If you know Twisted Sister from their hit singles and wacky MTV videos for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” then you don’t know Twisted Sister. A new documentary, “We are Twisted [Expletive] Sister!” screening Saturday at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, dives into the 11-year history before the band made it big in 1984.
“We are dismissed as a two-hit-wonder,” says lead singer Dee Snider, who grew up in Baldwin. “We didn’t jump on a bandwagon; we assembled the bandwagon and everybody else got on it.”
The film focuses on the band’s beginnings before they became household names with their multiplatinum album, “Stay Hungry.”
“Director Andrew Horn felt the most fascinating part of the story was the climb,” says founder and guitarist Jay Jay French, 63, who will appear at the screening along with Horn. “The public was just seeing a crazy band on stage. They didn’t know the degree of angst, frustrations and personality clashes behind the scenes.”
Twisted Sister made their bones in the clubs on Long Island like the 1890’s Club in Baldwin, Hammerheads in West Islip, Speaks in Island Park, OBI East in Hampton Bays and the Mad Hatter of Stony Brook as well as throughout the tri-state area. When they started out, this five-man hard rock/heavy metal unit dressed like women, a nod to the glam rock of the early 1970s. It made them larger-than-life characters.
“It was like being a superstar in your own backyard,” says Snider, 60, who joined the band in 1976. “We had to keep our phone numbers unlisted, make sure our cars weren’t followed, plus sneak in and out of buildings. It was all real rock star stuff.”
The band lived together from 1976 to 1977 in a Massapequa house where they rehearsed in the basement.
“We were able to develop original material there and evolve into a real working band,” French says.
The band became a massive concert draw, packing places with 3,000 to 5,000 seats, but they couldn’t land a record deal.
“There was this disdain for a club or a bar band,” Snider says. “Record company people felt that was beneath them. They believed real talent didn’t come out of those situations.”
Additionally, the band didn’t even gig in Manhattan because it wasn’t financially lucrative.
“Places like CBGB, Great Gildersleeves and the Mudd Club didn’t pay any bands,” French says. “The money we were making in the bars was staggering.”
Even though the band members were making $1,000 a week each, they’d take 75 percent of their earnings and re-invest it in the band.
“We put money back into new demos, new stage sets, new costumes, new photos and new press kits,” Snider says. “Our eye was on the prize.”
The band was driven to succeed by printing their own records, doing their own promotions and selling their own merchandise.
“We couldn’t get the attention of the record labels so we became our own record label,” Snider says. “We had the rabid following regionally and we built a machine that fed that following.”
Twisted Sister even found creative ways to promote the band without any record company support.
“We’d buy a package of 100 one-minute radio commercials as a way to get our music played on the air,” French says. “We even hired skywriting planes to fly across Jones Beach all weekend to promote a gig.”
In the summer of 1979, the band’s following grew so large they drew more than 23,000 people to Adventureland in Farmingdale for a free concert.
“We ended up shutting down Route 110. Cars were abandoned on the side of the road and fans were writing ‘Disco Sucks’ on the side of planes at the Republic Airport,” French says. “As a result, we were banned from doing outdoor shows in the Northeast.”
After landing a deal with Secret Records in Europe, the bottom fell out of the company. Finally they caught the attention of Atlantic Records, which agreed to give them a shot.
“The fans are what kept us going year after year,” Snider says. “They believed in us because we believed in ourselves.”
Since this is the year they are calling it quits, Twisted Sister is hoping the film will raise the credibility of the band and set the record straight.
“I think it will help legitimize the band in people’s eyes,” French says. “People who didn’t know anything about our background will have a much greater respect for what we accomplished. For fans, it will help validate why you love the band.”
WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 8 p.m., Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave. in Huntington
INFO 631-423-7611, cinemaartscentre.org
ADMISSION $12 ($9 students/seniors)