Twisted Sister Interview

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Band Name: Twisted Sister
Interviewed: Jay Jay French
Interviewer: 
Date: 2009-07-25


Previous Twisted Sister Interviews
The Gauntlet: How is Dee 'Smith' ?

Jay Jay: Ahh, Dee Smith. That is interesting. Regis' comment on Dee Smith.

The Gauntlet: I was shocked Dee was the name it botched. Was he reading off a cue card or teleprompter?

Jay Jay: I don't know. I really like Regis a lot. I think he is old. I think at this stage in the game he doesn't brush up on things and probably thought he knew Twisted Sister and could wing it and left it at that. That was a bit weird, but it's Regis. Kelly was a fan, she was rocking like crazy.

The Gauntlet: I got a laugh out of the press photos ABC released. Regis in the foreground and Dee barely visible in the background.

Jay Jay: Dee is not the tallest in the band. I am actually one inch taller than Dee. There is a scoop for you.

The Gauntlet: How is Dee's foot?

Jay Jay: We missed the Jimmy Fallon thing due to Dee's shark fight.

The Gauntlet: What is the real story on that?

Jay Jay: No, the real story on that is a boating accident. I didn't really get into that with him on the phone but he told me it was a boating accident and he slit his foot. He just wanted to tell everyone it was a shark. He cut his foot once on the Iron Maiden tour. He was on the bus and there are these metal strips that hold down the sections of the rugs. One of them was sticking up and he cut his foot up and we missed a couple days from that. We have missed about 4 or 5 dates in the 37 year history of the band. We have a really good track record. Especially with all the insane traveling we did this year, we had so many opportunities to miss planes and we didn't. We flew 25 hours to play a show up in the Arctic Circle. We were up for 40 hours and flew on 3 planes and took a bus to get there. Then 4 planes to get to Oklahoma and everyone was on time. Go figure that.

The Gauntlet: There was the show last year where Dee's plane was stuck on the tarmac in New York.

Jay Jay: That was two years ago. He got stuck and showed up to the gig like 5 minutes before the show. That was pretty crazy. We were playing with KISS that night and we figured it would be our night to dismantle them. Here we are onstage wearing t-shirts and jeans. The irony was the only band to get their picture in the straight press was us.

The Gauntlet: You got the press because Twisted Sister connected with the fans the best.

Jay Jay: The bottom line for us is I don't think the makeup makes that much of a difference. It is tough to do. It takes a lot of time and preparation. If we could just go up to a gig and just get up there and play, it would be a little easier. We are all looking forward to that at this point.

The Gauntlet: KISS bases their makeup on aliens and demons, is Twisted Sister inspired by transsexuals and whores?

Jay Jay: It started out that we were transvestites. I had seen the New York Dolls play in New York City and I thought 'god they suck.' They were just beyond awful. If you could have a band that was good and looked great… The dolls looked great, they just sounded bad. I don't think it is any secret that they were awful. David Johansen says the same. They were awful. I saw the Dolls 6 months ago at their record release party and they were great because they weren't the Dolls. They were a new band. Twisted Sister is great because we aren't the original Twisted Sister. The original Twisted Sister was awful. It was different people and eventually we got good. We replaced the band. Dee is the fourth singer, Eddie is the 3rd guitar player, AJ is the sixth drummer and Mark is the 2nd bass player. By the time we got to that, we were good. You gotta go through that. When I saw the Dolls, I just wanted to look cool. We were popping out of the Grateful Dead era into a whole new world. I think I sensed it. I was twenty years old. I wanted to be away from the ugly Jerry Gracia schluppy looking gig and into something that looked impressive. The transformation took place into a transvestite rock band. It deviated as we went through a lot of versions of the band. It went into a faces glam thing like a Rod Stewart. From there it went into a Lou Reed and Velvet Underground type of thing. Then Dee came onboard and we went into an Alice Cooper thing before we did the Rocky Horror thing. Then we settled into the middle aged hooker thing. When people ask me what the high point of my life was, I tell them it was when Blackwell named us in the Top 10 Worst Dressed Women. It was 1986 and he called us a car crash in a whorehouse.

The Gauntlet: Most women who make the list think it is a low point.

Jay Jay: For me, it was a badge of courage.

The Gauntlet: The 25th Anniversary for Stay Hungry came out recently. When you were demoing the songs, did you ever think you'd be talking about the album 25 years later?

Jay Jay: Well, I don't know if we thought we'd be around 25 years later. I couldn't think that far ahead. I don't think I even thought or analyzed that sort of thing. If you are smart in business, you are thinking where you are going to be 6 weeks, 6 months and 5 years from now. I couldn't have foreseen 25 years. There were no guarantees that anything would have been successful. It would have been arrogant saying this album would be a hit. People die making those kinds of projections. When it hit, it did so with such velocity that I wasn't paying attention to the longevity aspect of it. There was also a backlash against us and the genre 2 years later that was so severe that one could make a case that one could make a case that we'd never have success 25 years later. All things come around and the 80's metal scene that was this corporate rock extension of Foreigner and REO Speedwagon. Here we are 25 years later in many places more popular than we might ever have been. We have our records out there and fans all over the world. It is a strange world and a really interesting time of our life. I don't think anyone could have predicted this.

The Gauntlet: A lot of the bands in that era got an album or two behind them and then the label would bring in a big commercial producer to get them into the mainstream.

Jay Jay: That is exactly what happened for Twisted Sister. Tom [Werman] was brought in because he was the big guy. We had personality difficulties with him and that created some real issues which is why we never did a follow up with him. It is undeniable that he delivered a great record. One can argue that he didn't really deliver it. I am not going to get into that kind of thing. Those are the conversations you can just wrap yourself to death in. He came to us with different material than what was on the record and it was bizarre. We fought to have what we have on the record. Tom and I are still friends. This producer / band rivalry stuff isn't exclusive to Twisted [Sister]. If you read the book by Walter Yetnikoff called "Howling at the Moon" about his time at Sony. He tells the story about Michael Jackson calling him up and telling him to take Quincy Jones name off Thriller. This is Quincy Jones, one of the greatest producers in the world. Michael Jackson's ego just overwhelmed him. If it is a true story, it is an outrage if it really happened. Michael would be labeled an egocentric, self absorbed, chimpanzee banging moron. When I read comments like that, I know why he said it. He probably just had an argument with Quincy and didn't like the mix or something. The song then became successful and Quincy can say 'you see that, see, you became successful because of me.' I can hear these conversations.

The Gauntlet: Was it a compromise with Tom?

Jay Jay: We lost two songs on the album because of all this. We lost "Blasting Fast and Loud" and "Never Say Never" as concessions to Tom so that he'd stop bugging us to do cover's of Saxon songs. He wanted us to do 4 or 5 Saxon covers. Tom would deny he ever said that but he did. Dee was insulted as he was a song writer. That created problems and no one got along. We made this record under duress; Dee hated Tom, Tom didn't like Dee. Neither wanted to be in the studio when the other was there. The engineer had to be in the studio all the time. If you ask Dee, he'd say Geoff Workman produced it, not Tom. There were a lot of drugs going on those days, not from the band but from the production. Everyone has a story to tell but it was years ago. I don't even know if it was worth going down that road anymore. Historically it is interesting though. Certainly we didn't use Tom again, because no one got along with him. There is a case you can say that it was a big mistake as he delivered our biggest record. Is that the reason our next album wasn't successful? One can say. The record company believed that to be true. We will never know.

The Gauntlet: Is this why the band re-recorded Stay Hungry and released as Still Hungry?

Jay Jay: Yeah, no one was happy, Stay Hungry sounded too thin. Even though it was successful, to our ears it didn't sound right. It was cheesy. To be honest, all the west coast metal bands that existed, we sounded like them and we weren't like them. I never liked those bands. As friends, they were fine and some made good records but we were a 70's band that made it in the 80's. We were not a 80's metal band or a cheesy metal band. They weren't authentic. We were made to sound like these unauthentic bands like Motley [Crue]. All these bands sounded terrible to us. They were lightweight non-authentic sounding bands that had the credibility of the World Wrestling Federation.

The Gauntlet: I don't think music was key to what drove those bands.

Jay Jay: We were a heavy duty bar band that took pride in being a machine. We did not feel that we were represented sonically in a way we could say we were a machine and this is who we are and what we do. It wasn't that at all. Because of that, the band wanted to constantly justify its existence by reinventing the Stay Hungry record to be what it would be like if we had a say in making the record. Werman had hits with Cheap Trick, Motley Crue, and Ted Nugent. The label trusted Tom's ears. They brought him in because they knew he could deliver that sound.

The Gauntlet: The new album also contains demo versions and some extras.

Jay Jay: We included 10 songs that were not include or finished up that were extremely important. If I didn't find those recordings, you wouldn't be holding that disc in your hands. There was no reason to make it. Simply remastering it was no reason to release the album. I think a lot of bands that wanted to release 25th anniversary albums this year didn't because the economy isn't demanding it. I think the label was going to release half a dozen albums this year but didn't as there was nothing there. There was nothing there that made is fascinating for consumers so they just dropped it and didn't go anywhere.

The Gauntlet: How was it recording '30' with the guys?

Jay Jay: Well we have been in the studio a lot. For a band that doesn't do much, we do a lot. We released four DVD's and 3 CD's in the past 2 years. It was fun going back in. Dee wrote the song for his TV show, that Gone Country thing that didn't work out. We said we could do a heavy version of that. It was fun doing a metal version of that, it was a lot of fun.

The Gauntlet: Did that energize you for a new album?

Jay Jay: I would like to say yes. We are working on some new ideas. We are working on a Christmas Musical. Because our Christmas album was such a huge success, we are trying to figure out a way to do a followup and a musical with a storyline. If we can do that, that will be great. That will kinda lead to more Broadway shows. We are going to take our show to Broadway this year. We continue to make this statement that we are going to expand beyond the boundaries of the typical rock band. If we can get this going, with us as characters, we will hire artists to be us. Then I can stay home and collect a check for being me. Then I will be a complete success and never be me again. That is my long term dream in life.

The Gauntlet: Is it that bad being you?

Jay Jay: To be honest with you, it is getting to the point where playing is really enough. I hate traveling. I am reaching the end of my period of wanting to play. I am at 9,000 shows in 37 years. I am reaching the limit of me wanting to continue to play. That is me, I can't speak on behalf of anybody else. I won't speak on behalf of the others. I think Dee and me are done. Especially after this summer and how difficult the traveling was. I could sleep on it over the next six months and take it all back. Right now, things have really taken a lot out of us this summer. I kind of just want a break. We will continue on. Playing in front of the fans means an awful lot. We have a close connection with a lot of fans. I love the dedication that a lot of them have and I strive to have a relationship with our fans. I don't ever take that for granted.

The Gauntlet: Right around the release of Stay Hungry the PMRC ramped things up.

Jay Jay: Yeah, it happened a little before that.

The Gauntlet: Right, but that was just a bunch of bored housewives with nothing better to do. Things really came to a head with the subpoenas and the 'Filthy 15.' Dee has spoken at length about it and been interviewed countless times. I want your take on it.

Jay Jay: I thought it was a waste of time and our energy and we shouldn't have gotten involved.

The Gauntlet: Do you think it helped the band in the long run?

Jay Jay: I think it was the worst thing we ever did and we shouldn't have gotten involved. It was a complete waste of time and a political con job. We were set up and it all should have been ignored completely. I am the only one in the band with a political background. My mother was a campaign manager for every major Democratic candidate in New York during the 1960's. I grew up as a political junkie. Dee never asked my opinion and took it as an attack on his life. Dee was a non-political who was basically a good American guy in a heavy metal band living the American dream. He felt he was being attacked by Uncle Sam. I felt the whole thing was a snow job and a grandstanding manipulation by the government that Dee later found out. Dee got sucked into it. I wouldn't have given them the luxury. I would have ignored it. The whole thing was a con job. It made Dee's life miserable. They took a good American out. I am an anti-war protester and civil rights guy from the 60's. I have a whole different take on it. Dee was a red white & blue gung ho American. They wound up killing him is what they did. It was demoralizing. I was too cynical.

The Gauntlet: In the interviews with Dee since then, he has a different take on it.

Jay Jay: He came out needing to take a shower; it was disgusting. He said he walked out and knew it was a setup. The whole thing was a setup. They were up on the dais and Dee was down at the table. Saying we were regular guys, that just destroyed any myth of what people had of the band. Because we were a straight band that didn't drink or party and we were married; the more that became known, the more the band couldn't succeed. Just continuing the fact we were normal just destroyed the credibility and the band. It did nothing good for the band. We were dying at that point. The backlash against the band was instantaneous. It happened within six months of the release of the record. How do I know? Six months after the release, we were on tour and I was at a baseball game in Philadelphia. I wasn't recognizable and this eight year old kid was singing "We're Not Gonna Take It" and his older brother said for him to just shut up. I just said to myself, we are done, it is over. That was my indication that it is over. I don't think it was good for the band. Rolling Stone Magazine did an article on us, but it didn't create in their minds that we were the great protectors of the faith. We were looked on as a joke by Rolling Stone. That is why we aren't in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a joke anyways. It should be called Jan Wenners and Seymour Steins Music Hall. Those guys didn't transcend their critique of the band. The whole thing was a joke and a waste of time. That is just my take and not anyone else's take from the band. I just didn't see it as having any value.

The Gauntlet: Is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame something you want to get before your career is over?

Jay Jay: Well, we never played Madison Square Garden. I would love to do that. It never happened. I personally wished we played there. That to me would be a great thing to do. I don't know if we will ever get the shot to do it but it would certainly be a great thing to do. The Rock Hall of Fame only because we are a rock and roll band. I don't know if I'd be associated with it though as it would be disingenuous. It is a failure of a museum both financially and creatively. I went there and it was empty; I wonder why. It is completely misrepresented. The fact that they choose to ignore bands of our genre is an insult. This isn't a game. Rock is folk music. It is the people's music and not the critics' music. Most of these bands they chose to ignore are the ones that kept rock music alive when music was dead. These bands sold more music and concert tickets than any time before or since and I find that insulting. You want to hate KISS, you want to hate Ted Nugent, you want to hate REO Speedwagon and all these bands, I don't care if you don't like their music. It is the people's music and bottom line is you represent what the people like. That museum just reflects Seymour Stein's bigotry. They are bigots, they are elitists and bigots and it is insulting. If they changed their concept of it, it would be nice to be recognized for it. To have a Hall of Fame is weird to me, rock n roll is rebellious. I have a love / hate desire with it in me. I am sure this diatribe won't help. The more I say, the less of a chance I will have anyway. Although they took the Sex Pistols in but they didn't show up. That was funny and cute.

The Gauntlet: If Twisted Sister were nominated tomorrow, would you be there to accept?

Jay Jay: I can't say for the other guys. I went out there for a day and it was a joke. Maybe Dee would love to be in it. Dee wrote two of the biggest folk anthems ever. In the 70's Queen wrote "We Will Rock You" and "We are the Champions". They were massive hits worldwide. In the 80's, Dee wrote "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock" and you can't say they didn't fill the same spot. They were worldwide and acclaimed anthems on the same record. They were licensed and used in more movies and events than any songs. These are folk songs; classic folk songs. We are the beneficiaries of these two classic songs that Dee wrote and it is fantastic to have them as our legacy. It is impossible to know what will happen. I have pretty much accomplished and surpassed every dream I have had. When I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964, I wanted to be famous and have a gold record. I didn't know what it was but I wanted it. I got one 20 years later. If at that moment in 1964, someone would have told me that it would take 20 years to get it, I probably would have said 'screw that, I'll do something else' because I would have expected it to take 20 years. Now I am sitting in my office looking at 30 gold records from being a player, producer and manager, my daughter can say my daddy did something. Do I think I have made the greatest contribution I can to this world, the answer is no. I think giving the world a great kid is something way more valuable.

The Gauntlet: With your political background, have you ever thought about politics once Twisted Sister is over?

Jay Jay: I am 57 at this point. I am in a heavy metal band and have done some really crazy things, stuff that has been written about. There are always people who will say 'do you realize what this guy did?' I don't know if politics is the best venue for me with full disclosure. If that weren't the case, it's possible. If I could make a meaningful difference, maybe. Politics is a slime bag business just like music. It really depends on how tolerant you can deal with the crap. It is hard to say. Sometimes working behind the scenes without playing the political game is the way to do it. I don't know. I have very strong political beliefs, but that is hard to say. By your suggestion of it, I assume you don't think I am inarticulate so that works fine.

The Gauntlet: Maybe your greatest contribution to the world is through your music. It does speak to the masses.

Jay Jay: When I was 20 years old, I never thought at the age of 57 I'd be in a working rock band. I kind of take every day one day at a time.

The Gauntlet: Do you see us talking again at the 50th anniversary of Stay Hungry? Where do you see yourself?

Jay Jay: Just alive. I have no idea. Do you think the Beatles knew in '63 that they would be what they are? In 1964, Ringo [Starr] said he wanted to be a hairdresser when this thing fell apart. He wasn't joking. He really wanted to have a chain of hair salons. I don't know. If Twisted is still a viable product in 25 years, I will be 83. If we are still talking about it, I guess I should be happy right? At this point, our fans are so old they are afraid to clap as the lights would go out in the arena. I went to see the Rolling Stones for this reason. I wanted to see a bunch of guys in their 70's play. They sounded like a bunch of guys in their 70's. [Mick] Jagger looked good. When everyone is looking at Ron [Wood] for timing; that is when you know you have problems. If I am like the Stones, I wouldn't play. They make hundreds of millions of dollars and are happy. Their fans seemed happy too. They aren't selling heroin to school kids, they are allowed to do it. I saw them a couple years ago and they were awful. The tickets were $350 and they did a 15 minute version of "Love Train." To be honest, I don't care how good of a song it is. I pay $350. Play 3 singles you did back in the 60's. It is stupid, that is my opinion. I saw Springsteen play four years ago. I thought it was terrible and walked out. It was awful. The sound was terrible, the band wasn't good, and Bruce was corny. It was a corny rock show by an old guy. Having said that, their fans loved it. I haven't seen that many pairs of Dockers in one room at a time. And their fans absolutely loved it. If he is playing to the faithful, he is not selling heroin to school kids. I have a problem seeing some of these bands. If we were that bad, I'd hang it up.

The Gauntlet: Do you have that in you to look at yourself from the outside and know it is time?

Jay Jay: At the end of the day, if you are selling out, you can talk yourself into anything. I can't say if I have that ability. It is subjective. If I tell you Springsteen was boring, that's my opinion. Will I know I am boring, hopefully? I read my website all the time. If I start seeing 'god you suck' then I'd hang it up. But I don't know the answer to that. We work really hard to put on the best show every night. Hopefully we will know when it happens before the fans do. Our stock and trade is our live show. That is what we are about. If we aren't great in that live show, there is no point in being anything. These bands are continuing to sell tickets around the world to the fans. That is how they make their living.

The Gauntlet: Are they really fans or buying into the hype? I went to see the Stones the first time because I was a fan, the second time because I knew people would be talking about it.

Jay Jay: That is an interesting point. When people say I got Stones tickets, part of it is for the Stones, the other part is they want to be part of the thing. It is the water cooler conversation the next day. The Stones stand up for like 2 seconds because of their hip replacements. "Shine a Light" is a great show though, that show that was recorded. But that got worse as the show went on. "Satisfaction" was almost unintelligible. They started out with energy and by the end of the show they were gasping for air. The first half hour I was mesmerized. I watched it and was like 'wow.' That was their reason for being. The first half hour is why the world needs the Rolling Stones. If you think about the Mount Rushmore of Rock, you got The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, [Pink] Floyd and Queen. That to me is the Mount Rushmore of rock. Look at those six bands; phenomenal bands. They are as great as fucking great can be. They are all different. The Rolling Stones justified their existence on that live DVD. There is a reason they need to be here in this world. It is justifiable. It is also understandable being that old that they ran out of gas. This is just how I perceive it.

The Gauntlet: I recently watched the Blu-Ray of it and I just thought I was bored after 30 minutes. I didn't attribute it to them being old. That is interesting.

Jay Jay: I will explain it technically. The way the Rolling Stones write their songs and perform them and the way they hold the guitar and swagger on stage; they do the songs in certain keys. In order to swagger they do the songs in certain keys with ebow and open tuning so they don't have to play bar chords and have the guitars at certain angles. They can thrash the guitars down. Because of this the tuning does not allow for certain songs to sound authentic like on the record. They are doing it as a cheat in order to play a certain way on stage. That is why as the show progresses, they begin to play sloppy. They just don't have the energy as the show goes on and that is why they fall apart. People watch that movie and love every minute of it, but they aren't musicians./ I see the band moving on, getting tired and playing sloppy. They don't play the bar chords and just get sloppy. It's a shtick, end of story. Buddy Guy livened the show because the show was getting boring. People talk about how great he was. Buddy Guy wasn't a great player. He is a good player but he kind of woke the band of as they were falling asleep when he came on. Why Jack White was on stage, you can throw up for that one. That was a concession for the marketing idiots. Jack White deserves to be up there the way a nun deserves to buy condoms. It was a complete waste of time. He is a mediocre player and shouldn't be entitled to be on that stage. He should never have been allowed up there. It was a true dumb thing to have him up there. That was a concession for the younger market. I thought it was really insulting.

The Gauntlet: Do you ever make concessions like that?

Jay Jay: Never ever, ever! We will bring Lemmy from Motorhead on stage. We have to. He is our patron saint. He made us credible in England. But to bring some 15 year old kid onstage, that will never happen.

The Gauntlet: So no one from Sevendust will be playing up there?

Jay Jay: It would never happen. We have a rule that we will never allow musicians on stage with us. Lemmy gets entre to the stage and that is it. Lita Ford because she is on our record. Nobody can do it, nobody can keep up. At the end of the night, people will come up and sing "We're not gonna take it" but we won't make concessions. If you want a great guitar player, why go to jack White? Put Derek Trucks or Doyle Bramhall in there. Put a real player in. The minute you put John Mayer or Jack White in, you cheapened your product. I doubt the Stones give a shit about Jack White. They shouldn't.

The Gauntlet: Does your daughter think its cool having the Twisted Sister guitarist as a dad?

Jay Jay: She thinks it is the most uncool thing in the world. When she was 8 and the band was no longer together I sat her down and told her I was in a famous rock band called Twisted Sister. I showed her the video and she said I looked stupid. She told me if I ever put the band together again and looked like that to never come home. The band got back together six years ago and she told me I couldn't take her to school anymore. About a year later she got over it and I took her to a couple of shows. She went 'wow, my god, they think you are Elvis, they don't know what kind of nerd you are.' It is mildly amusing to her and her friends. They don't listen to my music. We aren't in the view of the 15 year olds, except the guys that play Rock Band. They are into all those bands that can't sing, can't write and whatever. We are starting to sound like our parents. I don't want to sound like that so I don't pass judgment on her. When she plays me a CD and I think it is awful, I don't say that. I just go 'cool.' My daughter takes me to these shows. She took me to see My Chemical Romance. 'Daddy, aren't they great?' - 'Yes.' 'Can you take me backstage to meet them?' - 'Sure'. Then I get the 'Wow, Jay Jay from Twisted Sister, I used to come see you play blah blah blah blah.' I have to wretchedly sit there and listen to these bands and pretend this is great. But to be honest with you, who am I. I am there to support my daughter and I do that.

The Gauntlet: Any last words?

Jay Jay: Yeah, I have my own guitar line through Epiphone. I will be doing some fundraising for a disease my daughter suffers from called UVeitis. It is arthritis of the eyes and the third leading cause among blindness among girls. It is the Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation. There is a hospital in Massachusetts called
MERIS (Massachusetts Eye Research and Surgery Institute). That is what I am focusing in on. The band will play its' 15 shows this year including the Christmas show and I thank the fans for all the support.