Back in the late Eighties, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora was considered to be one of the true guitar heroes of the day. While less flashy than, say, Jake E. Lee or George Lynch, Sambo was generally acknowledged to be one of rock’s most tasteful and melodic players.
However, as time went on and Bon Jovi became more of a pop band, Sambo’s role changed. He became less of a spotlighted soloist and more of a talented colorist, adding just the right notes and textures to the band’s radio-ready songs. While his skill was still undeniable, there was clearly less opportunity for him to solo and strut his stuff.
A series of impressive solo albums, including the underrated 2012 Aftermath of the Lowdown, attempted to remedy the situation. But last night’s (July 22) warmup performance at New York City's Iridium—which was filmed for a PBS Front and Center special that will air this fall—was guitarist’s real bid to show he still has the chops to be considered one of the greats.
The show started on a dramatic note, with Sambora crooning Leon Russell’s intimate “Song For You,” but soon heated up with a huge riff rocker titled “Burn the Candle Down.” With his hat cocked over one eye and wearing a shirt proclaiming that he was just a “Working Class Hero,” the New Jersey rocker traded lightning-fast licks with talented co-guitarist Orianthi for an ending that brought the audience to its feet.
While the show was meant to be mark the late Les Paul’s birthday, who was something of a mentor to Sambora, the 90-minute concert was equally a tribute his other classic rock influences: Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Johnny Winter, to name a few. Playing several beautiful Les Pauls, including a white one Paul personally present to the guitarist, through a custom-made Freidman combo amp, Richie summoned the gigantic tones of the Seventies as he performed songs primarily from his solo albums, with a few Bon Jovi classics sprinkled in for good measure.
Highlights included an arena-sized version of “Stranger in This Town” and a thundering “Seven Years Gone,” featuring exciting fretwork from Sambora and Orianthi. While Ori gave Richie most of spotlight, she wasn’t shy when it was her turn to solo. Her incredible technique and more trebly, biting tone lit a fire under the a-- of the frontman, who clearly enjoyed being challenged.
It is rumored that the two guitarists are working on an album together. If it comes to pass, it should be a corker. At one point in the show, Smabora said, “Les Paul is the reason we all have jobs.” I’m sure somewhere Les is smiling and saying in that gruff voice of his, “Hey, Sambora—job well done.”
Brad Tolinski is the editor-in-chief at Guitar World.