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Playing for 70,000 screaming fans at Giants Stadium which the members of Bon Jovi will be doing tonight and tomorrow might seem like fun. But music is a serious business, a fact that the members of Bon Jovi instinctively knew early in their careers.

"He was very serious about practice," said Jack Godowski of lead singer Jon Bon Jovi. Godowski is a former keyboard player for Jon Bon Jovi's high school band, Atlantic City Expressway. "When you're 17 and 18, the thing to do was to drink and then play loud music. You didn't do that in Jon's band. If you wanted to drink, you drink after practice -- you come to play."

Godowski, then a senior, was asked, along with trumpet player Don Noe, in the spring of 1978 to join Atlantic City Expressway by Jon Bon Jovi, then known as sophomore John Bongiovi, in the halls of Sayreville War Memorial High School.

Atlantic City Expressway was a 10-piece, horn-driven rhythm-and-blues band in the Jersey Shore style of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

However, Godowski, who now lives in Sayreville with his wife and three children, wasn't familiar with Southside Johnny when he joined the band.

"We came to one of the practices and Jon had the (Southside Johnny fedora) hat on, and a couple of the other guys had the hats on, too," Godowski said. "I was, like, 'What's this?' "

Godowski was a quick study and ACE played Rutgers and Princeton events and high school dances. If the music and the look was inspired by Southside Johnny, elements of the style of the young Jon Bon Jovi were drawn from another famous Jersey Shore musician.

"He told stories in between songs like Bruce (Springsteen) would do," Godowski said.

Godowski, whose father played with the area band the Jesters, played in ACE for a year until deciding that college and music together were too much.

"I chose the safe route but I kick myself every time I see Jon on TV," Godowski said.

The band, which included future Tower of Power and Late Show with David Letterman band member Al Chez, eventually picked up keyboardist David Rashbaum of Edison, now known as David Bryan of Bon Jovi.

Jersey Shore clubs like the Fast Lane and Stone Pony became the band's destination.

"It was a vibrant, live, club world that was wonderful,"said Bryan earlier this year about the Jersey Shore scene of the late 1970s and early '80s. "There were a lot of good musicians and everybody was sitting in with each other, jamming with everybody else."

Around that time, a young Richie Sambora of Woodbridge talked himself onto the stage of the former Charlie's Uncle in East Brunswick to perform with musician Bruce Foster.

"We played 'Kansas City,' a song that everybody knows with three chords, and he played rhythm," remembers Foster, who now lives in Oceanport. "When the solo came, I said to him take it and he flicked the toggle switch (on his guitar) into the lead position and the bend on the first note was done with such finesse, that before he hit the second note of the lead, I said to him, 'You're in the band!' "

Foster was a seasoned pro when he and Sambora started playing club gigs together in bands like Shark Frenzy. To that point, Foster had performed on albums by Status Quo, Kiss and Gladys Knight and the Pips and also had a regional hit with "Platinum Heroes," a tribute to The Beatles.

He was a vet who knew the business."Rich may have regarded me as that," Foster said. "But whatever he learned from me, I learned twice as much from him. He was such a natural, brilliant musician and wonderful, wonderful person."

While the music making was serious, the after-show scene at Charlie's Uncle, now called the Surf and Turf Ale house, was a time to unwind. "After the gigs were over, we would be hanging out in the parking lot just laughing," Foster said. "We wound up some nights talking almost until dawn."

As for drummer Tico Torres of Iselin, his early years included plenty of session work, gigs with Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and Cher, a stint with the local band Phantom's Opera (along with former Bon Jovi bassist Alec John Such of Perth Amboy) and jamming around the area.

Franke Previte, the New Brunswick musician who would later co-write "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" and "Hungry Eyes" for the "Dirty Dancing" soundtrack, first met Torres in a Somerset jam session.

His reaction? "Wow, this guy's really happening," Previte said.

Later, when Previte was looking for a new drummer for his band Franke and the Knockouts, he recognized Torres at an audition. "There was Tico behind the drums and I said there's our drummer," Previte said.

The members of Bon Jovi would go on to different bands with names like the Rest, the Message and John Bongiovi and The Wild Ones. Sambora even auditioned for Kiss and Jon Bon Jovi sang on the novelty track, "R2D2, We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

The big break came when Jon Bon Jovi, after working at his cousin Tony Bongiovi's recording studio the Power Station, submitted the song "Runaway" in 1983 for a New York City radio station compilation record. 

The track was a hit, Bon Jovi was formed and stardom came with 1986's "Slippery When Wet."

"All of a sudden, their life changed," Foster said. "They went from another struggling band to the biggest thing in the world.

Asbury Park Press 7/27/01