HOYTSVILLE, Summit County — Jon Bon Jovi knew a name was missing from his band’s lineup when it was announced last year that the rockers would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2018. Yes, the five original members of the band were all listed, but there was another name the singer knew deserved to be on that list: Hugh McDonald.
To most people, McDonald’s absence from the list probably didn’t seem to be a big deal since the bassist wasn’t an official member of Bon Jovi until 2016.
Except that McDonald, who lives 10 minutes east of Park City, was with Bon Jovi long before that. In fact, the bassist remembers a young Jon Bon Jovi sweeping the floors of a studio in New York called the Power Station, making coffee and doing other chores in exchange for a shot at a recording session — a shot that came in 1982.
An already established session musician, McDonald joined in with other musicians in the studio during off hours — including Bruce Springsteen’s longtime keyboardist Roy Bittan — to record a demo of “Runaway.” McDonald didn’t really know Jon Bon Jovi at the time, but he had a good feeling about the recording.
“I loved it. I enjoyed playing, and I enjoyed meeting (Jon),” McDonald told the Deseret News. “It was a very enjoyable experience, and I remember when I went home, telling friends, ‘I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be big’ — not knowing how big it would become.”
“Runaway” got Jon Bon Jovi a record deal and became his band’s first single in 1983. But in the meantime, McDonald, a Philadelphia native, continued to work as a session musician for a variety of artists, ranging from Gladys Knight and the Pips to Willie Nelson to Alice Cooper. It wasn’t until 1995 that McDonald began touring with Bon Jovi, stepping in for Bon Jovi bassist Alec John Such to become a regular — yet unofficial — member of the band until 2016, when his status changed to “official.”
“Jon and I never spoke about it, and all of a sudden I was a member,” McDonald said. “I have no clue why. Nothing has changed — there’s no different treatment. They’ve always treated me as a member. It’s not like I’ve gotta go on the bus when they fly. Occasionally I was in pictures, and early on I was doing interviews with them, and now, considering I’ve been doing it so long, it’s a strange sensation. I was the ghost in the machine for years, and now I’m not a ghost anymore. I actually show up. If I look in the mirror, my reflection is there.”
It’s McDonald’s extensive history with Bon Jovi that prompted Jon Bon Jovi to reach out to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame following the original announcement, expressing that McDonald deserved a spot.
“Jon was good enough at Christmastime to surprise me by sending me a framed copy of the email that he sent to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, telling them my history in the band over the years and that I deserved to be in with them. I can’t even explain how much it means to me,” McDonald said with audible emotion.
Before Bon Jovi travels to Cleveland, where Howard Stern will induct the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14, the rockers will make a stop in Salt Lake City, performing at Vivint Arena on Friday, March 16 — essentially a hometown gig for McDonald, as he has lived in Hoytsville, Summit County, for about 10 years with his wife, who grew up in Bountiful.
The two met at a Bon Jovi show in Dallas, and it was McDonald’s wife who first informed him that he had been added to the list of Hall of Fame inductees.
“She called one morning and she was hysterical, and I thought something (bad) happened. But she just kept going, ‘You’re in! You’re in!’ She went crazy,” McDonald said with a laugh. “Jon wanted it to be a big surprise, but the surprise was kind of ruined because the Hall of Fame announced it before I could be surprised. … I was the ghost for years, (and) the powers that be didn’t really know. Really hard-core Bon Jovi fans knew … it was an amazing surprise.”
But McDonald’s legacy is even bigger in the Beehive State. Although the bassist has been touring with Bon Jovi for more than 20 years, concertgoers in Utah might recall that he was also the bassist for the hair band Poison — for one night in 2009.
A Poisonous night
When the concert is brought up, McDonald begins to laugh because he knows where this is going.
It was August 2009, and Cheap Trick, Poison and Def Leppard were headlining Usana Amphitheatre. During the evening, Poison’s bassist Bobby Dall became too ill to perform, and rather than cancel the show, the rockers turned to a fellow friend and musician who happened to be in attendance that night with his family.
“They said, ‘Guess who’s not here?’ And I said, “I don’t know, who’s not here?” And they told me, and I said, ‘What’s that got to do with me?’ They sort of giggled, and that was that,” McDonald said. “Then as I’m telling my wife the story, she’s looking over my shoulder and she’s saying, ‘They’re looking over here. Oh! They’re coming over here.’”
Despite “not really knowing any Poison songs,” McDonald stepped up to the plate about 20 minutes before showtime and the show went on.
“I have more people in Utah when I see them bring that up than Bon Jovi,” McDonald said. “To this day, I don’t think I’d want to hear a recording of it. I don’t know how I got through it. It was weird. … It was good to do for friends, but it was not something that I would want to relive — especially since I was backing up on the stage at one point and they set off pyro and it almost blew me up.”
Bon Jovi’s Salt Lake concert on March 16 has special meaning to McDonald, as his stepson, Jake Johnson, who lives in Nashville, will be the opening act. The night before the Vivint Arena concert, Johnson’s band, Jake J and the Killjoys, will also perform at The Spur in Park City. And just a few weeks later, McDonald will receive recognition long overdue at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony along with the other members of Bon Jovi.
“It’s a very, very big deal to me that I was included," McDonald said. "I get teary-eyed thinking about it."
If you go …
What: Bon Jovi
When: Friday, March 16, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Vivint Arena, 301 W. South Temple
How much: $26.50-$546.50