JAY JAY FRENCH (TWISTED SISTER) INTERVIEW:
January 21, 2010
Websites: jayjayfrench.com – www.twistedsister.com – www.myspace.com/twistedsister
Interviewer: Kathy F. of Yellowbrd Entertainment – www.myspace.com/yellowbrd
Photos 2,3 and 8 by Kathy F. of Yellowbrd Entertainment – Photo 7 by Debbie Faller
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French, he is both smart and witty and was very generous with his time. He set the record, and in several instances me, straight on the history of the band. As an original founding member of Twisted Sister he is truly an American icon. In 2005 he was honored by Epiphone with a Jay Jay French Twisted Pinkburst signature guitar based on a Les Paul standard from their prestigious Elitist series. Jay Jay not only performs with Twisted Sister, but managed them from 1975 to 1980, and then again from 1988 to the present. As a manager, he has worked with such diverse artists such as Sevendust, songwriters Andrew Fortier and David Forman, blues guitar legend Johnny Gale, jam band heroes The Sound Of Urchin, underground New York legends The Step Kings and Fred Sargolini (the FS of the world-famous NY DJ duo Ming & FS). As a guitarist, manager and producer, Jay Jay has been responsible for the sale of over 12 million records worldwide and has 39 gold and platinum albums from 8 different countries. For me as a journalist Jay Jay was a dream interview, but as a long time SMF it was truly an honor.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve been quoted as saying that joining a rock and roll band saved your life. Many people have had the opposite experience, why did you feel that way?
Jay Jay French: Because I went through a period in my life that was unusual. People may assume we are in our forties. I’m in my late 50’s, so I was a 60’s kid and had endured a lot of the insanity that went with the 60’s. I needed to escape New York City and make myself over again, and I needed to find people who had no idea who I was. I reinvented myself completely and these guys in New Jersey, who became Twisted Sister, had no idea about my past. One of the things that I didn’t want to do was drink or do any drugs whatsoever. When I joined I told them I was straight and they didn’t care one way or the other. They were all alcoholics, but I didn’t have any pier pressure. It is the ultimate irony that I was straight prior to the band and didn’t do anything after that.
Sleaze Roxx: So you didn’t party hardy back in the day?
Jay Jay French: No never. I’ve had 5 beers my whole life, and as the band evolved we were pretty unsociable so we never partied together. Dee Snider is extremely unsocial, antisocial, so is Mark Mendoza. I don’t think we were ever together socially more than 10 times in the entire history of the band.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s unusual.
Jay Jay French: Yeah we used to just play and then leave.
Sleaze Roxx: Even when you were touring?
Jay Jay French: Mark and I did, but as a band we never did. The record labels took us out a few times, but as our decision, never. That only happened after we reformed and we decided we liked each other. In the first 15 years I had dinner with Dee in Spain or Italy. It’s the only time we ever sat down together and it was because we happened to show up to the restaurant at the same time.
Sleaze Roxx: So it was just a coincidence?
Jay Jay French: Yeah, it’s an unusual band.
Sleaze Roxx: People would be surprised by that. They would also be surprised to learn that you auditioned for a band named Wicked Lester, but they hired someone else, Ace Frehley.
Jay Jay French: As far as I know it was 25 guys. It was open auditions that they advertised in the Village Voice. I just happened to get their phone number from a guy in my building who was a lawyer who represented a producer who worked with them. I went down and auditioned for them, but it was nothing more than that. This whole thing about I was almost in KISS was blown way out of proportion, and never by me. I can’t be anymore brutally honest than to say, I auditioned and failed. End of story. They never called me back.
Two months later I saw their ad was still in the paper. It was September of ’72, so I called them and they said they just got somebody last week, his name was Ace. They said, when the band rehearses do you want to come down? So about a month later they called me and I went down to their loft on 23rd Street. It was literally me and my friend Tommy and their producer, we were the only three people in the room and they played the whole Wicked Lester album as KISS. So all the songs shifted over to heavy metal from what they were doing, the band Looking Glass was kind of the style they had, the transitional style of the 70’s, there were a whole bunch of bands like that. I guess they thought that was their ticket to getting a record deal and then they decided that wasn’t what they wanted. They had been trying to tell me that this was coming, ‘it’s going to be like Slade’, but they didn’t have a name for it at the time. They said it’s going to wear platform shoes, “you’ve seen platform shoes in England right”? They had Marshall amplifiers and American bands didn’t have Marshall’s at the time. I don’t know if this means anything to you, if you even know what I am talking about.
Sleaze Roxx: Of course I do, you can’t miss the big stack behind you.
Jay Jay French: Jimi Hendrix played them. But everybody in America like the Grateful Dead and the Eagles all used Fender amps and all this bullshit. And they said, “We’re gonna play Marshall amps”, so they were very impressive when I went down there, and Ace was great, way better than me (at the time). I said, “You guys are phenomenal”
Sleaze Roxx: You started off as Johnny Heartbreaker, how’d you become Jay Jay French?
Jay Jay French: My first professional name I think… cos I was very funny, you gotta realize the first band I was ever in was in junior high school called 4 Rooms And a John, cos I was a John. When Twisted Sister was starting and everyone was coming up with names I was Jonathan Livingston Seagull cos my name was John Segall, so it would be funny. It was Jonathan Livingston Seagull for about a week, it was dumb. Then I changed it to Johnny Heartbreaker. It lasted for about a year through the first version of the band, the non recording version of the band.
Sleaze Roxx: When you finally had the line-up in place Dee was writing killer material and Mark had brought the heavier sound out in you…
Jay Jay French: No, you have to understand there were 11 versions of the band, so which version are you referring to?
Sleaze Roxx: You have Dee in place and Mark joined the band…
Jay Jay French: Now you’re talking 1982, so now we have the line up.
Sleaze Roxx: The crowds are loving it…
Jay Jay French: The crowds were always loving it.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you think a record deal would just naturally follow?
Jay Jay French: We always thought we would get a record deal. It never happened, we had been at it and at it and at it.
Sleaze Roxx: Was there ever a time when you just thought, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore?’
Jay Jay French: There was… right before we were signed it was gonna end. As a band we had reached the end of the line.
Sleaze Roxx: So being signed saved Twisted Sister?
Jay Jay French: Just in the nick of time. If we weren’t signed by Atlantic when we were the band had made plans to break up. It was too upsetting. It didn’t matter that we were playing to sold out houses in the Tri-state area, the goal was never to do that anyway. That couldn’t sustain us any longer. The sense of failure was overwhelming.
Sleaze Roxx: When you finally did get a record deal where you happy with the direction the band took?
Jay Jay French: Well the direction was fine. You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll is the best album we ever made and that happened after we were signed to Atlantic.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you realize at that point the East Coast fans felt kind of abandoned?
Jay Jay French: How could they? We had played 1000 shows in the Tri-state area, all these kids ever wanted was to see was us make it. So we left to make a record, I would have hoped that they would have been happy. We spent 10 years playing a 50 mile radius around Manhattan, what more are you gonna do? There are people who have seen the band literally thousands of times… So come on, its either the band goes on or breaks up, so is it better that the band breaks up or finally finds success?
Sleaze Roxx: Let’s go back to those club days for a minute. I used to love your banter, you used to do a little spiel during the second set with current events. Can you still talk a hundred miles an hour?
Jay Jay French: Yeah, but over time you learn when you play larger venues, and in foreign countries, you can’t do that anymore. That’s the difference between new bands and ones that have been around a while. New bands go, ‘Hey what’s up blah blah blah’ and you won’t understand anything, but you watch an older bands and they go, ‘H e l l o N e w H a v e n, h o w a r e y o u t o d a y?’, because you have to, it becomes even more of an issue in Europe because of the language.
Sleaze Roxx: That reminds me of a funny story. I think you were playing in Helsinki, Finland and it’s bright out, very unusual for you to play that way, and you break into I Wanna Rock and they start to toss rocks onto the stage.
Jay Jay French: I don’t remember that, but they speak English extremely well in Finland and Sweden. You know where they speak English well also is England, and in England they throw things on the stage, they’ve made it a tradition to assault the band with items, and they do use us as moving targets. They’ve thrown rocks and mud and everything at us. It was literally disgusting back in the day, they threw shit at us on stage once. One time someone threw a plastic wine jug at me and it hit me and broke open all over me and my guitar in the summer heat. Really gross.
Sleaze Roxx: At some point I thought you were enjoying the crowds over there more than here. I read where you said that American crowds are sterile in comparison to European ones.
Jay Jay French: In general they are. Crowds everywhere in the world are more energetic than American crowds, even in the Tri-state area. As Americans we are programmed to act a certain way. In these other countries the soccer mentality comes into play. If you’ve ever watched World Cup soccer the fans all sing ‘woo woo woo woo’ in unison. The biggest thing we have in America is the wave, we are so introverted. In Europe, and in South America especially, the connection is greater. It’s a social thing.
Sleaze Roxx: I’m surprised, because all the shows I have ever attended have been filled with wild maniacs. I am always black and blue afterwards.
Jay Jay French: It’s ok, but on a one to ten scale in regards to what we have seen in audience mania the best we have seen in America is a five. And that’s under extreme circumstances. The best I have ever seen is in England and Brazil, and in Japan the girls were screaming and crying, it’s absolutely like Beatlemania there. But Brazil, we just came back from Brazil and it was insane. Eight thousand kids, none of them over twenty five, every one of them sang the songs word for word. I have never witnessed anything like that.
Sleaze Roxx: That must be very gratifying
Jay Jay French: Yeah especially since we had never played there. I don’t want to take anything away from American audiences, they just don’t express themselves to the level of the European or South American crowds. They need to let themselves go a little more. Why do you think every DVD we have ever released has been in England? Think about that… Live at Hammersmith, Live from the Astoria. The Astoria show was extraordinary and it represented a pinnacle of what the band could do because we were unbelievable back then. It was just a great, great night and I could have walked away and said that is a testament to it and then I went to Brazil. And that was just unbelievable.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand you are a real guitar junkie. I read an interview Dee did and it said when you broke up you hadn’t touched a guitar in over 10 years?
Jay Jay French: I didn’t.
Sleaze Roxx: What about your large collection? In over ten years you didn’t even touch them?
Jay Jay French: I walked away from it so I looked at them as art objects. In the literal sense, did I even strum one? Yes. Did I have the desire to strap one on and perform again? No.
Sleaze Roxx: So the feeling had really died?
Jay Jay French: I just had really had it.
Sleaze Roxx: So what about 9-11 made you change your mind?
Jay Jay French: Well, we’ve done a whole bunch of interviews to this effect but I will say it again. Prior to 9-11, I believe in April of 2001, I approached VH-1 to do a Behind The Music special about Twisted Sister. They refused to do it for a long time which didn’t make any sense to me. I guess they didn’t think we were worthy. I pitched it and they never responded which was kind of a slap in the face. But in April a new guy was appointed president of VH-1, a guy named Rick Krim, and Rick was a great friend/fan of Twisted Sister and I said to him, “why didn’t you ever do it”? And he said, “Didn’t we”, and I replied ‘no’. He said ‘that will change’ and the next day he ordered it.
Understand, at this point the band is still not talking, even though the band had done a couple of things. The band had recorded Heroes Are Hard To Find but we did not do it together in the same room. And we did play a party for a former A&R rep, Jason Flom, but we never rehearsed for that. We just met in the kitchen on Tavern on the Green and just went up on stage and played. So this was a whole unique experience for us.
So we were interviewed for Behind the Music. The producers extracted the worst possible stories from that. Because we didn’t have a drug and alcohol problem you really couldn’t do that like most other bands with the same old story, ‘band makes it, they get fucked up, they rip each other off, they break up’. But we weren’t fucked up or ripping each other off or any of that. There were two huge building blocks of tragedy and we didn’t have that, so they focused on the fact that we didn’t like each other. They edited a lot out and made it look like we really wanted to kill each other and they ran it. I was in Europe (in August of 2001) and people were calling and emailing me saying, “Holy shit, I never realized how much you guys hated each other”. I got home and watched a copy of it and thought that any thought of the band ever getting back together is over, we will never reunite. I could not believe how ridiculously bad this thing looked. I said, “That’s it, we’re never talking to each other again”.
And then two weeks later 9-11 happened. I went down to volunteer my services at the Javits Center and I’m completely shell shocked, can’t believe it. No one can believe it and there’s 30 thousand people standing in front of the Javits Center to volunteer, and after waiting a few hours I walked up to one of the national guardsmen and said, “I’ll wait here all day, but I just want to know they will use me”. The guy says, “If you’re not a construction worker, doctor, lawyer, nurse, etc. you’re wasting your time”. I walked away and I was thinking to myself how useless I feel. Here I am a New Yorker and I can’t even help my own people. And then this light bulb went off, we have a band, maybe we can do something? At that moment I got a phone call from Eddie Trunk who said that he’s gonna organize a benefit because VH-1 wasn’t interested in using heavy metal bands in their benefits. So Eddie Trunk pulled it together…
Sleaze Roxx: And New York Steal was born
Jay Jay French: And New York Steal was born, however I was very concerned about the infighting in the band, so we filmed rehearsals. I just wanted people there in case we started fighting. The band was very professional, we just walked in the room and had very little interaction. We just did our rehearsal and went home. We played New York Steal, refused to do any press, because it wasn’t about Twisted Sister reforming, it was about the cause. I didn’t want to get sucked up into it. I grabbed my daughter and a cab and figured the next day people would call and say, “Wow that was great”. And nobody called, except Mark. So we didn’t talk for another six months. Nothing, it was astonishing and I thought, “Wow this band really is over”.
Sleaze Roxx: At one point you and Mark were even brother in laws.
Jay Jay French: Yeah and we were best friends. Then we got an offer to play Sweden Rocks. Danny Stanton our booking agent, and a good friend of the band, said the word hit Europe and they wanted us and we went, “Why would they want us to headline?” I didn’t believe it. You have to understand, as big as we were in Europe, we were huge in America. 90% of the shows we played, and 95% of the record sales, were in the US, so why Europe? We said no and about a year later they begged us, so we made a comeback and we did it. We weren’t very good, it was the first time we played in front of 20 thousand people in 15 years.
Sleaze Roxx: And how did that feel?
Jay Jay French: Well, we weren’t good. It was raining, you need a flow, the only time we played before that was a tough gig and it was a bit disheartening. Shortly after that Bang Your Head, which is another famous metal festival, asked us to headline. We decided to do it, but booked a gig the night before at a local club just to go over the set so we would do a great job. The next night we blew Bang Your Head to bits. Then a month after that, Wacken, which is the biggest metal festival of all, lost their headliner and they said get Twisted Sister. The guy from Wacken wasn’t sure we could do it but was told we could so he called us. They had bands like Slayer on the bill, Rotting Christ, Suicide, Homicide, Genocide, you know, ‘kill your mother, kill your father’ what ever. Dark metal, speed metal and all this fucking heavy shit and there’s Twisted Sister and we closed the show and that’s what the Live at Wacken DVD is. And if you look at that DVD it looks like we own it. It was a surprise appearance and we completely dismantled it. We never traveled around the world and all of a sudden we’re the headliner. We have headlined 73 festivals now.
Sleaze Roxx: How does that feel to be even bigger now than back in the day, in terms of notoriety?
Jay Jay French: Yeah, how does it feel? When I’m back in New York it’s a memory. There we’re huge, but here there’s no connection. We’re just not popular here in the US in any regards close to what we are around the rest of the world. So I would prefer never to play the US again, if I had my choice. But we play during Christmas which is ok. We started over 37 years ago and if you had asked me then, ‘will you still be doing this in 40 years’, I would have laughed at you. So here we are, we’ve built an incredible reputation around the world and as far as we can bring it I guess we’ll still do it.
Sleaze Roxx: I know that Eddie Ojeda, AJ Pero and Mark Mendoza have always wanted to keep rocking. If Dee had been willing to take this full throttle, when you got back together again, would you have been up for that or were you already in another place in your life?
Jay Jay French: I never wanted to go full throttle ever again. When my daughter was born I promised I would never do what my father did, which was abandoned me. He was a traveling salesman, so I swore I would never do that to my daughter. Now my daughter is 16, she could give a shit if I was around. So the answer five years ago would have been no, now I don’t know if it’s even practical. People think it’s so easy putting together a tour, the fact that Twisted Sister doesn’t play much is why we are so sought after. If we made the band available all the time maybe we wouldn’t be.
Sleaze Roxx: Twisted’s music has been featured on commercials for Wendy’s, Comtrex, and Pepsi, as well as the Sponge Bob and Road Trip movies. Everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Dancing With The Stars have used Were Not Gonna Take It. Do you own the rights to your own music?
Jay Jay French: I think that people really don’t understand what that means. First of all, as a band, we can play anything we want. Anyone can play anyone else’s song at any time. When you record it and release it certain protocols have to occur. We re-recorded all of our songs so we can sell our version to television and movies rather than the record label selling the versions they own and taking their cut. When we sell our versions we keep 100%. Now Dee as a writer has a publishing deal which is a complete separate entity. What his deal is with his publisher I have no idea, we don’t discuss it.
Sleaze Roxx: So you’re not getting rich from royalties?
Jay Jay French: We exist on them, it’s nice but you don’t retire on it. When you hear our songs, or anyone else’s, at a sports arena we get pennies because all those entities pay a licensing fee to play anything they want for a year. You don’t make much money. You make money from licensing your songs when they are used in TV and movies.
Sleaze Roxx: Dee has joked that you’re still in the band because you personally own the name Twisted Sister.
Jay Jay French: Well it is true I own the trademark. I guess he’s lucky I do because that’s why he’s still in the band.
Sleaze Roxx: So who came up with the idea to play as Bent Brother?
Jay Jay French: We wanted to play bars, but not as Twisted Sister. We didn’t want the band to be associated with the bars anymore so we came up with an alternate name to tell the fan base that it was us just fucking around and playing cover material, cos we wanted to do that. We wanted to have fun playing cover material again, but we never wanted to do it as Twisted because Twisted is another issue. We have identity issues in the band. Some bands are happy to play anywhere, anytime… we’re not. So Bent Brother was created to fulfill a certain desire for the band.
Sleaze Roxx: Given the fact that Dee didn’t want to write anymore, was doing a Christmas album the next best thing?
Jay Jay French: No, I had definite feelings of, ‘holy shit this is the biggest mistake we’ve ever made as a band’. As it was coming together I’d go home and think, ‘oh man, what the fuck did I do. This is a fucking disaster and will only speed up the end faster (because the end was coming). It will just crash and burn and people will just hate us beyond words and that will be the end of it.’
Sleaze Roxx: Instead you’re taking it to Broadway and Las Vegas.
Jay Jay French: It became a fucking hit and it’s become the standard for every metal band. Now everyone has done it, people thought we were crazy and now everyone has done it. Ours is the gold standard. I guess I should be proud of that. We made a very smart record.
Sleaze Roxx: We didn’t think Dee was going to be writing anymore, so how did 30 come about?
Jay Jay French: He wrote it for that TV show Gone Country. He wrote it with two or three other writers. We needed to do something special for our 30th Anniversary Stay Hungry package so we said let’s do 30.
Sleaze Roxx: I don’t think that’s a ‘bathroom song’.
Jay Jay French: I don’t care who the band is, when you say you’re gonna play your new song people go ‘oh really’, and get up and go to the bathroom, I don’t give a shit how great the band is. Look, I went to see the Rolling Stones many years ago and I bought a ticket for like $300, I’d seen the Stones a lot back in the day and I wanted to see what it was like to see them now, to see what 60 year old guys would do. This was in 2002 and they did a 15 minute version of Love Train, not that its not a nice song, but 15 minutes? I’d rather hear three hit songs, I thought they’d made a stupid mistake. Ashford and Simpson were in the audience so they played their song. Sad thing was it went over better than some of their own songs. Paul McCartney has learned not to announce that it’s a new song until the song is over. Very smart.
Sleaze Roxx: Going back to the CD are you the voice of the Lollipop kid?
Jay Jay French: No, that’s Dee. We found that in the tapes. To be honest with you when we listened to those songs I didn’t remember most of it.
Sleaze Roxx: You didn’t party yet it’s still a blur?
Jay Jay French: No, never as a band. You gotta remember we’re a 70’s band who made it in the 80’s. We were this hard charging rock and roll band, we’re not this glammy, cheesy band. You gotta remember where we came from, the gritty bars. That’s why we’re not wearing make up after this year cos I’m sick of being judged that way. We lost so much credibility over the years by the way we looked. People couldn’t take it seriously. Now we’ll be judged by the way we play and if the image is that important to you than too bad. The image was the shock value, but the heaviness of the band was beyond any band in the United States. We’re about the meanest, nastiest rock band out there but do we get any respect for it, no, and we never did. And you may say to me, ‘why do you care at this point in your life’, but I do. It is just really time to move forward. You’ve seen the band in the bars and that was the core of what we are, now maybe we will be appreciated for that.
Sleaze Roxx: I can remember the first time I saw you. As the lights come up the sheer sight of you hit, but the next thing you felt was the sound which was like a hot wave that just blew me away. I’ll never forget the feeling, the sight, the sound…
Jay Jay French: Do you know Donna? Donna is a really good friend, she reminds me of the effect we have on people. I say to her, “Donna, I don’t doubt what you’re saying, but when you do something for so long and you do it over and over and over again you loose sight of that”. It got to the point where I was doing a job, which isn’t to say we didn’t believe it, but while on any given night people were reaching nirvana I was trying to figure a way to cover our bills.
Sleaze Roxx: Is that the point where you’re playing five nights a week, three sets a night?
Jay Jay French: We did that forever, for ten years. I finished adding up all the shows we ever played. I have it in front of me, it’s amazing. On average we played 180 nights a year. We did three hour long sets or two one and a half. You saw a lot of those shows, you saw a lot, what would you say was your favorite? Do any stand out?
Sleaze Roxx: My first show at Hammerheads.
Jay Jay French: In Levittown? Yeah there were a lot of great shows there, and Tony Petri was the drummer at the time. He wasn’t a nice guy.
Sleaze Roxx: But you replaced him with the nicest guy in the world AJ Pero.
Jay Jay French: No, AJ’s three drummers past that. There was Joey Brighton, Richie Teeter then AJ. Tony played for us until ’79, then Joey came in for a year and then he left and Richie came in for about a year. AJ only played around 40 show dates, so 90% of the shows you saw were without AJ. And in ’78 Kenny Harrison-Neill was playing bass, that summer we changed to Mark.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you still friends with Tony Petri?
Jay Jay French: No, I haven’t seen Tony since we fired him. I’ve spoken with him on the phone, but I fired him. He was a nasty guy who said too many nasty things and was fired for being a nasty racist. He was fucked up.
Sleaze Roxx: I hear he is very sick now.
Jay Jay French: He is. I’ve spoken to him and I don’t hate him. He disappointed me, we were roommates.
Sleaze Roxx: Having had a hand in managing Twisted Sister all these years was it a natural transition for you to manage other bands?
Jay Jay French: Yeah, I learned how to manage in the early stages of the band, from ’76-79. Then I brought someone in to manage because I was overwhelmed playing and managing. I went on to manage several other bands, but continued developing the trademark and the brand of Twisted Sister because that is basically what it is at this point. We control everything, we know why we do what we do… we’re in charge of our own destiny.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you like managing or performing better?
Jay Jay French: I like them both. I like being behind the scenes, I think it’s fascinating to make things happen, and I like performing. Do I see an end to it? Yeah I think our days are coming to a close. And I don’t know if we’re going to make a big deal out of it or one day we’re just not going to play again. I think that scenario is probably what’s going to happen.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve been playing some of the US festivals, we’re finally catching up with Europe, how do you think the crowds compare? Has it been as exciting?
Jay Jay French: Well in Europe they are certainly bigger. I’ll give you an example of a great festival, the Arrow Festival in Holland a year and a half ago. You had REO Speedwagon, Kansas, Motorhead, Journey, Twisted Sister, Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Kiss in on afternoon. Now if you’re a fan of that kind of music you had a great day. Every band played one hour on the hour starting at 1:00. There were two stages on either side of the field. Kiss closed, they’re the only band that did an hour and a half. It was nothing but hit records, one after the other, it was amazing. If you did that kind of thing in the United States I guarantee you you’d draw a million people. I can’t begin to tell you why they don’t, but they don’t.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you see a wide range of age groups at these US festivals?
Jay Jay French: Yeah, but most of the older ones bring their kids, whereas in Europe the sixteen year olds show up because they want to come. I think they’re inspired by Guitar Hero, it’s had an effect on our careers in a way.
Sleaze Roxx: Finish this sentence for me. You know you’ve arrived when…
Jay Jay French: When you get to Penn Station? I don’t know.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you think you’ve arrived?
Jay Jay French: You know what, I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve been successful but taken a lot of hits, but I don’t know if I’ve arrived. There was a time when all I wanted was to be the biggest band in the bars and then we became it. Then all we wanted was a record deal and we got it, and that wasn’t enough. So then all I wanted was a gold record and we got it… then platinum, then double platinum, and triple platinum, and we got it and that wasn’t’ enough. I thought all I want now is some world tours, and then I’m thinking well when is enough enough and what makes you happy?
Sleaze Roxx: So what does make you happy?
Jay Jay French: At the end of the day having someone to love who loves you, I think the rest of it is bullshit. I think the material concerns are bullshit. I wouldn’t have said that 20 years ago, but I’ll say it now. My daughter is the most important thing to me ever, I wouldn’t know that experience 20 years ago.
Sleaze Roxx: Is she your only child?
Jay Jay French: Yeah, she has a chronic eye disease and we deal with it everyday and frankly it’s what I think about. If you could tell me you could remove the chronic eye disease I’d say fuck that, I’d give you every guitar I own. I didn’t know I had that capacity. Who knew I had that capacity for empathy, it has altered my life. I also have owned enough stuff in my life to never need anything anymore.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s a nice feeling, not everybody achieves that.
Jay Jay French: My girlfriend says, ‘what do you want, another iPod?’ I don’t know, to have dinner with her is about as happy as I want to get. And when my daughter is around, you know she goes to a boarding school, she hangs around with me and it’s great. There’s not much I want anymore. I tell you what I do want is to live as healthfully as I can for the rest of my life. We all know when you get into your 50’s the mind field starts. I call it sex, prescription drugs and rock and roll. I’ve had two operations in the last few years for an irregular heart beat. If I could wake up pain free and not be sick I’d be happy. That’s a good day, who the hell thought we’d ever say that. These days when we came back from Brazil and we’re jetlagged and people would say how was it and I’d say I used to pay money in high school to feel this way. I think you gotta go through hell to get to heaven, and Twisted Sister certainly did and we have a legacy I’m proud of. We really worked our asses off. You figure in 1973 in the Tri-state area there were hundreds and hundreds of bands trying to make it and at the end of the day here we are, 37 years later, and the only one is me because I’m the original member. I’m the only standing musician 37 years later that can claim international success. Statistically that is ridiculous, and the band statistically making it is ridiculous. You have to be grateful for the dream to have reached some sort of reality.
Sleaze Roxx: An amazing reality. So what else, if anything, do you want to say to the fans?
Jay Jay French: I have to say it has, and remains, a great ride and I don’t believe we’ve ever walked on stage and not played our hearts out. We’ve never phoned it in, we walk out onto that stage and put our hearts into every performance. I think that the day we can’t do that is the day we would end. It wouldn’t sustain itself. And that’s why it does continue because we do put our hearts into it. And we do really care and I love being on that stage. I’m an entertainer and I do love it. I have no idea how long its gonna continue.
Sleaze Roxx: Well I personally hope it goes on for a long, long time. As long as I can rock I wanna rock with you.
Jay Jay French: You know there was a core of people who had the luxury of seeing us in the bars, who lived their youth through our social interactions at our performances.
Sleaze Roxx: My life would have been completely different without Twisted Sister.
Jay Jay French: And my life would have been completely different too (laughs). I’m sure that’s a key to it, my life was formed by the rock shows I saw. I grew up at the Fillmore East. I was lucky enough to see Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Jeff Beck. I went there on a weekly basis when it wasn’t a big deal, you could go for three bucks. It wasn’t a luxury, but back then it was hard to come up with three bucks. Now you can’t afford to do anything. I was fortunate enough to have been born in a year when I could see bands and make a dream come true. To all these bands I saw I would say thank you for helping me be me. I met Bill Graham many years later when Twisted Sister was on tour and I said, “Bill, I dropped out of high school but I should give you a plaque cos I graduated at the Fillmore University. What your venue did was allowed me to dream”.