”I thought Metallica were a very gimmicky band.”
This summer Twisted Sister played in Sweden for the last time ever. Of course, swedish blog barametal.se had to do the ultimate interview with guitarist Jay Jay French. It concerns stuff like Metallica, how they sneaked their own songs into the early sets and the fact that Love is for Suckers actually sucks. Here’s Jay Jay:
Please tell us about the early history and the name change.
– I auditioned for a band called Silver Star in late December 1972. I was offered the job at that audition. I thought the named sucked and told that to the drummer, who incidentally, hired me. He thought of the name Silver Star and was offended that I didn’t like it. I convinced the band to change the name. The band changed its name to Twisted Sister two months later, around mid February 1973.
And why Twisted SISTER? Why not Twisted Crew or Twisted Brother?
– Twisted Sister because we were a transvestitie rock band! An early nightclub promotion went something like: ”Twisted Sister, They ain’t no ladies, mister!”
Aha. I guess it is true then, that the make up all of you had proved that you were once a glam band.
– The original band was trying to be like the NY Dolls. 1972-73 was a very glam period in rock. We evolved over time to a less feminine and a more shocking, within quotation marks, form of make up.
You were once touring together with Metallica. When was this, and how do you regard this fact today – with Metallica being the biggest metal band on earth?
– I don’t think much about it. They opened up for us at a very big club in New Jersey a year before we toured with them. They didn’t go over very well. I thought they were a very gimmicky band and yes, I realize that that may sound strange coming from a band that looks like us.
– When we toured with them a year later I watched them every night and thought that they were better then when we first played with them. I also did notice that they were developing a very loyal following and I was more impressed as to the lifestyle effect that they had with their fans.
– In 1999 they headlined Woodstock ’99 and I watched the whole show as I was managing Sevendust at the time, who was also on the bill. I was very impressed as to how professional they had become. They certainly have proved themselves to be worthy of world wide fame. Since there is no band that has played more live performances then us, I can be very critical about every aspect of a band’s performance. I was impressed as to how classy Metallica has become as a live act. They get my highest respect along with AC/DC, Judas Priest and Motörhead.
Going back in time again. When did Dee Snider join the band, and how came that about?
– Eddie Ojeda joined officially on October 31st 1975. Dee joined in February 1976 after our booking agent convinced me that we could only make big money if we could do Led Zep covers. Dee had a great voice and he could sing Zep songs so I hired him.
So you played covers at that time? And when did you begin composing your own songs?
– The focus of a bar band or copy band in those days was to play all the most popular music of the time and particular style that a club would want to advertise. The club would advertise in the local rock paper and say things like: ”This Thursday we have Twisted Sister doing the best of Bowie, The Stones, Led Zep, Lou Reed”.
– Notice that it never says ”doing their own songs” that’s because no club owner wanted to risk people not coming because the thought that a band could write a good song was generally accepted to be a big negative.
– Dee presented his first song Come Back to the band shortly after we moved into a sort of band house in September of 1976. We learned it and started to play it by sneaking it into one of our sets without saying it was an original. Over time we kept adding original songs. The next song was Under the Blade which, as most fans know, not only was the title of the first album but is still performed at almost every show.
– We never just wanted to be a popular cover band. It was a long term plan to write our own music and get out of the bar scene. The bar scene, as big as it was, could not go on forever. if you didn’t plan an escape, you would never get to the next level. Over time, as we became even more popular, we started to announce that we wrote these songs until, eventually, we just played all of our own songs.
Dee Snider has said that he did not share the royalties because no one else contributed with the composing – is that how it was?
– I don’t write so it really doesn’t apply to me. Their may be others in the band who would disagree but that seems to always be an issue with bands. Also, for a time in the 80’s, Dee did share a portion of his song royalties with me.
Have you yourself ever tried to write your own songs?
– I write very quirky songs, not metal, although lately I have a writing partner in Nashville and we have written some country songs that I’m very proud of.
With all due respect – When I listen to Love is for Suckers I find nothing of the energy and the heavy hooks that made Stay Hungry such a great album – please share with us your thoughts upon this album, that you did not even play on if I understand correctly?
– I believe that a drum machine was used for all the songs. I also know that other guitarists were brought in to play. I did record guitar for the album but have no idea as to what wound up on the actual record.
You never joined any other band after the break up. Is this true? Why?
– By the winter of 1988, I had been going nonstop for 15 years. The band was heading toward the end of that chapter. Their were lawsuits looming, financial collapse and I was heading into a divorce. I needed to take stock of where I had been and where I was going. I needed to walk away for at least a year to sort out all my personal and professional issues.
Lawsuits looming – between who?
– Not between the band members. Lawsuits are part of the music business and 30 years ago we made certain deals with some companies that didn’t like the way we just ended and thought that they could intimidate me. These people know who they are and they have come crawling back over the years to apologize and to ask me to do business with them because we came all the back from oblivion. I laughed when I was contacted and enjoyed telling them to fuck off.
Okay. So you took time off. Then what?
– After a year I realized that I had no desire to perform or even pick up my guitar. I don’t think I even touched a guitar for five years after I went into retirement. I remarried, had a child and was quite content to never do this again. About ten years passed and I started to dream about what it would be like to play again. The band ended before the collapse of 80’s metal so we were not tainted by that period.
Why did drummer AJ Pero leave Twisted Sister in the mid 80’s?
– AJ left because he thought our songs were to simple. He was a very technical drummer. He told our manager that he was bored playing our music.
But you all decided to return?
– We returned, fully intact, like a time warp and the world went crazy and welcomed us back with open arms. All the shows we played and work that we put in paid off in ways that were completely surprising to us. We are now considered by many as the greatest live metal act on earth. It is an honor to have that reputation and we play to the best of our ability every night.
Personally, what is one of your best moments with Twisted Sister?
– There are many small historic moments and a couple of very big ones like the night that Phil Carson actually said that he was signing us to Atlantic Records. It seemed like the end of a very long road when it was actually just the beginning.