John Bongiovi – better known as Jon Bon Jovi – had been playing in bands since he was 13 years old, and was out on the New Jersey club circuit plugging away since he was 16. Now 22, he’d done a number of demo recordings, thanks in part to working at the New York recording studio co-owned by his cousin Tony Bongiovi, The Power Station. But to date he’d been turned down by all the record labels he had approached in search of a recording contract.
While he was writing and singing promos for radio station WAPP “The Apple” in Lake Success, NY, its promotion director asked Jon if he could include one of his demo songs, “Runaway,” on a local homegrown talent album. Though initially reluctant, he agreed. The song – whose recording included E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan and bassist Hugh McDonald – ended up becoming a hit with listeners. And Jon finally inked a deal with Mercury Records.
He wanted to start a band with which to pursue his music and put in a call to his old friend, keyboard player David Bryan. The two had played together in bands during their teens. Bryan in turn called drummer Tico Torres and bassist Alec John Such. For lead guitar, Jon called on his neighbor Dave “Snake” Sabo, later to start the group Skid Row. Not long after, the lead guitar duties would be taken up by another New Jersey music scene veteran, Richie Sambora, who would quickly become Jon’s musical right hand man. The band would be known as Bon Jovi – rather than their first name choice of Johnny Electric – at the suggestion of an employee of Doc McGhee, the group’s manager.
The band’s debut LP, simply titled Bon Jovi, was released in 1984. “Runaway” was its first single, barely denting the pop Top 50 at #49. No matter. In 1986 Bon Jovi released their third album, Slippery When Wet, which spent eight weeks at #1 and was declared by Billboard to be the best-selling album of 1987. And Bon Jovi were on their way to becoming one of the biggest-selling musical acts on the planet.