In 2010 and 2011, Bon Jovi played across the United States and across Europe -- touching down in some 50 countries in all.
What the band members -- singer Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan and drummer Tico Torres -- saw were countries in recession and ordinary people struggling through hard times. Those experiences became inspiration for "What About Now," the brand new Bon Jovi album that was just released on March 26.
"It really, really was born out of a lot of the things that people were going through, that we were feeling, how people were feeling about the things that were happening in the world," Sambora said in a recent teleconference interview with other members of the band and national media -- given before Sambora's abrupt departure from the tour made national headlines last week.
The guitarist abruptly pulled out of the band's current leg of the tour -- which will include Wednesday's concert at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City -- on the afternoon of April 2, mere hours before a scheduled show in Calgary, Ontario, Canada. In an official statement, the band cited the vague "personal reasons" catch-all to explain Sambora's exit. Sambora missed a month's worth of shows on the band's 2011 tour as well, due to a stint in rehab. Guitarist Phil X is once again filling in for the embattled guitarist.
While the new record may sound sobering and serious -- the message doesn't come across all that heavy. Remember, this is Bon Jovi, the band that has been livin' on a prayer, keeps the faith, promises to always be there for you -- a band that has made a career out of celebrating good times, good love and big dreams.
"It's not a bummer of a record," Sambora said. "It's certainly not a negative record. It's a very, very optimistic and positive record and that's the way I look at it, anyway."
Instead, Sambora and frontman Jon Bon Jovi (the songwriting team on the vast majority of Bon Jovi songs) focused on the way people show resilience and come together for each other during hard times.
The first single from the new album, "Because We Can," is an example of the attitude.
Bon Jovi itself hasn't had too many struggles over a career that now spans 30 years.
The band broke through in a big way with its third album, the 1986 release, "Slippery When Wet," which included the hits "Livin' on a Prayer," "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Wanted Dead or Alive." The album held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard magazine album chart for eight weeks. That was followed by an even bigger album, "New Jersey," which included five hit singles.
The band saw its popularity dip, though, heading into the 1990s as grunge supplanted pop metal as the predominant sound on rock radio. But over the past dozen years, Bon Jovi has enjoyed a major resurgence, as the 2000 CD, "Crush," 2003's "Bounce," 2005's "Have a Nice Day," 2007's "Lost Highway" and 2009's "The Circle," have all been hits.
Sambora said he feels the band's work ethic has played a leading role in its ability to achieve and maintain the arena-filling success Bon Jovi continues to enjoy.
"Obviously it starts with our dedication to touring and, you know, we've always had that adage that we would play everywhere we could in the world and take our music to every place we could," he said. "And I think that we've been very, very loyal to our fans and consequently our fans have been very loyal to us. And I think that we just write songs that people can relate to, and it becomes a part of the soundtrack of their lives. That's a privilege in itself."
"Because We Can" looks like it could become the latest in the long line of Bon Jovi hit singles. Featuring one of the best guitar riffs Bon Jovi has ever built into a song, it's a rousing anthem about support, determination and belief.
The "What About Now" album as a whole, the band members said, sounds like Bon Jovi, which is only natural for a band that after a dozen studio albums has certainly created a signature melodic rock sound.
"If you put the four of us in a room, it's going to sound like us because it's us," said Bryan, who along with Torres, also participated in the teleconference interview.
The return of Bon Jovi follows a year-long break during which Bon Jovi wrote a song, "Not Running Anymore," for the film "Stand Up Guys." The song was nominated for a Golden Globe award.
Bryan, meanwhile, made a major splash, winning four 2010 Tony awards (including best musical) for "Memphis," a musical he wrote with lyricist Joe DiPietro. The play opened on Broadway in 2009 and ran until Aug. 5, 2012.
Bryan didn't brag on his success with "Memphis," but his bandmates were happy to needle him -- while noting just how genuinely rare his accomplishment was.
"How many people get four Tony's?" Torres said. "How many people get one Tony? How many people can get a play on Broadway, for that matter? Geez, man!"
With or without Sambora on this leg of the tour, fans can expect a show with plenty of visual bells and whistles.
"With every tour we also try to up our game as well with that, without making it such a production that you lose the fact that there's a band there," Bryan said. "So for us it enhances what we do and we've really got some really cool tricks up our sleeve. It's really looking cool."
Fans can expect to hear a generous selection of songs during the show from across Bon Jovi's career.
"We play for at least two and a half hours, sometimes longer, so there are a lot of songs from all the records," Bryan said. "We know there are staples that as fans we would want to hear, so we always give that. And then we change up a bunch of songs and then throw in a couple of new ones, and every night it's different."