Bon Jovi’s 1989 performance at the Moscow Music Peace Festival in what was then the USSR remains a hugely impactful moment in history, representative of the world’s slow emergence from the Cold War. And it all happened because of a drug bust.

“My first manager got into some trouble with the law,” Jon Bon Jovi explained during a recent conversation with Conan O’Brien. “Honest to God, he was accused of smuggling, some incredible amount of tons of marijuana into America.”

The band’s manager at the time was Doc McGee, the rock veteran who also worked with Motley Crue and Skid Row in the ‘80s (among others). As Bon Jovi explained, McGhee was in hot water after he was convicted for trying to smuggle 40,000 pounds of marijuana into the United States from South America.

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“To keep him out of jail, I had to go to the Soviet Union,” Bon Jovi explained. “Somehow his plea bargain was to take 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 to the Soviet Union and promote peace and harmony. And please, your honor, don’t put me in prison.’ So I had to go in the snow to the Soviet Union and say, ‘We’re coming!’”

What Was it Like at the Moscow Music Peace Festival?

In addition to Bon Jovi, McGhee put together a package of bands that included Motley Crue, Scorpions, Skid Row, Ozzy Osbourne and Cinderella. The Bon Jovi frontman recalled it feeling like a totally different world while the band was in the USSR.

“The Soviet Union, if you even thought of having an album as we knew it, you would be imprisoned,” he explained. “There was kids that had lists on a piece of paper that was very small, because if the KGB came up at that time, they would crumple and eat it.”

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Backstage, security was heightened – though not necessarily in the way most people would assume.

“There was more security on the catering backstage than there was on any band’s dressing room,” Bon Jovi noted. “Because they were like, ‘If [Russian fans] see the Hard Rock Cafe’s cheeseburgers and french fries, there will be a fucking riot.’”

Doc McGhee Denies the Concert Was Part of a Plea Deal

Bon Jovi isn't the first rocker to say McGhee plotted the Moscow concert as part of a plea deal. Others, including Nikki Sixx, have offered similar versions of how things went down.

Still, McGhee has denied his conviction and the concerts were related.

"I heard this back then, and I heard it for years afterwards: 'I can’t believe all you have to do is a rock show and you get off,'" the manager told Rolling Stone in 2017. "Well, number one, I’m not sure that any court, no matter what you did, would put your probation [as], 'If you go and change the world, stop the Cold War, you get off.' OK? I don’t think anybody should make that shit up. It had nothing to do with it whatsoever. It just happened to be the timing aspect. I was already way over all that shit before I did Moscow."

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Gallery Credit: Anthony Kuzminski

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