Bobby Bandiera

"Undeniably And Undoubtedly" The Last Man Standing

What an interesting age it is to gauge success in music. The listening public is bombarded daily by the viral campaigns of major label marketing departments working diligently to remind a largely attention-deficient pop culture that their flavor of the weak is worth your 99 cent digital download. Club owners around the world are struggling to maintain their original music venues, ultimately having to diminish the original integrity they set as the standard for the acts that play their room in favor of those who bring in more dollars. Even those age-old rock-n-rollers who may have once-upon-a-time never dreamt of taking an endorsement deal are the voices behind mortgage brokers, automobiles and batteries. You know when Springsteen is envious of U2's spot for iPod that the business is going through ch-ch-ch-changes. And where failure may not prove fatal for many of these established rockers in this new climate; failing to change will.

While never a favorite of rock critics, Bon Jovi has won millions of loyal fans with a hard-driving stage show and uplifting message. Jon Bon Jovi and the members of his band have kept their star aloft with an uncanny ability to evolve with the times while remaining loyal to their New Jersey roots. Convincing on-stage equally as rock icon and next door neighbor, Jon Bon Jovi keeps it fresh through the swings of the industry pendulum because he knows that nothing endures but change. The captain of his sailboat, Jon doesn't complain about the wind, he just adjusts the sails. And his faith? In the future. Because, eventually, all popular successes become critical successes. Even the most steadfast of critics will admit, eventually, that there has to be something behind the sale of one hundred million albums.

At the time when John Bongiovi was pounding the pavement looking for deals, the industry didn't want to touch anything that sounded "too New Jersey." Between Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny, it was largely believed that the shore sound had run its course. And then, a "Runaway" success. Having worked as a runner at his uncle Tony's Power Station, a famous music studio in New York, Jon took advantage of any opportunity he could find to work on his music. He got his big break when Billy Squier agreed to produce a demo tape which featured what was to become Bon Jovi's first single, "Runaway". The song found its way into a compilation album for local musicians and onto the airways of many New York metro stations. Polygram/Mercury soon came knocking, signed Jon in 1983, and the Bon Jovi band was born.

Transcending the hair-band moments through evolution of sound and style, Jon sailed his boys through the rough waters of grunge and boy bands and is currently anchored up in a sea he's admittedly not too happy with. Recently, when discussing some of his new material, Jon Bon Jovi speaks about the music business today and references his feelings in the song "Last Man Standing", a track off Bon Jovi's upcoming release "Have A Nice Day", due in stores September 20th.

"Last Man Standing is from an observation I made on tour," said Bon Jovi. "It's about the state of the music business. I imagined myself as a carnival huckster standing outside a carnival tent. I'm bringing people in to see the freak show, because he's the last man standing.

"I think I was venting a little too much of my anger at the record industry these days which is a mere shell of the thing that I loved. And, um, in this day and age, I feel bad for the 20-year-old kid that was going to walk in through the doorway of a radio station the way I did when I was a young man in Jersey, because these days, they've got these machines programming these radio stations and the DJ is out on the street looking for work and the record companies are giving the stuff away and they're becoming one, one big old, big brother machine. And so, maybe I'm a little bitter, but I don't think there's going to be too many kids that are going to sell a hundred million albums in their lives anymore. So until this rotten business figures out who the hell they are, this is for the last heroes left; the Elton Johns, the Bob Dylans, and Bruce and Petty and Bon Jovi."

Bon Jovi's lyrics call to mind the image of a local musician who's played alongside such household names as B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Keith Richards and more. I cannot believe my ears each time I walk into the carnival tent Jon has set up for me to find Bobby Bandiera, who with each broken string convinces me more that the star of this freak show may very well be the most underrated musician of our day. What's unique about Bobby, when it comes to the current state of the business, is that he would not change when looking for a deal, he would not change his style to fit the mold a record executive has set for him. He plain enjoys life more being exactly who he wants to be.

On Bon Jovi's upcoming world tour, Jon throws a fresh coat of paint on his stage show with the addition of Bobby Bandiera on backing guitar and vocals and Jeff Kazee on backing keyboards and vocals. Both musicians are 20-year veterans of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

"The ineffable Jeff Kazee and the inevitable Bobby Bandiera have been asked by the insolvent Jon Bon Jovi to join his little band's latest tour ... Have no fear, my peoples; they will be back. I still owe them six weeks pay ..." reports Southside Johnny in a public roast-like statement on his website,

Southside continues, "We are blessed (?) to have the sunny smile and able fingers of an old friend of mine, Ricky Byrd, on guitar and vocals. I met him when he was playing for Joan Jett. He must have been 16 years old, and as full of piss and wind as the barber's cat. He's a great guy, a real talent and a terrific songwriter that I hope to collaborate with in the future. He will be playing the shows that Bobby can't make. Hopefully, Bobby will use this time away from the Jukes to work up some NEW JOKES!!!! Godammit."

What makes Bobby Bandiera inevitable? Perhaps it's the long friendship Jon Bon Jovi and Bobby have enjoyed over the past 15 years or so.

"The first time I met [Jon Bon Jovi] was at the [Garden State] Arts Center, " recalls Bandiera. "He had just come off tour and somehow he had met Willie Nelson. And Willie Nelson gave him a leather cowboy hat. And he had it on when he came on stage with us, and Southside proceeded to look at it while they were both out on stage, and flung it in the audience and it was goodbye to the Willie Nelson hat. Jon was like, 'hey, my hat.' And that's where I met Jon."

"A couple years later, right after one of his tours ... he was antsy and he called me up and said, 'What are you guys doing for the next couple of weeks?' So I said, 'We're in a couple of vans, and we're going to be doing about two to three weeks of dates between Philadelphia and Massachusetts.' And he said, 'Can I come?' So I said, 'In the van?' He said, 'yeah,' and I told him, 'But you'd have to room with me!' He said, 'Well, I don't want to room with you.' But he did. He came out and he had a great time, just being a Juke," said Bandiera.

He continued, "And ... when he finally thought that he was going to give his band a rest for a while, he figured he'd do a solo record in the meantime. I lived fifteen minutes away from him. And I'm sure because of his experience with being out with us, he thought of me to come and play some guitar on it. And the record came out great and it was fun to be included. Jon's very dedicated and very focused on what he does with his music and pretty much with his life. You learn a lot from being around somebody like that."

Bobby Bandiera may say he's learned a lot from Jon, but there is no doubt Jon has learned a lot from him, too. An established musician in his own right, Bobby has been a well-known contributor to the Jersey Shore music scene since his days in the popular '70's bar band Holme. Soon after, he moved on to lead Cats On A Smooth Surface, who had a great run at the Stone Pony, earning the unofficial title of ultimate house band. Cats was the most sought after cover band of its time, and Bobby was considered by many its most talented member. He is credited with earning that band its stellar reputation by recruiting its members, who consisted of only the cream of the talented local crop. The result was a band everyone wanted to see, including Bruce Springsteen, who joined Cats on stage dozens of times. The good word had it that Bruce enjoyed his on-stage time with this band so much because he enjoyed playing alongside Bobby, a relationship that forged the rumor that Bobby was slated as the next guitarist for the E-Street Band when Little Steven left -- a rumor that was even reported confirmed by MTV News.

Across the board, musicians love playing with Bobby. The ultimate front person, Bobby keeps sets interesting with solid skills as a musical director. He'll cue on the off beat and deal out the solos. There is rarely a song that he does not know how to play and he can lead even the blind through it. With Bobby, it's all about the groove. You don't just get his interpretation of the music, you get his take on it. This is what Bobby projects to his audience, whether they can put their finger on it or not. This is why he's so valued locally and why many of his most loyal fans are happy for him as he embarks on this new project, but sad to see him go for so long.

Recently, Bobby and I sat down and talked over a freshly opened tin of Altoids Green Apple bubble gum. How wonderfully-timed this conversation was as I had just seen him the night before at the most recent Jersey Shore Rock-n-Soul Revue: A Tribute to Simon & Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. I had never been so impressed with Bobby's directorial skills as I was the previous evening at Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ, and I was anxious to hear what he had to say about moving into a supporting role with the boys of Bon Jovi as they set out to tour the world.

Bobby Bandiera: This is great!

Bobby, the interview hasn't even started yet.

No, the gum, it's fucking great.

Oh, you're so easy to please.


So, 20 years with Southside and you've never missed a show.

Yep. Since 1986.

And when you went out with Jon Bon Jovi to do the Destination Anywhere Tour you still didn't miss a show?

Yeah, didn't miss a show. Southside took a break.

Was it because you were out with Jon?

No. He took a break because he was getting old.


So, how do you feel that this is your first time ever missing a show with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes?

Great. Well, I feel ... like ... you know ...

It's a change.

Yeah, it's a change. He'll be here when I get back, he ain't goin' anywhere. Johnny ... ooohhh, that Johnny!

What has he said to you about the new project?

He says I'm an asshole, and Jon's an asshole.


Was he kidding?

Huh, no. And then he said good luck.

Well, everyone I've spoken to in your band and in the Jukes... they all wish you so well, but it's bittersweet, you know? Because it's been so long.

Right, exactly. It's been a long time.

As a musical director, as you so poignantly displayed last night at the Rock & Soul Revue, what can you assume about Jon Bon Jovi's motivation to put and Jeff Kazee in the band as fresh new elements to the stage show?

I think that at this point in his career, it might be fun to mix it up a little bit. I think that's why he's doing it. He's not changing his band around, as far as the Bon Jovi band, but adding two guys that are just going to mix it up a little bit.

It's more or less to keep it interesting. New blood always works, in any situation. I think that when you add somebody new, and they're not hacks, it's good, you know what I mean? He wouldn't add someone who was just some fucking guy, although he considers me just some fucking guy sometimes.

Puh-lease, that can't be true. Have you ever seen the way he looks at you when he's playing your gigs?

Is he gay?

Well, I wouldn't want to start any rumors.


So, you've toured the world with Southside. You've cited London and Paris as a couple of your favorite places. Anything you're looking forward to specifically as you head out to conquer the world with Bon Jovi?

I was in Hong Kong with Southside, I'd like to go back there. But, it's all the same after a while. After 20 years ... I've been to Paris 15 times. London, 28. It's always fun, not as shiny as it was when I was 20, but still fun.

To do it with a bunch of new guys, I think it's going to be fun and different. Or, different and fun.

Remember when you were in Germany with Jon doing "Destination Anywhere?" And you played this one outdoor gig, and the crowd was so crazed and it was so hot and cramped that people started passing out? Jon stopped the show and asked everyone to step back. And, it was an awful experience for you, because ...

God, people were getting hurt. It was scary. It was like watching a car crash and not being able to do anything about it. This car is crashing in front of me and somebody might die. You feel helpless. That's how I felt there.

Of course, there are so many positive things you have to look forward to going on tour with Bon Jovi. What are you looking forward to most?

Nothing different than what I'm used to from going on tour with Southside, it's just going to be with Bon Jovi. Admittedly so, and rightfully so, the crowds are going to be bigger and the places are going to be bigger. It's going to be on a bigger scale. But, playing in front of 2,000 people or 20,000 people, well, it's all fun to me. I've done it enough times, played in front of crowds that big, so that it's not scary to me, where initially maybe it wasn't scary, it was exciting, you know, but it made you nervous a little bit. It doesn't do that anymore. Well, maybe, every once in a while, you're like 'oh, shit, there's 20,000 people out there! Now what do we do?' And you do what you do.

Were you involved in the recording process at all for Bon Jovi's new album "Have A Nice Day"?

Yeah, yeah.

Does that change the feeling you get when you're performing the material in front of that big crowd? Knowing that you had a hand in the recording process?

No. I've worked with him in the past, and can get behind whatever songs he's written whether or not I was in the studio. Was in the studio on "Destination Anywhere" ...

Were you on "Blaze of Glory"?

No, I helped him demo that, but no.

So, as far as it goes, it doesn't matter whether I play in the studio or not, to me. I like the idea of playing in the studio, but it doesn't matter. So, it's fine either way.

Again I go back to last night. It was such a different sound to me, personally, coming from you. Very orchestral, different.

Doing those things, theatre shows like that, lends itself to that. I love doing that stuff! I had the opportunity to do projects like that here and there also working with Jon, like at The White House. So getting handed the job of Musical Director in some of these highly professional situations ... it's fun to see whether or not you can rise to the occasion and handle it.

At these high-profile events, like the White House Christmas Specials, where you're the musical director, you're the leader, leading Jon. How is this tour going to differ for you, where you're playing a more supportive role?

It will and it won't be. I'll be in a more supportive role and I won't be just walking up on the stage and picking up a guitar. I do what I do on his stage just like I do what I do on any of my stages. My job.

I've seen you at the Bon Jovi shows. I'm interested to know, as a well-qualified musical director, would you change anything about the Bon Jovi performance?

Nope. It's just life with a different bunch of guys.

I've spoken to a lot of Richie Sambora fans and they're curious to see the dynamics between you and him. Musically speaking, where will you fall on the guitar?

Well, there won't be too much stepping out. And it doesn't matter to me. I'm sure there'll be some spots here and there and if there aren't, it's all cool. It's all music to me, one way or the other.

Jon's asking me to do a job, as part of a band, not as somebody who's going to take over this role. So, I'm doing the same job David [Bryan] is doing. I'm doing the same job Tico [Torres] is doing. I'm doing the same job Huey [McDonald] is doing. I'm doing the same job Jon and Richie are doing, except that I'm not going to be lead on any of the songs, and that's ok.

Where will you fall vocally? Any specific register?

Our voices are pretty close, actually, as far as range goes. Richie's voice, Jon's voice, my voice. So, it's going to be like, as you mentioned the show last night, putting everything in its order and in its place so it works toward the sum of it.

Ah, Gestaltism at it's finest.

(Laughs.) So, that's what I'll be doing. I'll be asked to sing middle parts.

It'll be different in that I won't be doing my thing. That's what happens. You go on somebody else's tour, somebody else is playing somebody else's part. First of all, you're being asked because of your ability. But, most of all, you're probably not going to be asked to do exactly what you do. That's ok.

With that in mind, you have to think about the business end of things, too; especially when you're working with Jon. There's huge cross-over potential here. Yet, as you said, you're not going to be doing what it is you do. How do you feel about that?

The fans aren't going to get to see me at my highest potential. So it's really not that big an issue to me what they think and feel as much as I just want to do my job and do the best I can for my job. Now, there may be people out there who say 'well, he's not very good 'cause he doesn't do very much.' Well, that's their prerogative. If anybody's curious and wants to come to America after seeing me with Jon in Japan, Austria, Australia or wherever then they'll obviously have the opportunity to see what I do first hand.

Can they stay with you?

And they can stay with me, yes.

Somehow I can see all the pretty girls in their kimonos now.

It's a question that's more hypothetical in nature than it is something that can be answered directly. It's just ... not going to happen. They're all not going to see exactly what I do. There going to see this other guy.

It's hard for audiences, too, to realize a new face in a band that they've been seeing for 15 years that's been that same face. If somebody left Bon Jovi or Tom Petty or The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, some people are going to be turned off by the fact that some other new guy is standing in their place, however good they may be.

Well, it's hard being the new guy.

Yeah. But it doesn't bother me. I don't really think of what people think as far as that goes. It's not part of my everyday thought process that I should wonder how I'm going to be accepted. On one hand don't give a fuck. (Laughs.) All I'm really concerned with is doing the job I've got to do. And, on the other hand, that'd be great if people like me. Everybody likes to be liked.

I love your attitude, Bobby, just like it can't be easy being the new guy, it can't be easy getting up on stage with some of the greatest musical legends of our time. I love hearing about the time you got to play with Keith Richards during the finale of the Rainforest Alliance Benefit at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Only, when you got up on the stage with the rest of the nights' performers, there were no amps left. So, you're going through the motions, you're not plugged in, but Keith is looking at you like he's really digging what you're playing. He's getting down, only he can't hear you, nobody can. If you had the chance to do it again, what song would you jam with Keith on?

Good question. Um, I don't know. "19th Nervous Breakdown". It's just one of those songs; you can turn it up and let it rip.

Yes, great guitars and a condemnation of neurotic upper class girls who've seen too much too soon. Too familiar. I love it!


What about Sambora? What if it was the two of you going at it?

"Rock-n-Roll Hoochie Koo". It's a great guitar song.

Man, would I love to see that jam, 'cause I could only assume you won't cut out the solo like the radio does.


Do you have a favorite Bon Jovi song? A song you enjoy performing most with the guys?

Well, on this new album, I guess I shouldn't say too much. There are a bunch I can't wait to play. I like "Have A Nice Day" a lot. But, from the songs I've always performed with him over the years, "Wanted" has always been great. I mean, it's one of those songs that just plays itself and it's a rock-n-roll anthem. So there's just no getting around it. It's a great song at the beginning of the day and it's a great song at the end of the day.

Anybody who knows about your choice songs to play would be able to deduce that you come from the '50's school of rock. Rock-n-roll, music, has changed so much since then. It's certainly a lot more complex than your traditional four- or five-piece band. Lots of machines doing lots of work ? a tough evolution for the rock-n-roll purist. And Bon Jovi, who's success can be so highly attributed to changing with the times, would be considered by many a more contemporary rock outfit. How would you define rock-n-roll?

Rock-n-roll, to me, is another form of music. And probably, for me, the highest expression of music although there's going to be many people who like different styles according to what era they're from or what they like to listen to. But rock-n-roll is the most expressive, I feel, because when you walk into a room and hear "Willy Willy" [which is playing in the background] or "Destination Anywhere" or "Twist & Shout" or "Can't Buy Me Love", it's just, all of a sudden, you've got a smile on your face. You could be in a shit mood, and all of a sudden it puts you in a great mood. Even if you never heard the song before! That's what rock-n-roll is to me; music that undeniably and undoubtedly puts you in a better frame of mind about your life.

So, as you embark on this new project, who are you looking forward to working with most: Jon Bon Jovi the musician, Jon Bon Jovi the businessman or Jon Bon Jovi, your friend?

All three.


Bon Jovi fans are definitely in for something special this tour with the addition of Bandiera and Kazee to the line-up. Always a top-grossing tour, the Bon Jovi sound this time around will blossom with the addition of these two musicians generating sounds that are buried deep within the solid foundation of Bon Jovi studio recordings but are just too layered to reproduce genuinely live. I encourage all Bon Jovi concert goers, from front row-center to nosebleeds, to calm your frenzied pace for a moment and really listen. Listen with your soul and I promise you will not believe the exponential result in sounds you've never heard from this band live before.

As the winds of change are blowing, and Jon again prepares to set sail with his ever-important crew aboard, this writer, Bandiera loyalist and Bon Jovi enthusiast also prepares to evolve. When I moved to Monmouth County from Long Island four years ago I received a lot of slack from those questioning my motives. Why anyone would ever concern themselves with the mistaken impression that I moved to this town to be closer to Bon Jovi is beyond me. Unquenched by the music community of - ahem - Nassau County, I found "home" in New Jersey the first time I walked the streets of a broken Asbury Park where I could still feel the magic of what once was long before my lifetime. And as I leaned up against the rough exterior of Madame Marie's old haunt, it was with no particular lyric in mind that I decided this is where I belong. And now, as I begin to lay the groundwork for a 3,000 mile relocation west, I thank Jon, whom without my unbridled, often flaw-ridden enthusiasm would have never been introduced to the greatest place on earth. Because I didn't come here in search of the rock icon who's big-haired pin-ups are buried somewhere in my Mother's attic. I came in search of the Last Man Standing. Well, I found him. And he is the reason a piece of my heart will always be here.

Bon Voyage Bobby! Mix it up, keep it fresh, sail around the world and show 'em what you got. Then hurry home, there are fog horns blowing for you.

"Last Man Standing"
Songwriters: Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Falcon (ASCAP)

Come see a living, breathing spectacle
Only seen right here
It's your last chance in this lifetime
The line forms to the rear
You won't believe your eyes
Your eyes will not believe your ears
Get your money out, get ready
Step right up, yeah you, come here

You ain't seen nothing like him
The last one of the breed
You better hold on to your honey
Honeys, don't forget to breathe
Enter at your own risk, mister
It might change the way you think
There's no dancers, there's no diamonds
No this boy he don't lip synch

Here's the last man standing
Step right up, he's the real thing
The last chance of a lifetime
Come and see, hear, feel, the real thing

See those real live calloused fingers
Wrapped around those guitar strings
It breaks the heart to hear him sing
The songs were more than music
They were pictures from the soul
So keep your pseudo-punk, hip-hop, pop-rock junk
And your digital downloads

Here's the last man standing
Step right up, he's the real thing
The last chance of a lifetime
Come and see, hear, feel, the real thing

Take your seats now, folks. It's show time
Hey, Patrick hit the lights
There's something in the air
There's magic in the night
Now here's the band, they really play
I'll count the first one in
I don't know where it's going
We all know where it's been

Here's the last man standing
Step right up, he's the real thing
The last chance of a lifetime
Come and see, hear, feel, the real thing

Here's the last man standing
Step right up, he's the real thing
The last chance of a lifetime
Come and see, hear, feel, the real thing

The last chance of a lifetime
Come and see, hear, feel, the real thing

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.