After numerous hits on the pop chart, not to mention multi-platinum albums and sold-out concert tours, the members of Bon Jovi are now enjoying their first Top 10 country hit with “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” a duet with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles.
Written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, the track from the band’s latest album, Have a Nice Day, is up for vocal event of the year at the upcoming Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas.
In a recent interview with CMT Insider, Jon Bon Jovi explained that Nettles wasn’t the first country singer to record the song with them.
“I knew that the song had great crossover appeal, and we were just trying to find the right voice to complement mine,” he said. “Initially, I did it as a lark and had Keith Urban sing it. And he was in the studio with us one day … just to see if the concept worked. Our voices were too similar, so we started thinking, ‘Well, maybe what I need is a girl.’”
Luke Lewis, who heads the Universal Music Group’s Nashville division, suggested Nettles and provided a copy of Sugarland’s debut CD.
“The greatest compliment that I could give her is that she made the song her own,” Bon Jovi said of their collaboration. “She really just captured the essence of the lyric. … She really took ownership in our words, and I appreciated that because you get rather particular about the way the story has to come across, as a songwriter. Sometimes I’ve written songs for other people, and if they don’t tell the story the way you felt it, it may have a whole different meaning.”
In addition to a performance on CMT Crossroads and November’s CMA Awards show, Nettles and Bon Jovi have appeared together in concerts in Atlanta and Nashville.
“What we say is, ‘You’ve got to sing for your supper. There’s no free tickets around here, so come on up,’” he said. “And she’s more than happy to.”
Although Bon Jovi said it’s “incredibly exciting” to have a country hit, he added, “I just feel like a good song is a good song, and it’s a shame that we have such limitations on radio and genres.” On the other hand, he says Nettles is capable of appealing to a wide variety of musical tastes.
“She comes from a rock background and fell into country,” he said. “She could have been a pop star, absolutely, or will be one in the future, most likely, like the ways Shania Twain or Faith Hill or those girls crossed back over. Jen is a young girl, and you’re going to see her around for a long time to come.”
Bon Jovi is especially intrigued with Nashville and the differences between the way country and rock artists approach their work.
“This city has always moved me,” he said. “It’s always given me great inspiration. I come down here for periods of time to get the juices flowing. … One thing that is not similar in the pop and country worlds is that a lot of country artists can tour regardless [of whether they have a new album]. Regardless of that cycle, they stay out, and then they come home for four days a week and make a record three days a week.
“What rock bands do — and what we do — is go out everywhere around the world, and it might be two years before I sit down and start writing songs again seriously. Two and a-half years even. You come down here [to Nashville] and spark the whole thing again. You remember how to write songs. And every guy at every bar is just a killer songwriter. … I’ve made a lot of friends here.”
Aside from the success of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” Bon Jovi is grateful for other acknowledgments within the country music community.
“Guys like Chris Cagle covering ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ right now on his new record or Joe Nichols mentioning us in the lyrics of his songs and his videos, you go, ‘Wow. We’ve been around a long time. We’re becoming a part of that patchwork of what is Americana.’ You know, just to say ‘Bon Jovi,’ and they go, ‘Oh, yes. It’s a lyric in the song.’ You don’t have to explain who the band are anymore. It’s wonderful. Trust me, we don’t take it for granted.”