While in Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora saw a million faces and rocked them all.
But nothing will quite compare to three very intimate live performances he has planned to mark the anniversary of the birth of the great Les Paul, who would’ve turned 99 this past June 9.
On July 22 and 23, Sambora will take the stage at New York City’s 170-seat Iridium, the famed jazz club where Paul performed weekly for 12 years until his passing in 2009, for a set that will include selections from his solo albums, as well as songs from the Bon Jovi catalog and, of course, a few favorites made famous by Paul.
“Les was my good friend, and he was genius,” Sambora says. “When I play the Iridium, I know he’ll be on my shoulder and I’m gonna do my best to make him proud. This show is not about me—this is my tribute to him and that’s how I’m gonna frame it. It’s pretty intense, man. I just hope I don’t get too emotional!”
The concerts, which will be taped and aired this fall on Public Television’s Front and Center, will feature the guitarist’s current touring band, including Australian guitar virtuoso Orianthi Panagaris, who graced the cover of the April 2013 cover of Guitar World.
“The way I met Orianthi was pure happenstance,” Sambora says. “I was in Maui last year, and Alice Cooper invited me play a benefit on New Year’s Eve. Ori was playing in his band at the time and we started jamming. The chemistry was immediate and combustible. We tore the place apart.
“When I decided to do some solo shows this year, my second guitarist had to bow out, and I immediately thought of Ori. She was available and Alice gave it his blessing, and we’ve been touring, writing and working together ever since. Even though she is younger than I am, we’re both influenced by a lot of the same music, and our styles just mesh.”
As for Bon Jovi, Sambora is focusing on his own music for the moment and is working on a batch of new songs for an album that will hopefully be released later this year.
“I’m having a great time. I get to be an artist again. The framework I was in made it hard for me to go back to my roots and do what I was meant to do—really play the guitar. People think it’s risky to go out on my own, but the real risk is not doing it: the risk of regret, the risk of not expressing myself.”
And what will the man be playing as he tips his hat to Les Paul at the Iridium this Tuesday and Wednesday?
“Ha! Les Pauls, of course,” he laughs. “I’m lucky enough to have some real nice ones, including an unbelievable white one Les gave me himself.”