© Dave Ling - February 2003 - previously published in CLASSIC ROCK magazine
The tale of Twisted Sister, the US shock rockers that made it their life’s mission to “Look like women, speak like men and play like motherfuckers”, is one that should provide hope for all garage bands. Treated like lepers by every talent scout in America, the five-piece nevertheless went on to beat seemingly insurmountable odds and enjoy the last laugh over their numerous detractors. Aided by some of the most unforgettably dumb videos in hard rock history, they fast-tracked to ten million album sales via a string of bubblegum hits like ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, ‘I Am (I’m Me)’ and ‘The Kids Are Back’. The group’s wickedly self-deprecating, expletive-strewn sense of humour was crucial to their appeal.
“Twisted Sister aren’t glam, that implies glamour and we’re not glamorous,” proclaimed frontman Dee Snider at the peak of their fame. “We should be called hid, because we’re hideous.”
Despite putting in more than ten years of graft before success entered their lives, Twisted Sister were eventually unravelled by the same basic reason as most bands: jealousy. Sure, there was more to their downward spiral than that, but nobody within the group except Snider was happy at the way the singer was portrayed as their undisputed shining star. To those who knew no better, Snider was Twisted Sister. It was a pretty fair assumption – after all, Dee was the band’s songwriter and mouthpiece – but as he later discovered to his cost, their chemistry was what really made them work.
With hindsight, Twisted Sister would have done a few things differently. But that’s something that can only be speculated upon. And with all five members of their classic line-up giving the green light for a much-anticipated reunion, there are also happier issues to address.
In 1972, John Segall had been augmenting his modest income first as a New York waiter and then as assistant manager in a hardware store by playing guitar. As well as adopting the stage name of Jay Jay French, he was about to have two interesting experiences involving future Kiss bassist Gene Simmons and guitarist Paul Stanley. In June, Segall sounded the pair out about joining Wicked Lester, unwittingly approaching them again months later as that band was morphing into Kiss.
“I first called Gene was just as their transition was taking place,” he explains. “He said they’d already made a record but were gonna wear platform shoes and be like Slade instead.
Strangely, considering they were both also Jewish, they wanted me to de-ethnicise my name and get rid of my glasses in the name of entertainment.”
“Twisted Sister aren’t glam, that implies glamour and we’re not glamorous.
We should be called hid, because we’re hideous.”
However, once in possession of a reel-to-reel tape of the band’s album, French decided that Wicked Lester’s mellow music wasn’t his bag. Calling in response to another Village Voice advert for a guitar player, he once again found himself again speaking to Simmons. By then the job had already gone to Ace Frehley, but he was invited back to the band’s 23rd Street loft to check out the new line-up.
“By then they’d completely Anglicised themselves, and the results were spectacular,” he recalls in awe. “But while I was there, Ace got into a conversation with producer Ron Johnson. So Gene took Ace into a corner and admonished him by saying, ‘Don’t you ever give anybody your opinion’. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a good reason why I’m not in this band, this guy’s out of his mind’. And they’d only been together for two weeks!”
Though the Kiss experience had been partially distasteful, combined with witnessing the New York Dolls, then Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust show at Carnegie Hall it had heightened French’s desire join what he calls “a glitter band”. Finally in Christmas week of 1972, a call came from Mell Anderson, who would become Mell Starr, Twisted Sister’s first drummer. Was Jay Jay interested in joining Silverstar, a New Jersey act that fulfilled all his criteria?
“Mell told me his plans,” relates French. “We would be wearing dresses, going the whole female impersonator route. I asked if he was sure we’d get girls that way, and he said it was the best scam on the planet. So I moved into their house right away.”
Everyone quickly realised how badly the name Silverstar sucked. It was Michael Valentine, the first of the group’s four lead vocalists, who stumbled upon the moniker of Twisted Sister.
“It would’ve been easy for me to take the credit,” chuckles Jay Jay. “Michael was a full-throttle drinker, and he rang from a bar saying he’d come up with this great name. But when he came home he’d completely forgotten making the call. Thank God… if I hadn’t picked up the phone, we may never have called ourselves Twisted Sister.”
March 1973 marked the newly named band’s debut live show, a set of Bowie, Mott The Hoople and Lou Reed covers. Jay Jay – then using the name Johnny Heartbreaker – recalls spending the entire performance chained to bassist via a dog leash, though Valentine blew their cool image by continually leaving the stage during the show’s instrumental sections to drink in the bar. Mell had been right about women’s response to the band’s image, and they were never short of female company. French was mortified, however, when he looked downwards at an early gig and found a man licking his shoes. Valentine somehow lasted for two years, before pulling a loaded gun on Anderson in a bar-fight. A Rod Stewart-type singer came in for a couple of months before Jay Jay took the microphone himself.
“My voice is terrible,” he admits. “God created Lou Reed so that people like me could do cover material. That lasted for eight months until unknown to me, two members of the band had become methodrine addicts. While hallucinating they believed I was controlling their lives, so they stole our truck and disappeared. I was so distraught that I broke the band up and got a straight job. Not many people know that we played what was to be our last gig in 1975.”
With civvie life proving more frustrating than French and bassist Kenneth Harrison Neil had envisaged, within three months the pair were advertising for new bandmates in Rolling Stone.
Drummer Kevin John Grace and guitarist Eddie ‘Fingers’ Ojeda arrived, but the gigs seemed to dry up. The band’s agent told French it was because of their inability to cover Led Zeppelin material effectively. So one fateful day in February 1976, former choirboy, taxi driver, computer programme writer and toilet cleaner Daniel Snider – abbreviated to Dee – walked through the door.
“He was in a band called Peacock,” French recollects. “I’d turned him down once before when he asked if we needed a singer, but when I rang him he was still interested.”
“They already had something of a name in the Long Island area, which was where I was from,” Snider explains. “I’d seen them live and I knew that they desperately needed a frontman. I auditioned, but the strangest thing was that Jay Jay never told me I was in the band. He just said we’d give it a try, and that I should remember he owned the band’s name. To a certain extent, I was alienated. He also warned me not to get too friendly with the drummer because he was leaving.”
Sure enough, Grace was ousted for his inability to play Grand Funk Railroad’s ‘We’re An American Band’, a necessity for any covers act in the year of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations. In came Tony Petri, who in a bizarre twist had suggested French’s name to Silverstar three years earlier. The new-look Twisted Sister worked their nuts off for three years in the East coast tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It was once joked that they’d played more clubs than golfer Arnold Palmer, but it was also true. 250 gigs a year – often performing three gruelling sets per night – ensued at such suburban nightspots as Hammerheads in West Islip, Rockaway in Queens and Brooklyn’s infamous L’Amour. Sometimes they were attended by 4,000 fans – lovingly dubbed Sick Motherfuckers, or SMFs for short – and others just a dozen or so, with the shows often finishing at 6am. The experience toughened everybody up, not that much in the way of physical development was necessary.
“Because of the make-up there was the occasional violent moment,” confirms French. “But we’d call the idiot up onstage, and because we were six feet tall and wearing six-inch heels, they would shut the fuck up and go home.” The recruitment of Mark ‘The Animal’ Mendoza compounded their ferocity, onstage and off. The former Dictators bassist joined after Harrison Neil announced he’d become a born again Christian.
“Kenny said we were dealing with the Devil,” French say, still stunned. “He admitted he’d been drinking a case of beer every day since he was ten. We had no idea, I guess he was an introverted drunk. Mendoza had been working as Kenny’s roadie, so he knew all the songs. Tony Petri was fired six months later for throwing a boot into Dee’s face, and we found A.J. Pero in 1982. After ten years we finally had the right people.”
By then the band’s repertoire included many popular metal tunes of the era, among them ‘Jailbreak’ by Thin Lizzy, Rainbow’s ‘Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Sin City’ by AC/DC, ‘Hot Rockin’’ by Judas Priest, Ted Nugent’s ‘Wango Tango’, ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’ by Van Halen, Ozzy’s ‘Mr Crowley’ and ‘White Punks On Dope’ by The Tubes. Sprinkled among them were Dee-penned originals like ‘Bad Boys (Of Rock ‘N’ Roll)’ and ‘I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!’. Both of these songs were recorded as independent and now extremely rare 7” singles, the latter after Eddie Kramer had agreed to work with them (it later emerged that the Hendrix/Kiss/Led Zeppelin producer had cut a secret deal with Electric Lady Studios that meant if the band got a deal they would owe him the facility’s owner four times the hourly rate). Regardless, Snider’s dominance was starting to exert itself.
Asked when he began to feel at home, the singer states: “The others didn’t know that I had serious psychoses. As with any extrovert, I had an underlying lack of confidence. There were a series of situations that always made me feel like the odd man out. It wasn’t until I felt I had taken control of the band that I felt secure. I’ve spoken to Jay Jay about this, and he says it was unintentional, but it was really hurtful and it definitely had a lasting affect on me.”
Twisted Sister had been trying without success to obtain a record deal since 1974. French flew to France in 1980 for MIDEM, the annual industry conference, where he claims to have been promised a contract worth $50,000 by Freddie Cannon, boss of Carrere Records (whose roster included Saxon). An ecstatic guitarist returned to New York, but he never heard from Cannon again.
Contracts were even exchanged with a Hamburg-based company called X Records, though its boss died suddenly of heart attack. And there were other similar examples of bad luck.Finally, with attendances in the clubs snowballing, they took the gamble of hiring New York’s prestigious Palladium. The show was sold out – and unprecedented feat for an unsigned act – but the only seats empty on the night were those assigned to record companies. One A&R man from Epic did bite, but although $10,000 was spent in staging an elaborate showcase gig, he’d scooted before the show’s end.
"It was another of those excruciatingly painful fuck-yous,” sighs French now. “All that kept us going was that we could walk into a club on any night of the week and have 2,000 people waiting for us.”
Then without warning, a chink of daylight appeared. Twisted Sister’s records began to feature in a weekly chart published in the British music paper Sounds. The band paid for the paper’s representative Garry Bushell (better known as telly correspondent in The Sun) to see them in New York, and were finally offered a deal by Secret Records, a tiny British punk imprint.
“Martin Hooker [label boss] said he was coming to see a show in New York, but we fully expected his plane to blow up or the car to crash on the freeway,” chuckles Jay Jay. “When he said he’d sign us, nobody could believe it. I collected the contract from Kennedy Airport and drove to place in Queens that was equidistant from everyone’s houses, and we all signed it on the hood of Eddie’s car. Then I looked at my copy of the New York Post and the cover said: ‘England goes to war with the Falklands’. For a while we feared that after everything we’d been through there would be no resources to make the fucking record!”
“Pete Way was a lovely guy, but he was at the pub most of the time”
Jay French on the recording of the ‘Under The Blade’ album
Secret proposed that ex-UFO bassist Pete Way should produce the band’s first album, 1982’s ‘Under The Blade’, which was largely recorded on a mobile studio in leafy Battle, Sussex.
“Pete was a lovely guy, but he was at the pub most of the time,” says French, “but he did bring down ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke [who’d just left Motörhead to form Fastway with Way] to play a guitar solo on ‘Tear It Loose’. I’ll never forget Eddie having two guitar cases; one with a guitar, the other full of Jack Daniel’s. I don’t drink, but Eddie made me take a huge swig and record with him in the barn at quite staggering volume. Those solos were done with the two of us jumping up and down, surrounded in bales of hay and Marshall stacks. And he kept wanting to do another take!”
A huge debt of gratitude was also owed to Lemmy, who broke the ice by introducing them to Motörhead’s fans when TS played their first British show at Wrexham Football Ground in April ’82. Lemmy did the same thing before one of the hottest gigs of all time at London’s Marquee in August, and when Twisted Sister’s growing reputation resulted in an invitation to appear at the Reading Festival he went a stage further, stunning fans by jamming with the band, plus Way and even ‘Fast’ Eddie, the first time they’d been seen in public together since the latter’s split from Motörhead.
“Lemmy made it cool to like Twisted,” grins Dee. “At Wrexham, Motörhead’s crowd had their bottles ready for us. We were shitting our pants, so for the headliner to bring on the opening act was just the coolest thing possible. I’ll love him forever for that.”
Let’s not forget that the band were equally capable of winning over an audience on their own. A highlight of their set was a speeded-up, barely recognisable version of the Rolling Stones’ ‘It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll’ during which the music dropped to a low rumble.
Snider would then charismatically rap at the crowd for minutes at a time, urging everyone to jump up and down and punch the air, singling out those who refused to do so for vitriolic abuse. There were shows when Dee’s verbals turned a potentially violent crowd into a passive, enthusiastic one.
It was a tactic that many have since shamelessly swiped, Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach being a notable example. Reading was one of the occasions when such showmanship worked best, Dee inviting those who’d been throwing bottles and various projectiles to meet him afterwards to discuss the matter personally.
“We got friends all over this place. But there are some wimps – pussies – throwing things at us,” Snider sneered threateningly at the crowd before the band ripped into a sludge-thick and tortoise-slow ‘Destroyer’.
“The problem is that you’re not hitting us, you’re hitting the people at the front, and those people are one of you. So I got a deal. All the people who want to throw shit at Twisted Sister, meet us at the side of the stage after the show. I don’t care how many of you are, then you can tell us we suck to our faces. Come on down, we’re ready… are you?!”
Public opinion also turned in the band’s favour when they issued a challenge to Manowar and Hanoi Rocks, groups that they felt had bad-mouthed them in interviews. Twisted Sister threw down the gauntlet by inviting their rivals to meet them in London’s Covent Garden for a showdown. The week before the confrontation was scheduled, Snider piled on the pressure, declaring of Mendoza’s former Dictators colleague Ross The Boss, then playing guitar with Manowar: “He’s just a little fat boy from the Bronx. Nobody in Twisted Sister weighs under 200lbs, we’re big guys from the street.”
Unfortunately, neither band showed up. To the delight of the SMFs who’d given up their Sunday afternoons to watch, Snider wandered around the deserted precinct, using a loudhailer to address various rubbish bags and dustbins as he enquired:
“Hanoi Rocks, are you in there?” At one point, the ladies’ lavatories were even investigated to see whether Manowar were hiding within. At 2.47pm, Twisted Sister declared themselves victors by default, branding their opponents “chicken-livered scum of the earth”.
It was the type of publicity that money couldn’t buy. But if Hanoi or Manowar had called their bluff, would Twisted Sister have lived up to their promises?
“Listen,” says Jay Jay. “You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, there was a point of principle. Ross The Boss made these stupid statements, even Mendoza said he’d have slapped the fucking idiot’s face if he’d shown up. So we’re ‘False Metal’, are we? Come over here, asshole… that band are Spïnal Tap.”
When ‘Under The Blade’ finally surfaced, reviews were ecstatic, Sounds even predicting: “Beneath the forklift-truckloads of mascara, Twisted Sister are metal megastars in the making.” But the disaster that everyone had been dreading duly arrived just months later when on the eve of a British tour supporting Diamond Head, Secret Records went bankrupt. The band were back to square one. It’s a little known fact, but finding themselves label-free once again, in December 1982 the group decided to accept their fate and call it a day. However, one last glimmer of hope was around the corner.
“For all fucked-up misfortunes and coincidences that ever worked against Twisted Sister, there was one shining, brief moment in time when everything changed,” says French of what happened next. “We’d decided to announce the end of the band, play some gigs in the tri-state area, make as much money as we could and pay off all our debts. But our manager said he had one final plan.”
The group somehow scraped together the $22,000 necessary to get them back to the UK to appear on a radical new music show being filmed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne called The Tube. Three more gigs at the Marquee also helped to offset the expenses, and a low-key gig in nearby Sunderland was also confirmed, where they were again joined onstage by Way, plus Night Ranger guitarist Brad Gillis, both then playing with Ozzy Osbourne. It was a huge throw of the dice, but it somehow landed on a six.
“In a corridor at the TV show, our manager bumped into Phil Carson [of Atlantic Records], who was there with Mick Jones of Foreigner,” relates French. “They had a conversation, Mick said he’d heard our single ‘Shoot ’Em Down’ on New York radio and Phil had already received a letter from Jason Flom [also of Atlantic] saying he wanted to sign the band, but no-one would let him. Phil admitted he had thrown Jason’s letter in the garbage.”
Carson was returning to London after Jones’ spot on the show, but intrigued by the conversation that had taken place asked a friend to video Dee and company’s now legendary 15-minute performance.
Watching it the next day and having seen a show at the Marquee, Phil knew he had to sign the band. But – inevitably – there was a huge problem. Save for the 19-year-old Flom, everybody at Atlantic Records firmly believed that Twisted Sister sucked. The label’s president, Doug Morris, had even gone so far as to warn Jason that if he mentioned the band’s name at an A&R meeting again, his contract would be terminated.
Recalls Jay Jay: “When Mark Puma [manager] came into the Marquee dressing room and told us Phil Carson wanted to sign us, my first reaction was, ‘Which label does he work for?’ When Mark said it was Atlantic, well… of all the labels on the fucking planet Earth, why did it have to be one whose president had specifically told his employees not to touch us?
“The next night Phil returned to the Marquee and told us about a strange conversation he’d had with Doug Morris,” he continues. “When he’d told him he wanted to sign us, Doug had begun screaming down the phone that we were the worst fucking piece of shit in the world, though he also admitted he’d never even seen the band play. Phil’s comment to Doug was that Twisted Sister may suck, but they were gonna make him a lot of money.”
“‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke played a guitar solo on ‘Tear It Loose’.
I’ll never forget he had two guitar cases; one with a guitar, the other full of Jack Daniel’s”
Jay Jay French
Carson’s instincts were to prove correct, though the group wouldn’t see the profits for a while. The budget for their second album was $60,000. However, recording with Stuart Epps (Bad Company/Elton John/The Firm) at Jimmy Page’s Sol Studio in Berkshire edged costs $4,500 over the limit. Relations were so frosty with Atlantic that because of the deficit, they refused to release the album in the US. So the band played a gig to generate the required sum, gave it to Atlantic and saw ‘You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll’ in American stores for the first time in 1983.
Meanwhile, Twisted Sister’s groundwork in the UK was already paying off, their hardcore following putting first ‘I Am (I’m Me)’ then ‘The Kids Are Back’ into the singles charts. The offer of a spot on Top Of The Pops presented them with a dilemma. Did they attempt to add to sales by accepting the programme’s offer, or take the risk of offending living rooms nationwide with a typically colourful – yet atypically expletive-free – performance?
In the end, they managed both, Mendoza even smashing a mic stand with his bass after he’d prowled the stage seeking out dissenters.
“What that type of show most represents for us is fun,” Dee proudly told me days later. “Getting a bunch of scumbags like us in front of a possible ten million people while they were eating the dinner was the ultimate goal. The people in the audience were horrified; but by the end of our song, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and The Kids From Fame were going wild.”
Did Dee expect the band’s appearance on the show to be a one-off?
“No, not at all,” he said with a swish of his magnificent mane. “We’ll have lots more hit singles, and that’s because we’re influenced by Slade. We’re a very heavy band, but that melody makes our stuff sellable. You can sing along to all our songs, even the wimps. Seriously, I love all you wimps out there… go buy the record.”
Well, somebody besides hard rock fans was doing so. This was due in no small part to Snider’s entertainingly frank interview technique, plus his willingness to be photographed alongside pop stars of the day, including Boy George of Culture Club.
Suddenly, Twisted Sister were regulars in the Daily Mirror, who described Snider as: “A good boy with a wicked image, the 28 year old doesn’t drink and take drugs. But when his band performed on Top Of The Pops, the BBC was flooded with complaints”. Dee happily played up to all the attention, offering soundbites like: “My wife calls me Heinz 57 Varieties, she never knows which of my different personalities she’ll wake up next to.”
“That was all about taking things into places where no headbanger could go,” he explains now. “It was like any ugly guy getting to fuck a Playboy bunny. I just couldn’t resist.”
A psyched-up appearance at 1983’s Castle Donington midway up a bill that also featured Diamond Head, Dio, ZZ Top, MeatLoaf and headliners Whitesnake saw them clawing back some rock credibility, with those who hadn’t experienced Dee’s confrontation with the previous year’s Reading crowd being hooked by the same tactic. When the band returned to Britain to promote the following year’s ‘Stay Hungry’ album, they were headlining London’s Hammersmith Odeon. However, noses had been put out of joint by Snider’s appearance on the sleeve, gnawing at enormous bone – all alone.
“It caused problems,” Snider confirms. “I’d taken my cue from Alice Cooper, if they [the other band members] ran around, I ran around more. But in my defence, you’d get to a place like Salt Lake City and people would wanna know, ‘Who is this guy?’ The guys were solid musicians, but none of them were Eddie Van Halen and I was the creative force. Jay Jay even accused me of calling every magazine in the world and telling them to print pictures of me, not the band. I looked at him in disbelief, I couldn’t have done that even if I’d wanted to.”
“My wife calls me Heinz 57 Varieties, she never knows
which of my different personalities she’ll wake up next to.”
Nevertheless, America had quickly fallen under Twisted Sister’s spell. ‘Stay Hungry’ alone has now sold more than three million copies. The band’s colourful videos were all over MTV, and saturation point was in danger of being reached. In 1985, when Snider appeared alongside Frank Zappa before a Senate committee to battle censorship group the Parents Music Resource Centre, his fame peaked wildly. The backlash that followed was merciless. ‘Be Chrool To Your Scuel’, the opening track of that year’s Dieter Dierks (Scorpions)-produced ‘Come Out And Play’ not only featured Billy Joel on piano, Clarence Clemons of Springsteen’s band on saxophone and former Stray Cats guitarist Brian Setzer, but everyone was most thrilled when Alice Cooper dropped by to sing backing vocals.
The album wasn’t without its moments of excitement, but by the time of their studio swansong, ‘Love Is For Suckers’ in 1987, Twisted Sister were on their knees. Sales were dwindling and Pero had been replaced by Joey ‘Seven’ Franco, while the credit for future Winger man Reb Beach (officially for “additional guitars”) failed to disguise their internal conflict. Dee believes Ojeda may even have been ejected by that point. He also recalls an incident at an airport in the group’s final days when fans pushed the rest of the band out of the way to get to him.
“They didn’t know them, or care to know them,” says the singer regretfully. “The ‘Love Is For Suckers’ record was supposed to be a solo thing. I was shaken, trying to deal with the band’s failure. I was an idiot, I thought I could do it all myself.”
“In his mind, Dee wanted a supergroup of Yngwie Malmsteens,” Jay Jay reflects. “He tried to fire me in the middle of the recording. He then got up and smashed the table during a discussion about the video for ‘Hot Love’.
He said, ‘I fought for the power, I’ve got the power and I’m never gonna give it up’. Dee says he has no recollection of that, but it signalled the end for me. When it came to touring I was praying for ticket sales to bomb – and they did, everywhere. I was happy to see the fucking thing die.”
The resulting decade of silence between the band members only caused the wounds to fester. In a VH-1 Behind The Music, Mendoza even claimed that he wanted to see Snider, who’d flopped with post-Sister act Widowmaker but scored cult success by starring in the movie Strangeland, dead.
In another of those unusual coincidences, it was a misdirected gold disc for ‘You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll’ that got the key players of Twisted Sister talking again in 1996.
Angry not to have received his award and feeling deliberately ignored by the band he’d worked so hard to make a success, Snider discovered it had mistakenly been delivered to French. So with great trepidation he visited Jay Jay’s house, ironically on the exact 20th anniversary of the first day he’d joined the band. The pair ended up spending eight hours discussing what had gone wrong.
“Some of the things we said would’ve broken the band up if we hadn’t already done so,” comments Dee. “But that same information was now healing us. With ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, I was singing about my father and things that had gone on at school, but it was also about Jay Jay. Certain things that had gone on had made him into another authority figure.”
“The first day after our meeting was the first day in ten years that I hadn’t hated Dee,” admits French, while Snider adds: “We both admitted we’d been assholes. Jay was honest enough to recognise that he had to take some blame. When we’d written a song together he said, ‘That’s cute’, and because he blew me off that was the last time I tried to write with him. It was a condescending thing to have said, but I was guilty of being headstrong. I was a general, Jay Jay was a lieutenant and the others were infantrymen, but somebody needed to lead the charge.”
Posthumous releases like the two ‘Club Daze’ CDs and a tribute album ‘Twisted Forever’ – featuring artists as diverse as Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Motörhead, Joan Jett, Lit, Cradle Of Filth and Nashville Pussy – have kept the legend alive. With French and Snider reconciled, the band returned to the studio to complete the unfinished studio tracks ‘Never Say Never’ and ‘Blastin’ Fast & Loud’ for inclusion on ‘Club Daze, Volume II’ and have even been rehearsing on a monthly basis.
“Jay Jay accused me of calling every magazine in the world and telling them
to print pictures of me, not the band. I looked at him in disbelief”
However, it’s always been made clear that the financial and gerenal circumstances would need to be perfect for them to contemplate a full-blown reunion. As Dee points out: “The money would be very good, but it wouldn’t last for the rest of our lives. My radio career’s done better for me than rock ‘n’ roll ever did, I’m not throwing that out of the window for anything.”
A rare crumb of comfort to emerge from ’01’s attack on New York’s Twin Towers came when the classic line-up finally agreed to play a charity gig alongside Anthrax, Ace Frehley, Sebastian Bach and Over Kill at the New York Steel benefit for the city’s Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund. Despite the fact that they played without make-up, the success of the show, reviewed in Issue 36, offered conclusive proof that a second bite at the cherry was perfectly feasible. So when the band confirmed appearances at the Sweden Rock Festival and the Bang Your Head outdoor bash in Germany (for details see Upfront section), Classic Rock wasted no time in getting French and Snider together on a transatlantic party line to explain.
“Our New York show answered the key question in my mind, which was whether we would come back after all these years – and with the same devastating affect,” affirms Jay Jay. “The logistics came afterwards.”
“I’m just glad it’s happening because there was always unfinished business with Twisted Sister,” says Dee. “For a band that was ferocious as we were, it all finished with a thud. That always bothered me. I wanted us to finish with an exclamation mark, not an ampersand… y’know, dot dot dot.”
The quintet have yet to clarify the precise nature of the reunion, though at this stage it’s unlikely they’ll make a new album. So far there are no definite plans to play the UK, but Twisted Sister are hoping to receive offers.
“When it came to touring I was praying for ticket sales to bomb – and they did, everywhere.
I was happy to see the fucking thing die”
Jay Jay French on the original Twisted Sister split
“Is this a long term commitment?” muses French. “Right now it’s just what it is. We’re doing some shows in Europe and a co-headlining tour of the United States, though I can’t yet reveal who the other band are. Everybody’s juggling their schedules, so there won’t be time to make a record. Dee is a radio personality, Mendoza works in law enforcement, Eddie and A.J. both work, and I manage about 30 people at this point. If it’s very successful this summer then I guess we’ll look at it again next year. If the Hammersmith Odeon’s still there, I’d love nothing more than to play the UK again.”
“I’m glad that Jay and I are on the same page, but I get the feeling we all have different views of what we’re expecting,” agrees Snider candidly. “There are things we haven’t spoken about much yet and I’m just afraid that – like with Kiss – the others, like A.J. and Eddie, will look at us like bad guys when we tell them it’s unrealistic to go back and try to make it again. Unlike Kiss, we’re well aware that people will be coming to experience a point in time, not a band attempting to pick up their careers where they left off.”
Will the make-up be going back on?
Dee: “We’re aware that the audience wants the full show, but the official answer is that we don’t yet know exactly what we’ll be wearing. There will be make-up and costumes, but what form they will take I can’t yet predict. Suzette [Dee’s wife] is working on some designs.”
Fascinatingly, Twisted Sister have agreed to allow a VH-1 camera crew to follow them around, filming a Behind The Reunion special. Given some of the sensitive issues that surfaced in the Behind The Music, might it result in old wounds reopening?
“Sure, but that show forced us to confront some things that otherwise may have lain dormant,” responds Dee. “Mark had said he wanted to kill me, which really upset my family – they’re still upset, if you want the truth – but we’ve put those things behind us. We even went on a charity motorbike ride together. We’re both better people for it and we’ve been able to walk away friends.”
The official Twisted Sister website
Twisted Sister are legends – it’s as simple as that. Since I first saw them at the Marquee way back in August 1982, I knew they had something special. This interview was done for Classic Rock in three separate bursts. I spoke to Dee Snider and Jay Jay French separately and once more again together in early 2003, just as they confirmed a long awaited reunion. I’m sure you’ll agree they had a fascinating tale to tell. As their group’s last remaining original member, Jay Jay French was determined to hang onto as much control as possible. But he figured without Dee Snider, whose talent and egomania inspired Twisted Sister’s rise and eventual fall. Fully reunited, last year the band played some of the best UK shows of their career. It was great to have them back. (17th April, 2005)
Please send me your comments on this article.