"There was more security on the catering backstage than on any band's dressing room. We were told, If they see the Hard Rock Cafe's cheeseburgers and French fries, there will be a riot": Jon Bon Jovi recalls playing in Russia for the first time

Bon Jovi, 1989
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Jon Bon Jovi has spoken about his memories of visiting Russia for the first time, when Bon Jovi were booked to play the Moscow Music Peace Festival in August 1989, during the glasnost era, three months before the Berlin Wall came down.

The festival, co-promoted by Bon Jovi's then-manager Doc McGhee, and Russian musician Stas Namin, came into being in the wake of McGhee being arrested for his alleged involvement in a plan to import 20 tons of marijuana into the US. As part of his guilty plea, McGhee promised to dedicate 3,000 hours to his Make a Difference Foundation, aimed at cautioning against drug use and offering support to addicts, and the festival in Russia - which featured Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, Cinderella and Russian band Gorky Park - was promoted as a benefit for those with addiction issues.

Recalling the event, in conversation with US talk show host Conan O'Brien, for his Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend podcast, Jon Bon Jovi says, "it was a part of a a deal that my first manager, who was arrested for smuggling a lot of drugs, did to keep him out of jail."

"Somehow his plea bargain was to take, you know, the young cute kid and throw him to the wolves, and the judge. And then he says, 'And I've got an idea, we'll go go to the Soviet Union and promote peace and harmony and blah blah blah and please your honour, don't put me in prison'. And so I had to go in the snow to the Soviet Union."

This is at a time, O'Brien reminds the pair's audience, when rock bands were not allowed to go into the Soviet Union. "I would bet that would be a very appreciative audience," he suggests.

"They were," the singer agrees. "But now, you've got to remember, the Soviet Union, if you even thought of having an album, as we knew it, you would be imprisoned. There was kids that had lists [of records] on a piece of paper that were very small, because if the KGB came up at that time they would crumple and eat it.

"There was more security on the catering backstage than there was on any band's dressing room," he continues. "Because they were like, 'If they see the Hard Rock Cafe's cheeseburgers and French fries, there will be a fucking riot'. The security was truly crying when they saw the kinds of food."

Broadcast in over 50 countries, the Moscow Music Peace Festival, staged at at Moscow's Central Lenin Stadium on August 12 and 13, was attended by over 100,000 people . It also inspired Scorpions to write their worldwide smash mega-ballad Winds Of Change.

Watch JBJ's discussion with Conan O'Brien below:

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.