INTERVIEW WITH TWISTED SISTER GUITARIST JAY JAY FRENCH
Date: July 6, 2016
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
TWISTED SISTER’S FOUNDING MEMBER AND GUITARIST JAY JAY FRENCH IS IN THE MIDST OF ONE LAST VICTORY LAP WITH THE BAND IN 2016. TWISTED SISTER ARE RIDING HIGH WITH THE CRITICAL ACCLAIM RECEIVED FOR THEIR ‘ROCKUMENTARY’ ‘WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER.’ THEY ARE FOLLOWING IT UP WITH THE RELEASE OF A BRAND NEW CONCERT DVD INITIALLY ADVERTISED AS ‘METAL MELTDOWN’ WHICH WILL BE RELEASED ON JULY 22, 2016 VIA LOUD AND PROUD RECORDS. SLEAZE ROXX HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO CHAT WITH JAY JAY ABOUT THE END OF THE BAND. “RIGHT NOW, WE’RE SCHEDULED TO END THIS IN NEW JERSEY. I’M SURE ADDITIONAL DATES WILL BE COMING IN AS THINGS WIND DOWN. RIGHT NOW, WE END THINGS IN OUR TURF ON OCTOBER 1ST AT ‘ROCK CARNIVAL’ SAYS THE GUITARIST.
Sleaze Roxx: Twisted Sister is coming to an end. You have a new DVD coming out on July 22nd, titled ‘Metal Meltdown.’ It’s beautifully shot, if I can say that. I know there were other bands that performed in Las Vegas that same night.
Jay Jay French: Yeah, we were approached by a producer that wanted to know if we wanted to shoot a state of the art concert. We actually thought that last year was going to be our last year. Dee [Snider] and I were having a conversation about this DVD being a good way to go out. This was before A.J. [Pero] passed away. I have to add that the title of the DVD in the initial press kit was incorrect. It will be titled ‘Twisted Sister: Live in Vegas — In Memory of A.J. Pero.” So we agreed to do that DVD and then A.J. died and we were faced with a number of choices. The first was not to go on at all. The second was to use this performance as some sort of closure. We elected to push forward with the recording of the DVD.
There’s a lot of stuff out this year on Twisted Sister. We have the number one documentary on Netflix right with ‘We Are Twisted Fucking Sister.’ We have live stuff from the club days and up next is this beautifully shot DVD, which will be issued by Loud & Proud [Records]. We’ll likely have something else on shelves at the end of this year since this is our last year.
Sleaze Roxx: You have Mike Portnoy playing drums in Twisted Sister. How did that come to be? I recall reading somewhere that some of the guys in the band had stated in jest — if anything happened to them — who they wanted to step in for them or something of that nature.
Jay Jay French: In the grand scheme of things ,we did that joking. We’d even say that on stage at times. That was some of the stage stage banter, then A.J. died. Then it’s like “What do we do now?” The day after he died, Adrenaline Mob was playing a show in New Jersey and I was asked if I would come down and play a song in his honour. This was a day later so I’m still grieving. I head down to the venue to play the show and Mike Portnoy is there in the dressing room. I’d met him on a couple of occasions but we never had a conversation. We were both dumbstruck, in total disbelief and shock. Mike said “If you go out and you need somebody, The Winery Dogs’ tour is over. I’m available. Whatever you choose to do and you need a drummer give me a call.”
I had calls coming with inquiries about ‘the job.’ I said to my assistant “Make sure anyone that called never gets a call back.” Anyone with that lack of respect that wasn’t even waiting for the body to get cold… The conversation with Mike Portnoy was completely different. It was two musicians sitting together grieving together at the loss of our friend.
Sleaze Roxx: There’s a companion documentary included with the upcoming live DVD, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Tell the readers about that.
Jay Jay French: The producer Barry Summers is a huge fan. He discovered Twisted Sister when he was a teenager in a bar in New Jersey. He was connected emotionally with us and I got the feeling that he wanted to relive his youth a little bit. This is a great bookend piece to ‘We Are Twisted Fucking Sister.’ That was about the first 10 years and this is the last thing that we’ve done. I didn’t want to confuse people with this but I think he wanted to put his passion into this. I guess when you’re a fan, you’re a fan, right? I have to respect that.
Sleaze Roxx: Jay Jay, you’re in ‘street clothes’ on the new DVD and you’ve been performing like that for a bit. What inspired you to drop the costumes and make-up?
Jay Jay French: We’ve been performing without costumes and make-up for about eight years now. The story behind that is a comical actually. We had no intention to do that. We were on a huge festival in Europe. We were actually on a festival with KISS. We were looking forward to going ‘mano a mano’ with KISS. They’re a New York band and we’re a New York band but we’ve never crossed paths. We were really looking forward to it.
Dee was flying in and his flight was running very late. He arrived in Amsterdam about an hour before show time and there was no way to get him to the venue. We were on the other side of Holland! We were sitting around in our t-shirts and jeans and we figured the show isn’t going to happen. It was a crazy bill. I recall it was REO Speedwagon, KISS, Motörhead, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister and Journey all on one bill.
So we’re sitting around figuring we’re not doing the show. We’re supposed to be on stage in 15 minutes and the promoter comes in and says “We’d better be on stage in 15 minutes.” I hadn’t been spoken to like that since the club days when I was dealing with a mob club owner! Just then, Dee shows up! Our tour manager rented a helicopter to get Dee to the show. The only problem was that the helicopter wasn’t big enough to fit Dee, the pilot and Dee’s suitcase! So Dee is in t-shirt and jeans, so we all went on stage in t-shirts and jeans! [laughs] The next day the local newspaper is quoted as saying that Twisted Sister delivered a ‘near religious experience.’ So it was at that moment that we stopped wearing make-up and costumes. I was waiting for the influx of emails to roll in. I thought it was going to be a clusterfuck and a year later, I received an email saying “I thought you guys wore make-up?’ One. One email, that was it.
Sleaze Roxx: I have to ask as a fan. When you were wearing the make-up and the costumes. How long did it take you to get ready for a show?
Jay Jay French: Oh, I’d say we’d be ready within like 20 minutes. I could do it in 10 minutes if I had to. Dee would need 30 minutes if he had to. I mean it’s like a hooker. I mean how long does it take a hooker to get ready for the next trick? [laughs] Pretty fast! [laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: ‘We Are Twisted Fucking Sister’ covers, as you mentioned earlier, the first 10 years of the band’s existence. Was the vision always to focus on that era of the band leading to Twisted about to break?
Jay Jay French: I was doing an interview about another artist and Twisted Sister crossed paths with that artist. So the producer was over at my house and I asked him “What do you know about Twisted?” And he replied “Not much.” So after about three hours, he said I want to do a documentary about Twisted Sister. So at the time, I had no idea what the focus would be. As time went on, his focus went on and I didn’t want to get involved in his vision creatively. I didn’t think it was our place to make it my story or Dee’s story. It needed to be the way that he saw it. It’s a compelling story about the fight to get the record deal. It was his vision and we stayed out of it. I think we’ve seen documentaries that are a ‘Behind the Music’ type story. He wanted it to be different. So it’s different.
Sleaze Roxx: You’re a founding member, songwriter, leader and at one point, lead singer of the band. You bring Dee on board. Dee showcases his skills as a songwriter. He’s a charismatic performer and evolves into the face of the band. Was that a hard transition for you?
Jay Jay French: I had it with singers at one point so I sang myself! [laughs] I didn’t have a hard time with that. I was the last guy to join the original line-up. I wasn’t brought in to sing. The band already had a lead singer. I didn’t write songs. Those pieces were already in there. I had a role to be the guitar player in a ‘glitter’ band. That’s all. I was pretty content in that role. I had no idea that I would later evolve into a manager. I knew my limitations and I always knew I needed a singer. A smart business person knows what they can do and knows what they can’t do.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s your take on ‘Love Is for Suckers?’ I spoke with Dee a number of years ago and he said that that album was meant as a solo album and due to pressure from the label, it became a Twisted Sister album.
Jay Jay French: I don’t even know if I am on that record. I have given up on trying to figure it out. My name is there. They brought in a studio guitar player, Reb Beach, to do all the guitar parts. In those days, that happened all the time. The drumming on KISS records wasn’t Peter Criss — most of the time. The guitar player on Aerosmith records wasn’t Joe Perry or Brad Whitford — most of the time. Or maybe it was mostly Brad and not Joe? Producers would do this all the time, but people just don’t talk about it.
In this case the band was falling apart and I didn’t really want to be there. I have no idea if I’m on there. So to answer your question; I listen to that record every once in awhile and I think it’s an interesting record. Should it have been a Dee [Snider] solo record? Absolutely. I mean at that point, A.J. wasn’t in the band and [drummer] Joe Franco played a drum machine on that record so there’s no drummer on that record. So technically there’s no drummer on the record and the guitar player isn’t me or Eddie [Ojeda]! [laughs] So is it a Twisted Sister record? [laughs] I don’t say that with any particular rancor. We’re past that. There are pretty cool songs on there. It was an ugly time.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Stay Hungry’ is your signature record. In 2004, you recut the entire record and retitled it ‘Still Hungry.’ There’s stories that the band was unhappy with the production. Was it that or was it a licensing thing?
Jay Jay French: And don’t forget we added nine new songs! [laughs] So it was two fold. The record contracts we signed were horrible as were the record contracts for 99% of the bands. The labels will try to screw you in anyway that they can. The one thing is that you can re-record your music after five years. So by recutting the songs, we could license things ourselves and keep the money. So with most music that you hear in commercials, when you hear a song, the band went back and re-recorded it to license the song. We just went and did the whole record because so much of that material was turning up on TV ads, television shows and movies. And the band didn’t like the way we sounded on the original album. It sounded weak, wimpy and just not heavy enough. So having said that, it certainly didn’t stop the record from becoming a hit worldwide.
Sleaze Roxx: Is it true that you just just closed out a festival in Europe last year and you went on after Iron Maiden? Maiden puts on a great show.
Jay Jay French: Yeah, but except… not really. [laughs] I don’t mean that they aren’t good. They don’t drain the energy from the audience. They put on a great state of the art stage show. They don’t drain energy. I think a Maiden show is more like a ‘video game.’ They have awesome visuals and they have an awesome sound. They don’t drain people’s energy. We do. I think it’s worse if we go on before Maiden. It’s worse if we go on before Slayer. Why? Because people leave. They do that because we zap their energy. In full disclosure, in this case Maiden asked us to go on after them and they asked us before at a show in Spain. They have such a large production and they have to transport all that equipment that they have to get things packed up and get going. It’s a testament to the greatness of Twisted Sister. It’s a testament to the understanding of great bands like Iron Maiden that we are all of the same level together. The fans all benefit from this camaraderie that we have with each other.