Bon Jovi came out of the gate with a self-titled debut album in 1984 and a debut single, "Runaway," that made them New Jersey famous. 7800 Farenheit followed the next year, but it was their third album, Slippery When Wet - the one with "Livin' on a Prayer" - that made them superstars in 1986.
The cover took three tries to get right. At first, the album was titled Wanted, a tie-in to the track "Wanted: Dead or Alive." Taking a cue from the Eagles, who strapped on their six-guns for the Desperado cover, Bon Jovi tried an Old West theme, hiring photographer Mark Weiss to shoot a sepia-toned version of the band as if they were outlaws, on the run in a dusty barn in front of an old-timey Wanted poster for the "Bon Jovi Gang."
Armed with loaded six-strings and presumed dangerous
Jon Bon Jovi had not yet perfected the cowboy look. The boots are impressive, but the leopard-print scarf, the bracelets, and his high hair (the star of the first two Bon Jovi album covers), are the kind of anachronisms no amount of hair spray can fix. Weiss did pull off a more believable solo shot of Jon with his hair contained under a cowboy hat and at least a week's worth of scruff.
Turning a Jersey rocker into a cowpoke is no easy task. The facial hair helps.
"We knew we were getting close," remembers Weiss. "They needed a stronger image, so another photo was taken of a single lady wearing a cut-up shirt doused in water with the album title on it."
"Wanted" was out, sexy car wash lady was in, and the album was re-titled Slippery When Wet. (The band came up with the name after visiting a Vancouver strip club called No. 5 Orange, where a shower was part of the show. They were in the city to record with producer Bruce Fairbairn, whose studio was there. Jon Bon Jovi says they spent a lot of time in the adult establishments, which he called "cutting edge.")
The photo shoot took place on Bradley Beach in New Jersey, with the band members bringing along their cars and their girls, who were outfitted in "Slippery When Wet" T-shirts. The cover girl is Angela Chidnese, who later appeared in the pay-per-view Bikini Open 4.
The artist at work: Mark with Angela
It looked like Bon Jovi had their cover, but at the last minute, their record label got cold feet when some retail chains warned they would not stock the album due to its suggestive cover image. They needed a new cover - quickly. Jon Bon Jovi had an idea.
"I got a call from Jon saying, 'I'm coming over to your studio, and we're going to do a new cover. Just have a black plastic bag there for me," Mark Weiss explained. "He walks in the door, and says, 'Hang up the bag, throw some water on it.' I sprayed some water on it so you saw droplets on the bag, and he just wrote 'SLIPPERY WHEN WET.' And he walked out! He didn't even stick around for the Polaroid. I sent it in, and that was it."
Angela's cover made it to some international releases of Slippery When Wet, and this photo from the Bradley Beach shoot was used on the back cover.
The album did just fine without the beach bod on the cover. It was #1 in America for seven weeks and sold over 12 million copies in that country alone. Remarkably, Jon Bon Jovi went back for another rodeo four years later when he did "Blaze Of Glory" for the movie Young Guns II. Again, Mark Weiss was on board.
"That was over in the desert," Weiss said. "He was doing two videos: 'Miracle' and 'Blaze of Glory.' And 'Blaze of Glory' was connected to the movie Young Guns II. I was at the recordings of the album, and Elton John, Little Richard, and Jeff Beck were all on the record. A few months after it was released, they did the videos. Wayne Isham did a video up in Utah, and Jon wanted me to go document it. We actually had to take a helicopter up there. In the video, there was a drive-in movie theater on top of a butte, which was the theme of the video.
"So, they had to bring all this equipment up, and also, they had to transport us. Jon went back and forth, but me, the crew, and people that went up there the first time, they left us up there for a few days and we had to get camping gear. Then in the middle of the night, I had to go to the bathroom, and as I was walking out – and I didn't realize it because I'd had a few drinks the night before – I almost walked right off the cliff! It was so dark. The next day, I couldn't believe it. I almost didn't live to tell the tale.
Mark camping dangerously (after a few drinks) close to the cliffs in Utah
"Jon liked to have me at the video shoots because he was all dressed and camera ready, and there was a lot of downtime. So, I took advantage of it, and in his case, I saw this rainbow out of nowhere, and I just said, 'Jon! Come over here!' And I put him on the edge of the cliff, and I shot him with the rainbow. They used that photo in all his promo posters and on the back cover of the Young Guns II soundtrack."
Jon Bon Jovi cliffside during the "Blaze Of Glory" video shoot
The Young Guns II soundtrack became Jon Bon Jovi's first solo album, released in America as Blaze Of Glory. This time, his Old-West look was much more refined.
May 20, 2020
Get The Decade That Rocked: The Photography of Mark "Weissguy" Weiss at thedecadethatrocked.com.
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