The Ballad of a Mad Fan
And then Steele found someone willing to hear him out. In January, he had brought his evidence to ASCAP, requesting a review of potential conflicts, and on March 25 he received a letter from the organization’s repertory services department. It stated that ASCAP had "received multiple claims for the composition" from several parties. This was huge: ASCAP only seldom acknowledged an aggrieved songwriter’s claim. The letter was copied to management firms representing Jon Bon Jovi, bandmate Richie Sambora, and songwriter Billy Falcon, who split credit for their song three ways. (Their lawyers could not be reached for comment on Steele’s claims.)
In a follow-up phone conversation with ASCAP’s Andrew Rodriguez, Steele says, he was informed the group’s next move would be to "get all parties together" and reach a compromise. (Rodriguez declined to confirm Steele’s account of the conversation.) Steele assumed that would happen in April in L.A., when Jon Bon Jovi and Sambora were to commemorate their band’s 25th anniversary with a Q&A session at ASCAP’s "I Create Music" Expo. Perfect: Steele had planned to attend the expo anyway.
He was sure Bon Jovi would understand his plight. He even packed his mandolin in case the rocker needed backup for some West Coast dates. "If this goes right," Steele told me, "we’ll be best friends."
Three days before the expo, he received a promising e-mail from Universal Music Publishing Group. "We will be working on [Bon Jovi’s] behalf to resolve this matter with you," it said. The day the expo got under way, however, Steele found the involved parties changing their postures. He says ASCAP was now reluctant to connect him with Jon Bon Jovi. He also got an e-mail from the singer’s attorney rejecting his claim "to any interest whatsoever in the composition, whether as songwriter or publisher." That afternoon, as he was waiting for Bon Jovi’s Q&A to begin, Steele talked to ASCAP staffers, who, he claims, told him Bon Jovi’s management had said to keep him at a distance.
Upset, Steele decided to skip the event to drain Heinekens in the hotel bar. "The gloves are coming off," he fumed. "My whole strategy has changed. This has to get messy immediately." He began composing a cease-and-desist letter.
By his last day in Los Angeles, having gotten nowhere near Bon Jovi, Steele was determined the "shit fight" would resume back home. On a TV in the hotel bar, the Red Sox were playing the Yankees in their second 2008 face-off. He was still too angry to watch.
[sidebar]Two weeks later, Steele is onstage in the Middle East’s corner room, setting up for his band’s weekly Thursday gig at the Cambridge nightclub. He’s optimistic: A lawyer friend tells him that she might have convinced a major Boston firm (he can’t say which one yet) to take his case on contingency. Steele seems more confident than ever that rock stardom is looming, notwithstanding the threatening letter from Bon Jovi’s attorneys and the sudden, absolute silence from ASCAP.
His cell phone rings, blaring the same ringtone he’s had since last October: a digitized snippet of Bon Jovi’s "I Love This Town." "I’ll be collecting royalties on that one of these days," he says.