Richard Stephen "Richie" Sambora (born July 11, 1959) is an American rock guitarist, producer, musician, singer and songwriter who is the longtime lead guitarist of the rock band Bon Jovi. He and frontman Jon Bon Jovi form the primary songwriting unit of the band. He has also released three solo albums: Stranger in This Town in 1991, Undiscovered Soul in 1998, and his third, Aftermath of the Lowdown was released in September 2012.
Sambora was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the son of Joan (née Sienila), a secretary, and Adam C. Sambora, a factory foreman. He is of Polish descent and was raised Catholic. He grew up in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey and attended Woodbridge High School there, graduating in 1977. He began playing the guitar at the age of 12 following the death of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix in 1970. From his early days Sambora was strongly influenced by blues and 60s rock and roll. His most important influences were The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, George Harrison, and Joe Kmiecik. He was also influenced by Spanish classical music and began a lifelong love of the Spanish guitar. Furthermore, he had stated that psychedelic soul singer Janis Joplin had a big influence on his musical style during her career in the late '60s and early '70s. Classical music directly inspired several of his songs, such as The Answer which was originally written on piano. He has said that he is color blind to red and green.
He was a guitarist for the band Message, and with that band he gave out a record, which was re-released in 1995 under the name Message, and in 2000 under the name Lessons. Bon Jovi added Sambora to replace original lead guitarist Dave Sabo. Sambora went to a show and, after being impressed by Bon Jovi, approached him and informed him that he thought they should work together. They immediately hit it off as friends, and Sambora was invited to a rehearsal. By the time Bon Jovi arrived, the band was sounding better than ever and Sambora was hired on the spot.
Sambora has occasionally taken over as lead vocalist on some Bon Jovi songs, most notably "I'll Be There for You" and "These Days" when played live on the Bounce, Have a Nice Day and Lost Highway tours, while on The Circle Tour he performed "Lay Your Hands on Me" and "Homebound Train". He has also performed his solo hit, "Stranger in This Town" during live performances. One of the live performances of "Stranger In This Town", recorded during the Keep the Faith Tour, was released on Bon Jovi's CD single "Dry County" in 1994.
Recent ventures have seen him compose television theme songs for both Entertainment Tonight and The Insider. He (along with Jon Bon Jovi) is part of the Ownership Group of the Philadelphia Soul, an Arena Football League football team.
Sambora made a cameo appearance in The Sims Superstar.
Sambora is featured on the track "Baby Rock Remix" from LL Cool J's 2008 album Exit 13.
His first solo outing was Stranger in This Town in 1991, a blues-influenced album that was received well by many critics although commercially a relative flop partially due to the more adult tone of the record that was not instantly appealing to Bon Jovi fans. Eric Clapton played the lead guitar track on the song Mr Bluesman, backed by Sambora on acoustic guitars. He did a short US tour in support of the album, featuring Tony Levin (bass), Dave Amato (guitar), Crystal Taliefero (percussion) and Bon Jovi bandmates Tico Torres (drums) and Dave Bryan (keyboards). "Ballad of Youth" was released in the UK in summer 1991 and despite plugs from The Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio 1 the song barely skimmed the top 75.
Undiscovered Soul was Sambora's second solo album, released in 1998. The album was produced by Don Was. In support of Undiscovered Soul, Sambora toured Japan, Australia and Europe in the summer of 1998. The band featured Richie Supa (guitar), Ron Wikso (drums), Kasim Sulton (bass), Tommy Mandel (keyboards), Everett Bradley (percussion; Japan only), Gioia Bruno (percussion; Australia only) and Crystal Taliefero (percussion; Europe only).
He made a special guest appearance on Bo Diddley's 1996 album A Man Amongst Men, playing guitar on the tracks "Can I Walk You Home" and "Oops! Bo Diddley".
In 1999, Sambora appeared as a guest vocalist on the Stuart Smith album Stuart Smith's Heaven & Earth, performing a cover of the Deep Purple song "When a Blind Man Cries". Also in 1999, Sambora played the guitar solo on the track "Why Don't You Love Me" on the album Tuesday's Child by Canadian singer Amanda Marshall.
Sambora also played on an album called Lessons from a band called Message. The album was recorded in the early 1980s.
Sambora sings "Long Way Around" (background audio) during the final scene in the 1997 Steven Seagal action film Fire Down Below and is featured on the film's soundtrack.
Sambora also recorded the song "One Last Goodbye" on the soundtrack for the movie The Banger Sisters. He also covered Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" for the soundtrack of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, released in 1990.
His guitar work is also featured on the track "Misery" on Pink's 2001 album Missundaztood with Steven Tyler.
In 2004, Sanctuary Records released a self-titled album which had been recorded in 1978 by Shark Frenzy, documenting Sambora's first recorded material. The mix tapes had been damaged in a flood and it had taken band member Bruce Foster to remaster them for them to be released so many years later.
Sambora co-wrote several tracks and played guitar on Australian rock/pop artist Shannon Noll's third album, called Turn It Up. It was released in Australia September 15, 2007.
14 years after his previous solo album, Sambora announced via his Twitter page that recording had been completed and that he was hoping the album would be released in July 2012. Photographs were published of Sambora working in a recording studio. The new album was produced by Luke Ebbin, who produced Bon Jovi's Crush and Bounce albums. Aftermath of the Lowdown was released in September 2012.
Sambora performed as the house band on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS for one week (December 3–7, 2012). Several guests sang along with the band over the week, including Craig Ferguson (singing Sugar Daddy), Denis Leary, Eddie Izzard and even Larry King sang the Late Late Show theme song.
Instruments and equipment
Sambora has been known to use a wide variety of equipment throughout his career. He has an extensive guitar collection, featuring more than 120 instruments.
In the 80s, Sambora mostly played Kramer, Jackson, Charvel and Hamer superstrats as well as modified and custom Les Paul models, such as his Rod Schoepfer model. In early-mid 1987, Kramer put out a Richie Sambora signature model with three humbuckers, pointy drooped headstock, gold hardware, star-shaped fingerboard inlays and a Floyd Rose Original locking tremolo, which quit production in 1989. Today it has been reissued by MusicYo, and is named "Jersey Star", no longer carrying Sambora's actual name. He had also used several other Kramer models, including a variety of custom ones ("one-offs"). His two most notable guitars from the Slippery When Wet album/tour were his Kramer Richie Sambora signature and a custom white Jackson with gold hardware and a Floyd Rose tremolo, HSS pickup configuration and a reversed Strat-like headstock and a star on the body and headstock. There is also another of his very famous guitars from Kramer, which is a Jersey Star signature double neck used on "Lay Your Hands On Me".
During the following years Sambora played various guitars, most notably a custom black Jackson, which featured only a single humbucking pickup in the bridge position, Floyd Rose tremolo system and a maple neck and fretboard with a reversed Strat-like headstock, along with vintage Fenders and Gibsons.
In 1982 Richie Sambora auditioned for KISS as Ace Frehleys replacement.
In 1991, Fender issued a Richie Sambora signature Stratocaster model which featured an original Floyd Rose tremolo system and an HSS combination of DiMarzio PAF Pro humbucking and 2 Fender Texas Special single-coil pickups. This guitar came in two versions; American and later in 1996, Japanese. US-made Sambora model featured an alder body with ash veneers and was available in Cherry Sunburst and Olympic White, while the Japanese version had an alder body with black paisley graphics(ltd),Snow White or Cherry Red Sunburst finish available (per the 1996 and 1997 catalogs). Other features included a one-piece maple neck/fingerboard with 22 frets and star-shaped position markers, as well as a 25dB active mid-boost circuit (US version only) with TBX (US & Japanese Paisley) tone controls and an active/passive push-button switch.
In the 1995 video Live from London, Sambora uses a custom orange burst double neck Fender Stratocaster featuring a traditional maple neck with star inlays and a locking tremolo (on the lower neck). He uses this guitar on the song 'Lay Your Hands On Me' on the London DVD.
There was also a Mexican-made standard version of the instrument, featuring a DiMarzio PAF humbucking pickup in the bridge position and two standard single-coils in the neck and middle positions. The guitar also sported a rosewood fingerboard with 21 frets and white dot inlays, as well as a Floyd Rose II locking bridge. Both the US and Mexican-made Sambora models were discontinued in 2002, though now there is a Fender Standard Series Stratocaster HSS Locking Tremolo with about the same specs as Sambora's own guitar, but its only available through Guitar Center.
Sambora has used Ovation acoustic-electric guitars from the early 1980s until today. He played a custom-made doubleneck designed by his longtime guitar technician Gary "Gaz" Douglas which is featured on many "unplugged" versions of Bon Jovi songs such as "Wanted Dead or Alive" and a variety of other Ovations, such as the Adamas hybrid wood/graphite model.
In 2000, Taylor started the production of a Richie Sambora signature model, a 6-string acoustic made of koa wood, called the RSSM. Only 100 were made all in the year of 2000. All of his double neck acoustics feature a 6 string neck on top and a 12 string neck on bottom, opposite of the normal manufacturing standard.
Since Sambora has been known to use his favourite Martin acoustic, among others, on a lot of recordings, Martin guitars put out two of Sambora's signature models in 2006, a 6-string and a 12-strings, based on his mentioned favourite 1930 Martin OM-45. He has also been seen using a Yamaha double neck acoustic at specific live shows.
He still plays a variety of Fenders, apparently over 40 Stratocasters (mostly vintage, American Deluxe and Custom Shop models), such as the Telecaster doubleneck used on "Have a Nice Day". Sambora also has a '59 ash-body Telecaster used for "These Days" and "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night". From 2003–2006, he played a wide variety guitars on stage, including custom "Sambora" guitars built by his guitar tech Chris "Lumpy" Hofschneider, Zemaitis Guitars, Floyd Rose guitars, Ovation, Taylor and Martin guitars, vintage and Custom Shop Gibson and Fender models, as well as guitars from his collection. One of the guitars built by his guitar tech features a fretboard made of both maple and rosewood, on an ash body with neck-through-body construction and a custom humbucking/single/single pickup layout. Currently, he mostly plays the custom black "Sambora" guitar (which is now a custom model called Sambora SA-2 for ESP), different models of Gibson Les Pauls and Fender Telecasters and Stratocasters (American Vintage, American Deluxe, Custom Shop and other models). On October 10, 2012, when he was about to play his second gig of the "Aftermath of the Lowdown" Tour in Amsterdam (NL), Richie got a custom Italian guitar hand crafted by Fabrizio Paoletti as a tribute to his music. Bon Jovi Club Italy organized the delivery. He loved so much the guitar that he played "Stranger in Town" with it, the same night. From that day, the Paoletti Wine Stratospheric has become a permanent instrument in his live guitar racks and was used on the "Because We Can Tour" as well.
Sambora also used Gibson and Guild acoustics, particularly a Guild F-50 12-string, which he used on the song "Wanted Dead or Alive". He acquired this guitar directly from the Guild factory due to it having a finish flaw.
For most of the 80s and early-mid '90s, he used Marshall amplifiers, particularly the JCM800 models with 4x12" speaker cabinets and a variety of rack and pedal units (including effects). During his Stranger in This Town tour, Sambora used 2 Marshall JCM800 2203 heads and a Fender amp head (model not specified), with 3 4x12" Marshall cabinets. In 1995, Sambora started using Fender ToneMasters with Fender ToneMaster 4x12" speaker cabinets, following the These Days Tour. On tour, he used up to 12 cabinets on stage. For the studio sessions of his second solo album, Undiscovered Soul, he also used a Fender Bassman 4x10" combo and a Vox AC30. On the tour, he used Fender ToneMasters, a Marshall amp head, a Vox amp head and a VHT Pitbull in combination with Fender ToneMaster 4x12" and 2x12" speaker cabinets. In 2000, Sambora started using the Marshall JCM2000 DSL series (both on the tour and recording sessions of Crush). The song "It's My Life" was also recorded with a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier. He has also used the Marshall DSL series on the Bounce tour, as well as a Hughes & Kettner amp, occasionally. During their Have a Nice Day tour, Sambora used Diezel and Divided by 13 amplification and custom made 4x12" speaker cabinets. During the studio recording sessions of the Lost Highway album, he used Matchless, Bogner Ecstasy and Diezel Herbert amps. In 2007, he started appearing on stage with 2 halfstacks, again featuring Marshall JCM2000 DSL amplifiers and custom made 4x12" cabinets.
In late 2007, Sambora became an endorsee of The ESP Guitar Company, and a new Richie Sambora signature model, the LTD SA-2, was debuted at the 2008 Winter NAMM show.
According to Young Guitar (Japanese magazine), Richie Sambora used (during the Tokyo shows in 2008) an A/B box, Framptone Talkbox, Jimi Hendrix Dunlop Wah, Keeley Sd-1, Stock SD-1, Roger Mayer Octavia (butane paintjob), Boss CH-1, EHX Electric Mistress Deluxe. He also uses a MIDI rig.
Sambora is endorsed by D'Addario and uses D'Addario strings on all of his guitars. He uses a variety of sets for different tunings, including EXL110 (.010-.046), EXL115 (.011-.049), EPS540 (.010-.052), EXP15 (.010-.047 acoustic), and EXP38 (.010-047 acoustic 12-string set).
Now, from 2010/2011, Sambora is using a rack system. Some effects the rack includes are: Furman Power Conditioner, Lexicon and Eventide rack effects. Some of the pedals that Sambora is using on the Circle tour are: BOSS OD-1, Hermida Audio Zendrive, Tone Freak Effects Naked OD and Abunai 2, Klon Centaur, Analog Man Octron, EHX Micro POG, Tone Freak Effects MelloTremo, BBE Soul Vibe, Retro-Sonic Chorus, MXR EVH Flanger, MXR Phase 90, Maxon Auto Filter, EHX Deluxe Memory Man. These effects are all run by a MIDI Controller. The effects he has running from his guitar to his amp are: BOSS TU-2 Chromatic Tuner, Moollon Wah, and an Ernie Ball Volume Pedal.
Sambora professes that he still takes guitar lessons to improve his skills and is being taught how to play fingerstyle by Laurence Juber, after meeting him in a guitar store and thinking it was two guitarists playing from a distance. They later performed together and with Tommy Emmanuel, recording an acoustic version of "Livin' on a Prayer".
Sambora is currently not on tour with Bon Jovi, having left due to personal issues, although he is on tour as a solo artist. There has been no confirmation on when or if he will return to the band.
Public service and recognition
Over the years, Sambora has been an ardent fundraiser for many charities, such as Dream Street, the Steve Young Forever Young Foundation and Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease charity. He has donated money privately to various cancer charities since the death of his father, including both hospitals where his father was treated, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and M D Anderson. Sambora's fundraising with the charity Stand Up For a Cure allowed for three mobile full service hospital units to be brought to the streets of New York, two of which were named after his parents, respectively.
In May 2004, Sambora was bestowed with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Kean University where he attended the awards ceremony and gave a speech of acceptance. He attended Kean University as a freshman, but then dropped out to pursue a career as a professional guitarist and session musician.
Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 18, 2009.
On November 24, 2009, Sambora launched the charitable effort You Can Go Home in his home town of Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, which unveiled a street renamed Richie Sambora Way. He also donated funds to renovate part of his alma mater Woodbridge High School, which opened a new weight room, the Adam Sambora Fitness Center, dedicated to Sambora's father.
On May 7, 2012, Sambora was recognised by the Midnight Mission charity for his work, dedication, and support to their cause, with the Golden Heart Award.
Sambora married actress Heather Locklear in Paris on December 17, 1994. Daughter Ava Elizabeth Sambora was born in 1997. Locklear filed for divorce in February 2006 citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was finalized on April 11, 2007. Just nine days later, on April 20, Sambora's father Adam died of lung cancer. Sambora resides in Los Angeles and owns a beach house in Laguna Beach as well as other properties.
On June 7, 2007, it was announced that Sambora was entering an "undisclosed rehab facility in Los Angeles" for treatment related to alcoholism. Following his release, he told an interviewer, "I was just drinking too much and I needed to get my life together. I'm still in therapy and stuff like that, but it's good. I'm great. I feel fine." In the Bon Jovi documentary "When We Were Beautiful", Sambora talks candidly about his addiction to painkillers following a slip in his bathroom. He credited his bandmates and mother with helping him through the difficult time.
On April 28, 2011, it was announced that Sambora had made the decision to enter rehab again. Sambora was absent from the band for thirteen shows during the Bon Jovi Live tour, and Sambora's guitar and vocal duties were handled by well-known session musician Phillip "Phil X" Xenidis during those shows. This is Sambora's second stint in rehab and was announced just a week after he finished probation for drunk driving charges. Sambora returned to join the band in June 2011 in Zagreb, Croatia for the start of the European leg of the tour.
On March 26, 2008, Sambora was arrested for drunk driving in Laguna Beach, California. At the time, his ten-year-old daughter and her friend were both in his Hummer. He was pulled over at 10:52pm after an officer noticed his car "weaving on the road", but was "quiet and cooperative and didn't cause any problems". At his May 2008 arraignment, he pled no contest "to driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher", was fined $390, placed on probation for three years, and was required to attend a driver's education course.
Other album appearances
With Shark Frenzy
- Shark Frenzy (2004, Sanctuary)
- Message (1980, unknown label)
- Message (1995, Long Island Records)
- Lessons (2000, Escape Music)
- Message Live (2006, Two Sun Songs)
- Cher (1987)
With Desmond Child
- Discipline (1991, Elektra)
With Bon Jovi
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