Exclusive: Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora on Wednesday’s superstar Sandy benefit

Richie Sambora may be in one of the most successful rock and roll bands of all time, but the Bon Jovi guitarist says he”s just a geeky music fan like the rest of us, especially when it comes to being in the presence of some of his music heroes.

Such will be the case tomorrow night when Bon Jovi joins such acts as The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and The Who for the 12-12-12 Concert to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims.

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 Eric Clapton, Alicia Keys, Roger Waters, Kanye West, Dave Grohl, Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Pearl Jam”s Eddie Vedder and Coldplay”s Chris Martin are also on the bill.  Proceeds go to the Robin Hood Foundation, which will distribute the funds to relief efforts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The concert, live from Madison Square Garden, will be beamed across the world, including airing on 34 television stations in the U.S.

“I”ll be living my childhood fantasy, playing on stage with the The Who, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton,” Sambora says via phone today, just before he catches his flight to New York from Los Angeles. “The man is running the show now, but there”s that little boy inside of you that”s screaming.”

He jokes that when Bon Jovi played the 9/11 Benefit, the band and the other veteran acts all hung out in a hallway they dubbed “Dinosaurs” Row.” And here many of them are again, 11 years later, donating their time and effort to another national tragedy.

His excitement in no way diminishes the horror he feels when he thinks about the devastation wrought on his native New Jersey and the surrounding states. Sandy literally hit home for Sambora: his mother”s house flooded up to the second story, the home that he bought for her 25 years ago after the band made it big. While the house undergoes repairs – Sambora notes that “it”s not as bad as some” – his mom has relocated to his Los Angeles home.

Sambora recently toured the decimated Seaside Heights, N.J. area with the American Red Cross. The Boardwalk there had been a mainstay of his entire life, from when his parents took him there as a little kid to renting a house there as a teen to coming up through the clubs. Bon Jovi even made a video for “In And Out Of Love”  on the Boardwalk in the mid-’80s. “I couldn”t even speak,” he says of walking through the destroyed Boardwalk. The roller coaster he used to ride was a tangled mess in the water, washed away like his childhood memories.

In addition to playing the 12-12-12 Concert, Sambora has re-recorded “I”ll Always Walk Beside You,” a song featured on his new solo album, “Aftermath of the Lowdown,” with Alicia Keys on piano.  All proceeds from sales of the download of the ballad go to the American Red Cross”s disaster relief efforts.

Even though he originally wrote the song for his teenage daughter Ava (with ex-wife Heather Locklear), the themes about support and loyalty work perfectly in its new incarnation. Plus, Keys” beautiful piano playing adds a new texture and emotion.

“I”ve had the knack of doing that during my career,” he says. “The knack to write songs that are about my stuff that turn out to be about everyone else”s stuff too. I wrote something where I was talking about my daughter, and it became about my state. You can take the boy out of New Jersey, but you can”t take the New Jersey out of the boy.” (Similarly, Bon Jovi”s biggest hit, “Livin” On A Prayer” took on an added dimension after 9/11).

Getting Keys to play on the new version was as simple as asking. The two are friends -Sambora has played at her Black Ball charity event- and Bon Jovi was recording its new album, out this Spring, at her studio. After she asked Sambora to play on her new album and a few days later asked if she could return the favor in some way. “I said, ‘I have this song I wrote for my kid and I think if you put your piano on it, it will make it that much more intimate”,” Sambora recalls.

He laughs that this is his life -part of the time. “The dichotomy of how I live is kind of crazy,” he says. “People call me a rock star. I don”t believe that bullsh**.” I”m taking my kid to school and picking up dog sh**. I haven”t changed that much since I was 7. The same morality that my parents indoctrinated in me, that hasn”t left.”

That sense of humility -and humanity- runs through “Aftermath of the Lowdown,” an intensely personal work that references the last decade of Sambora”s life, including rehab, divorce, losing his father, parenthood, and relationships.

“I have an amazing opportunity in Bon Jovi to write. The way we write for the masses is profound and simple. The message is concise,” says the member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. “When I”m making a solo record, it”s a little more psychologically complex. I”m not really thinking about being simple or any of that stuff. Plus, I get to be a lead singer, which I actually quite miss in my life. I enjoy stepping out as a band leader. It”s such a joy for me.”

Tomorrow and then again in February, Sambora steps back full time in his role in Bon Jovi. The band”s worldwide stadium and arena tour, appropriately dubbed “Because We Can,” starts in Uncasville, Conn.,  before traveling throughout Canada, Europe, the Far East, Africa, Latin America, Australia and then returning to the U.S.

Close to 30 years in, it”s still not old hat for Sambora. “A part of my spirituality is the gratitude in that. I never take it for granted,” he says. “I still walk out there and go, ‘Again? You”ve come to see me?” I”m astounded at it by every turn. That”s how I maintain my innocence. I get to do what I do for a living in many different incarnations. I think that”s what keeps you around. Beyond the music, [fans] walk away having seen the gratitude and sincerity in my heart.”

Below is a snippet of “I”ll Always Walk Beside You.” To buy the download and help out the American Red Cross”s Sandy Relief Efforts, go here.