Let’s face it – Jon Bon Jovi has swallowed the Rock Star textbook whole. Be it through his power packed singing, his electrifying stage presence or his sharp song writing skills, Jon Bon Jovi is a legendary musician. He has the ultimate classic rock voice – full of soul, energy and grit, with a raw rasp to it.
Bon Jovi fans complaining that he isn’t as great a singer as he used to be are missing the bigger picture. It’s like complaining that the acting is wooden in a Stanley Kubrick film.
For instance, not everyone likes Bob Dylan’s voice, but his voice suits what he’s trying to express, and his skills as a lyricist and musician lend support to his singing. The same goes for Jon Bon Jovi. The problem comes when one major element is too off, and there isn’t much else there. Then the perceived weakness of that element matters a great deal.
Like many famous artists, Jon started his career without having any knowledge of vocal technique. A lot of great singers such as Whitney Houston and Adele, among others, had to relearn how to use their voices after becoming a big success. Usually those who start singing in an intuitive way, without the assistance of a professional, tend to create unhealthy habits while using their vocal cords. With time, this can lead to serious health problems in the vocal folds such as polyps and cales and even force an artist to cancel tours because of vocal fatigue.
The Comparisons: Livin’ On A Prayer – Then & Now
Livin’ On A Prayer is definitely one of Bon Jovi’s more vocally challenging songs.
Here’s what Jon sounded like singing this song in 1987.
These are the notes he was hitting back in ’87.
You can hear the damaging vocal strain on the chorus, but with the rasp caused by that strain, those high C’s sound incredible.
Fast forward about a decade to Bon Jovi performing at Wembley Stadium in London in 1995.
If you compare the power of his voice, you can hear how careful he seems to be. It’s common knowledge that Jon had done some serious damage to his voice during the New Jersey Syndicate tour, and had worked for months with a vocal coach to prepare for the These Days tour in 1995. This song and many others would never sound exactly the same again. In the ’95 video the song is being performed a half-step down. So on the chorus the high note is B4 – not C5.
Here’s what Jon sounded like on during the band’s 2013 Because We Can Tour
Not all that different, except even Richie’s no longer carrying those notes on the chorus.
In recent times, Jon never sings above an F4 when performing this song. He points the microphone to the audience every time the chorus comes around, and you hear the background vocalists soaring up to B4.
What Do The Experts Say?
Scott Kessler M.D. tends to the vocal cords of some of music’s biggest voices.
Kessler treats the vocal cords of world-class singers, including Jon Bon Jovi, Anita Baker, Barry Manilow, and a slew of Metropolitan Opera stars. He has helped them make some of the biggest decisions of their careers, including cancelling Madison Square Garden a half hour before a scheduled appearance, as two of his clients have done. One, an R&B singer was so reluctant to incur the wrath of the Garden attorneys that she considered going on despite the possibility of causing irreparable damage to her voice. But Kessler insisted that she cancel.
Of course, not every ailing patient takes Kessler’s advice so easily.
“Some A-list rock stars think they’re not human and they trot out onstage regardless of the shape they’re in”, he says.
“If I get the feeling that they’re not going to cooperate I make it clear that they’re taking a risk. And I’ve never had someone blatantly disregard my wishes”.
Except for Jon Bon Jovi, that is. “Forget about shows, he’s told me I wasn’t going to do entire tours. There were tours when he said, ‘Listen, your voice is shot. I don’t think you’re gonna make it.’ And not only did I make it, but I got stronger. And a lot of that has to do with his nurturing. He’s my doctor, shrink and friend. And the only one I trust with my money maker.”, says the rocker (a patient for 20-plus years).
One reason he does is that Kessler understands the difference between minor swelling, which can be quelled with a steroid injection to help get through a performance, and full-blown vocal cord bruising, which can be caused when a performer screams or strains his or her voice. That is why it is never too late to improve your vocal technique. While going through this process, an artist will sing much better and preserve their vocal health.
However, a lot of rock singers still seem to use very questionable vocal techniques that sound unhealthy and are not to everyone’s taste but Jon Bon Jovi is always a firm favorite with a lot of people, and after all these years of doing what he does best, his voice IS still going strong.
More importantly – and this may be the most important aspect of being a successful singer – he holds the audience’s attention, because he sings his songs like he means them. Having a “perfect” voice doesn’t sell records. The right voice paired up with incredible song writing sells records. That’s a little obvious thing no one talks about.
Footnote: Quotes from Scott Kessler M.D and Jon Bon Jovi were taken from Kessler’s interview with W magazine in March 2009.
Read the full interview here: Singing Sensation – Scott Kessler M.D. Tends To The Vocal Cords Of Some Of Music’s Biggest Voices.