“Our job was to blow other bands off the stage.”
Twisted Sister founder and guitarist, Jay Jay French gives a lengthy interview in the latest issue of Chips & Beer The Magazine (May 2012). French spoke to journalist Adam Ganderson about the origins of the band, French ’s thoughts on frontman Dee Snider and the Twisted Sister’s feud with Manowar. Some highlights below:
Tell me about when and how you started Twisted Sister.
I was living on a commune and playing in this hippy band in the summer of ‘72. We played one show that summer and it was a disaster. And I came home at the end of August and a friend of mine who was a friend of the New York Dolls said, “You gotta see this band The Dolls.” Now I had seen them, cause they rehearsed in the same studio where I rehearsed at with my little hippie, weirdo band. We rehearsed in New York City, a place called Talent Re-Con. Which, I believe was one of the first rehearsal studios in New York. And the Dolls had rehearsed there. So I had seen them coming in and out with their shagged hair. Now, you have to understand, I’m a Grateful Deadhead, so this was the other side of the coin, right? The glam looking kind of thing, the Rod Stewart kind of haircut. I’d never seen that in an American band. On top of this, in June of ‘72 I had auditioned for KISS when they were called Wicked Lester.
Yeah. And they said to me, “What’s with the long hair? We’re gonna cut our hair,” and “Are you into Slade?” And I said, “No.” And they said, “Well you should listen to Slade, cause we’re gonna be like Slade.” But they didn’t have a name yet. They were Wicked Lester. So I auditioned for them in June of ‘72, then I went off and joined this hippy, kind of weirdo, Allman Brothersish kind of band. So anyway, that band rehearsed all summer long and lived on a commune in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I came back in August and we played a show. The band was called Maxwell Benjamin and the show sucked, and the band broke up that night. And I remember coming home thinking, “What’s gonna be the next thing?” And I got a subscription to Fusion Magazine. Bowie was on the cover. And with a subscription came three albums: Hunky Dory , Mott , and Lou Reed’s Transformer. I put on the David Bowie album, opened up the magazine, saw Mick Ronson, flipped out. Flipped the fuck out. Like, “Oh my God. This is my life. This is my future. Fuck all this.”
So I start going and auditioning for glam bands because I can see my future as a transvestite. I said, “I can do that. Maybe it’s a great way to get laid.” And the drummer that was in that crazy hippie band that I lived out in the commune, that drummer went on to another group. And the agent that he had was mentioning that he knew another band that was looking for a glam, a glitter rock guy. So he said, “Hey I played with a guy this summer, I think he’s into that shit now. We lost the Duane Allman part and I think he transitioned over to the Mick Ronson world. Maybe you should call him up.” So I get a phone call from this guy named Mel Anderson from New Jersey. And he goes, “Hey is this John Segal? This is Mel Anderson. Listen, I understand yous into glitter.” “Yous”: it’s important. He goes, “yous,” not “you are.” “Yous guys. I seen yous guys.” I’m a New York kid. I didn’t learn the vernacular of the blue collar suburbs. I said, “Yeah I’m into glitter.” He went, “Oh good we’re into glitter, man.” So he goes, “Look, I’ll bring you up to rehearsal.” So he drives to my house in Manhattan, picks me up, and drives me out to New Jersey to this rehearsal with this band called Silverstar. This is in December of ‘72. And we’re driving out and he said, “Yeah man, we’re gonna fucking wear make up. I wear this colored wig like Parliament.” He was black. “It’ll be like Parliament/Funkadelic. The lead singer’s gorgeous. There’s gonna be girls everywhere man. We’re gonna fuckin’ wear like dresses and shit. And make up.” And I go, “Really?” And he goes, “Yeah man, it’s the best way to get laid, man. The best fucking way to get laid. ‘Cause girls like guys who look like girls, but they got dicks. Trust me man, it’s a fuckin’ great formula.”
Ha Ha Ha!
And I’m like, “Sounds good to me!” Cause I ain’t gay, but if you’re tellin’ me it’s a good way to get laid I’m all for it. So I go rehearse with these guys. And so they asked me to join that night. We started rehearsing first week of January ‘73. I moved to New Jersey. Moved into the band house. We were called Silverstar for about two or three weeks. I hated the name. I said, “One Quaalude and nobody’s gonna fuckin’ remember the name Silverstar.” It’s such a non-name. And then, basically, it evolved. The singer, the original singer thought of this. He was drunk, and came up with this idea for the name Twisted Sister. And that’s how it all started.
So would you say you guys were leaning to the more hard rock type bands like B.O.C., that sort of style? ‘Cause it definitely wasn’t punk what you guys were doing.
No, no man. First of all, Blue Öyster Cult never figured into our viewpoint. Nothing ever really did. We completely evolved in our own world. I think when we really established ourselves as really high end…look, we were a ‘70s rock band that made it in the ‘80s is really what we were. And we were a bar band. So everything we did in the bars was, we learned how to entertain. And that was really it. We learned how to get audiences going crazy. This goes back to The Grateful Dead, of trying to get the audience completely wrapped up and involved. But the band really became an entertainment, performance artist band. Music was secondary. The bludgeoning effect of the music was primary. We learned to be predatory. Our job was to blow other bands off the stage. Because it meant we could make more money. So we became really predatory, which is how we are today. I don’t think we’re a musical band as much as we are an outfit that’s designed to destroy other bands and their morale. I really don’t care. We go out there to eat up other bands for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don’t really give a fuck. And the day that that ends is the day I’ll stop playing. But it aint about the music. It’s about the crushing effect of what a galvanizing entertainment package will deliver.
Does it ever bother you that the general public recognizes Dee as Twisted Sister, when you started the band?
Well I don’t write the songs. If I was Pete Townshend it would bother me. Cause Pete Townshend wrote the songs for The Who, but everyone assumes that Roger Daltrey wrote ‘em. But I always needed somebody to do this stuff. I couldn’t do it. I don’t have that capacity. If you’re asking me did I assume that what would happen ultimately is that the singer would spin off to the degree that it did? Probably not. But it is what it is. Lead singers are what they are. It’s funny, you’d think that Keith Richards would understand that he and Mick Jagger are roughly equivalent in the world, but Keith doesn’t think so. He doesn’t think the world knows who the fuck he is. If I was Jimmy Page and I wrote and produced the album, it’d be different, but it’s not. You’re not interviewing me about the songs.
In his book it didn’t seem like Keith has many nice things to say about Mick Jagger.
Yeah, well that’s what happens when you’re in a band. If a band’s been together 40 years, if they don’t hate each others guts at that point, the band aint worth shit. That’s my opinion. There should be a lot of that. That’s what happens. Dee’s book is comin’ out. Who the fuck knows what he said about me.
You talked about B.O.C. and Sir Lord Baltimore. But in the ‘80s, when Metal became huge, did you have any relationship with New York bands that started in that era, like Manowar or Virgin Steele?
I don’t know any of ‘em. No, I mean our bass player’s in The Dictators. He had a relationship with them for a while.
Then fell out with them and really doesn’t talk to them anymore. But Manowar said something stupid in a magazine interview to us and we challenged them to a fight and they never showed up. And then they apologized.
What was it that they said?
Yeah, some stupid statement they made in the press. So we said, “Really? Well, meet us at Covent Garden,” and we called ‘em out in the press. We went down to Covent Garden, it was covered by all the rock magazines at the time in 1983, and they never showed up ‘cause they’re a bunch of pussies. They were in fear that Mendoza was gonna kick their ass and they released a statement saying, “We apologize if we said anything to upset Twisted Sister, blah, blah, blah…” So they were just a bunch of idiots. Look, we don’t pick fights with anybody. If you pick a fight with us, it’s a different story. But we don’t pick fights. We have no reason to. Our job is we do our job onstage. And if you can survive it, knock yourself out. Otherwise, go fuck yourself.