Jay Jay French 09/17/2004
In the early 80's, several hard rock bands came onto the scene that set the trend for the rest of the hair bands to follow. Although bands like Ratt, Motley Crue and Quiet Riot shared similar qualities, one band took the look and the attitude to the extreme. Twisted Sister's 1984 album Stay Hungry produced hits such as "I Wanna Rock" and "We're Not Going To Take It", giving voice to a young generation ready to be heard. Jay Jay French was kind enough to chat with Wisconsin Music in this exclusive interview:
WM: Jay Jay French. Is that a stage name, or is that your original God given name?
JF: It's an original stage name.
WM: (laughs) Ok. Now, you're one of the original founding members, is that correct?
JF: The only one. The band first rehearsed in 1972. Got together January of 1973 with a completely different line-up. The line-up that people are familiar with is the fourteenth lineup. So it just took many years to get to this level.
So even though it is considered the original band, and for all extents and purposes to everybody who buys records, we are the original band. We're really not the original band, but that's more a historical point of view than anything else. The other versions never recorded anything, so it didn't really matter in those terms. It's kinda like Fleetwood Mac, if you came into Fleetwood Mac in 1977, and you see them today, it's the same band, and so you think that's the original Fleetwood Mac. Well Fleetwood Mac goes back another ten years to line-ups that you would never know. And in the same way that's kind of what Twisted Sister is about. Dee is the fourth singer, there were seven drummers, three different guitar players, two bass players. We went through a lot of changes.
WM: So what year did the band officially call it quits?
JF: Joey Franco came in to replace AJ, that was in '87. That band only lasted about six months and that was it.
WM: So you had two albums after your biggest release, "Stay Hungry", that didn't do as well. Do you feel that they could have or should have done more?
JF: Probably. Listening back on "Come Out and Play", there were some really good songs on that record, and some really weak ideas on that record. By that time, the band had been fracturing. The band started to fracture shortly after "Stay Hungry", continued to fracture through "Come Out and Play" and then completely hemorrhaged during "Love is for Suckers."
WM: And you continued to tour the whole time?
JF: We did our huge tour on "Stay Hungry", which lasted about a year. And then we did a world tour for "Come Out and Play", which did very well overseas, incidentally, much better than it did over here. We got silver and gold and platinum records for it in Europe, and over here it just went gold. And we toured here, and then we released "Love is for Suckers". We didn't go to Europe, we just toured regionally, and that was it.
WM: Were you playing in different bands after that?
JF: The other guys were. I had stopped for years.
WM: So when did Twisted Sister reunite?
JF: Well, I guess 2001, when we reunited to do a benefit for the Widow's and Orphan's Fund for New York City Police and Fire Department, a couple of months after 9-11. That was maybe the first show. The first real performance.
We had actually played in 2000 in a surprise party for a music executive… he's now the president of Atlantic Records. And that was just a little private party. We did it for him because he was responsible for A&R'ing us, that's basically picking out the songs for our music. His name is Jason Flom. We did the surprise performance for Jason in 2000, but 2001 really was the performance that signaled to us that maybe there's life here. Ongoing life.
WM: So how was it picking the guitar back up after all those years? Was it like riding a bike?
JF: Yeah, really was. Four rehearsals and we went back and just did what we had to do. Given the band's history of ten solid years in the bars playing four shows a night for 250 nights a year. If you do the math, you're talking 8000 shows. You know, Dee and I have now stood shoulder to shoulder for 28 years. Eddie's been in for 29, and Mark's been in for 25. AJ's the baby at 22. So when you have that kind of history, it's not that surprising. It could be, if you suck. But we don't, so therefore, it's not that surprising!
WM: You did a USO tour last year, how did that come about?
JF: When we decided to reunite, we thought it would be a good thing to do on the heels of what we did for the Benefit for the Widow's and Orphan's Fund… to do a benefit for our armed forces. And through a congressman named Jerry Nadler in New York, he put us in touch with the USO. And they flew us over to Korea.
WM: So you went from being considered a threat in the '80s by all the Tipper Gores of the world, to doing a USO tour to support the troops…
JF: And having generals fight over themselves to get into a photo op. (laughs) Go figure.
WM: That's just incredible. How times have changed.
JF: The irony is not lost, my friend.
WM: Your most popular song was "We're Not Going to Take It", and that was recently thrust back into the spotlight with the Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign for governor of California. How did that come about?
JF: Well, the song is kinda one of those anthems, it's always around, in commercials and movies and sports events. So the fact that somebody grabbed on to that song wouldn't be any different than deciding on "We are the Champions" for example. It just happened to be a song that his committee thought was good, and Dee always was a Schwarzenegger fan. I know for a fact it wasn't a political statement. He was a big Schwarzenegger fan, that's the reason that the album "Stay Hungry" was called "Stay Hungry"… because of Schwarzenegger. He did it as a fan, and it didn't have any political implications with it.
WM: Wasn't one of the controversial baseball players was using one of your songs?
JF: Yes, he was using "I Wanna Rock". That was John Rocker. And we asked the Atlanta Braves to cease and desist the use of the song, because we did not agree with John Rocker's social comments in the Sports Illustrated article. And that letter that we sent to the Braves was actually published by someone from the Braves, not from us. It was leaked out by someone there, we had no intention of making it a publicity gimmick. I wrote a letter and faxed it. Next thing you know it's all over the place. So my theory was, somebody in the front office hated John Rocker, and decided to embarrass him. Because we didn't do it. So go figure.
WM: I hope you're getting royalties…
JF: Well, you don't really, when you have all of that. You get publicity out of it, but anyone can license a song just to play it anywhere, they just pay ASCAP and BMI fees. It's why you go to ballparks and these songs come up over and over again, that's just a blanket license. You get like two cents a play, it's not the money. You get really nothing for it. What you do is you work your way into the social fabric. So people know what you are and who you are and connect with it, so I guess that gives you value. So in terms of Twisted's ongoing ability to earn a living, we are inexorably connected to several anthems.
WM: That's a great thing. It fits right in there with Gary Glitter, and Queen …
JF: It's the gift that keeps on giving.
WM: Did you know when you made that song it would become an anthem?
JF: No. I didn't. Cause Dee wrote a lot of anthems, he wrote one or two anthems per album. So if you were to ask me which one of them would ultimately be the one that would stay in people's minds, I couldn't have told you. Cause he had a bunch of them. Thank God some of them did.
WM: You'll be releasing "Still Hungry" on October 19th. It's the original "Stay Hungry" reworked?
JF: Yeah, what it was … originally we were going to release a DVD, which will still come out, but we had technical problems on the DVD. The flipside of the DVD, there was going to be this technology called DVD Plus, in which the flipside was going to have music. So we were going to just do this as an extra value-added bonus, stick in the re-recorded record, cause we thought, 'hey, what a fun idea.' Let's just re-record it. Now a little bit heavier, and produced by our bass player. But when the DVD got postponed, the process of re-recording the album was well into it. So the label that was going to release the DVD said why don't we release the cd in the meantime, standalone. I said, if we're going to do that, let's add product to it, so it's not just the re-release of the record. So we have a whole bunch of other songs on it. Brand new.
WM: Do you have a release date on the DVD yet?
JF: No, there's no schedule on the DVD as of yet.
WM: What's the DVD going to entail?
JF: Well, hopefully, it's a live concert that we did in Germany last summer. We're just having real technical problems trying to get the audio files out of the hard drive that recorded the show. It's becoming a real problem, so we have it in a data recovery service right now.
WM: In the press release for "Still Hungry", you made the comment about how the original had a thin mid-range kind of sound, and you battled Atlantic and Tom Werman, but the band lost in the end. Tom Werman has responded to your comments. What are your feelings on what he had to say?
JF: There's no point in continuing on with this. There's so much we could say about Werman. Basically, we fired a firecracker, he fired a hand grenade. If I decide to shoot a howitzer, it doesn't do anybody any good.
Let's just say this: We didn't re-record it to get back at anybody. We re-recorded the record because we thought it was a fun thing to do. And it just redressed some history. There's nothing wrong with the first record, it sold huge amounts, and it was the right record at the right time. But our fans have always felt that all of our records were never truly representative of the band's sound. We're much heavier than our records were. So this was an opportunity to heavy up the record. You could do it to all of the records, for that matter.
WM: And it's going to have different artwork?
JF: It's going to have the original concept cover.
WM: So now it will have a band picture of everybody sitting around a table? Was that a picture taken back in 1984?
JF: Yes it was, the picture on the back of the album is really what the front cover was going to be, with visions of ghostly images behind each member of each member in makeup dreaming about being a rockstar, but starving in basically a cold water flat. And that was the original concept. But at the time we made it there were technical problems with the photoshoot, and they didn't have the digital editing that could make really quick changes. The label had this other option and they just ran with it. So that's what happened.
WM: So you've already had your tour last year, and now you're doing one-off dates. Is there any talk of a new studio album down the road?
JF: There's always talk. We've been talking for 20 years about it. It's a matter of time, it really comes down to time. We want to get this out, and get the DVD out. Then sit back, play some shows next year, and then really evaluate what it would take to make a record.
WM: How has the response been on the road?
JF: The response is better than ever. The shows are bigger than ever, better than ever, and we're better than ever. If you thought we were good 20 years ago, you'll be floored now.
WM: Tell us about your alter ego, Bent Brother?
JF: It was just a fun idea we had a couple of years ago, to just go on stage wearing t-shirts and jeans and play Twisted songs and covers. It's really for real fans, to come down, cause the show is just us playing music. And an assortment of stuff we don't normally play. Real old obscure stuff.
WM: When you went out doing those dates, did you advertise, this is Twisted Sister sans makeup?
JF: No. It's just Bent Brother. You only know about it, if you know about it.
WM: So I'm sure there were some people in the crowd who didn't have a clue who they were going to see.
JF: Not at the price we charged, no. (laughs) You wouldn't be paying that money for something you don't know. You'd be standing outside going, 'why is it so expensive?' And someone would go, cause that's Twisted Sister without makeup. (more laughs) But you're not wandering in, seeing us and going, 'what is that?'
WM: Your show will be on Thursday at the Oneida Casino. It's going to be full-blown makeup, wigs, the whole nine yards?
JF: Whatever it takes to replicate '84.
WM: Now, you started a production company, is that correct?
JF: I've had a management and production company for years.
WM: Really, how's that going?
JF: Great. Sevendust is signed to it, and my partner and I manage a pop artist named Tina Sugandh. She's an Indian, as in Bombay-born, female pop artist. She's gorgeous, looks like Miss World India, and is incredibly talented. She plays guitar, drums, keyboards, and she writes all her own songs, and her pop album will be coming out in the first quarter of next year.
We manage a band called "The Sound of Urchin", an alternative rock band on Hybrid records. That's "The Sound of Urchin", don't ask me what sound "Urchin" makes, I don't know. If you listen to their album, I guess you'll find out the sound an urchin makes! (laughs)
And we manage a dj producer-remixer duo named Ming + Fs. If you go into the Rebellion Entertainment website, you'll see our artist roster. If you go into the Twisted Sister website, you will see all of the Twisted information, we'll keep you up to date.
WM: Any message to the Wisconsin music lovers that are going to be seeing you Thursday night?
JF: Well, we haven't done that many dates in the Midwest. We've mainly done our shows in Europe, and some shows in the New York area, and a couple shows out West, and it seems that Wisconsin really likes the band. So, we're really looking forward to coming back there. It's going to be very interesting. I don't know what the venue looks like, but we're really really looking forward to it. The last two years, we've had an amazing time playing at the Rockfest. We played with Alice Cooper two years ago, and Judas Priest this past summer and we had a great time, an absolutely great time. We love playing. We don't play a lot, so every show means a lot to the band.