up first - after Jon - and we did "Honky Tonk Women" at his suggestion. After that Jon turned to me for ideas. When Paul came up, I suggested "Long Tall Sally" and "Rock and Roll Music". When Roger came up, Jon asked if we could pull off "Wish You Were Here". All the players in the band are true professionals. They never dropped a beat.

All of the people who were performing with you are amazing talents and superstars, but only one of them is a Beatle. At what point did you realize that you were on stage with Sir Paul and was that one of those moments that just made your entire career worthwhile?

The instant he walked on the stage.

The celebrity jam went on for about an hour. Can you recall some of the songs that you performed, and who was singing lead or playing on some of the more memorable moments?

Jon: Say Goodbye To Hollywood, American Girl, Treat Her Right, Who Says You Can't Go Home; Billy: Honky Tonk Women, Take It Easy; Paul: Long Tall Sally, Rock and Roll Music; Jimmy: Rock and Roll Music, Take It Easy; Roger: Wish You Were Here. There may have been more.

The pivotal moment was when Governor Corzine led the dance floor on "Who Says You Can't Go Home". The most memorable moment for me was sharing the mic with Paul McCartney and also Jon Bon Jovi doing back up vocals. Just like on Ed Sullivan!

Do you think the show could lead to any other opportunities for you in the future? Do you think you'll have a chance to perform at Bon Jovi's estate again, or you do think that even he might be worried about never ever being able to top this event?

No idea on either count. Based on the success of the event, I hope there will be other opportunities. I'm sure Jon could come up with something to top even this one.

Let's switch to your upcoming projects. Where do things stand for the holiday CD release that you're working on? What can you tell us about the music that you're recording for the disc and when do you think fans will be able to get their hands on it?

I'm working hard on the holiday CD, which is titled "Christmas Can't Wait". It will be an EP of five songs. Three new originals, and covers of "Ave Maria" and "Christmas In Killarney". I'm still not sure if I can get everything done in time to have manufactured CDs for the holidays. But at a minimum, the songs will be downloadable by early December.

You're currently taking a short hiatus after a very busy year. Do you have anything planned yet for 2008 that you'd like fans to keep a look out for and are there any plans yet for an original album to follow-up your latest, "Surprise Party"?

I will be doing band shows more regularly in 2008, along with my regular gigs. I have a lot of ideas for the next original CD but haven't actually started writing yet. Will be diving into that as soon as "Christmas Can't Wait" is done.

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Jennifer L. Pricci

Jennifer L. Pricci is owner of Phantom Power Productions, a publicity, marketing and promotional firm that specializes in advancing the careers and projects of tri-state area independent musicians. Phantom Power Productions prides itself in performing low-cost services for quality artists.