Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French starts a new podcast
Guitarist Jay Jay French is entering a new phase in his life. The founding member of Long Island’s biggest heavy metal band Twisted Sister is getting behind the mic for a new podcast, "The Jay Jay French Connection: Beyond the Music." Here French, 68, interviews fellow musicians and various other entertainers about their colorful careers. However, his own is a storied one.
In 1973, French started Twisted Sister, but it wasn’t until he rebuilt the band in 1976 with Dee Snider of Baldwin on lead vocals that the unit started to gel. The group’s aggressive sound and outrageous look made them the kings of the Long Island bar circuit conquering venues like Speaks in Island Park, Hammerheads in Levittown and West Islip, Cheers in Deer Park and The Mad Hatter in Stony Brook. All of this history will be discussed in his upcoming book, "Twisted Business."
French spoke with Newsday about his new podcast venture, how he developed his business sense, making it in the music industry and why the band chose to retire.
What made you take up podcasting?
If you have the ability to communicate and access to interesting people then why not have a podcast? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard that from. My daughter said, "If you could earn money talking, you’d be the richest human being on Earth." This is a fun part of my career. I get to do something different and learn things about people in the process.
Twisted Sister took time to develop before catching on. What did you do to get the ball rolling?
We took minimal salaries and invested the rest of our money back into the band with demo tapes and better equipment. Because of the rejection from the record labels, we were forced to become a record company and a promotion company. All of this was to our advantage. We were entrepreneurs without knowing we were entrepreneurs.
How did you develop such sharp business sense?
It started in the Boy Scouts when I sold cookies to buy an electric guitar. I wanted to buy a guitar for $25 and my father wouldn’t give it to me. When I was 13, I sold 110 boxes of cookies. At age 14, they threw me out for having long hair and for objecting to getting a letter from a religious leader in order to be considered for Eagle Scout. A year later the Boy Scout Master called me because he wanted to raise the cookie quota. I said, "I’ll tell you what. If you give me 10 cents a box commission, I’ll do it." He agreed and I sold 242 boxes and made $24.20. My father threw in the other 80 cents and I bought my first guitar.
In 1984, Twisted Sister broke huge with its third album, "Stay Hungry." Did you foresee that coming?
Nobody could predict exactly how that was going to work. We thought it was our time. If it was going to happen, it was with the right record at the right time with MTV. When MTV hit, we saw the record sales explode the following week. I was at Atlantic Records in July 1984 and the CFO showed me the ledger book of weekly sales for every artist on Warner music - Elektra, Atlantic Records and Warner Brothers. Prince was at the top and we were number two. I said, "Wow…" But, I don’t view myself as a rock star. I never took any of this seriously. I was always way too practical and pragmatic.
Despite your wild look and stage behavior, you guys were clean living - no drugs or alcohol. Was that hard to pull off in the heavy metal scene?
We had the Fun Bus and the No Fun Bus. Me, Dee [Snider, lead singer] and Mark [Mendoza, bassist] were all in the No Fun Bus where there was no smoking, drinking or drugging. It was like living with Jehovah's Witnesses. Nobody wanted to travel with us because we were so damn boring. We’d play a gig, get in the bus, read a book, go to sleep and head to the next town. We were outrageous on stage but it was performance art. We chose not to live in that world. It took so long to make it that I was not in the mood to indulge in a debauched rock & roll lifestyle.
The band reformed nearly 20 years ago at a 9/11 benefit called NY Steel in 2001 and then went on a reunion run before retiring in 2016. Do you have any regrets closing up shop?
I was shocked that anybody cared. The word got out to Europe that the band reformed for the NY Steel gig and offers started pouring in for headline spots at festivals. The reunion lasted 14 years. The shows kept getting bigger and bigger. Once we toured the world and had that kind of response it satisfied me completely. It answered the question: with all the work we put in what did we have to show for it? In the 14 years we returned, we headlined 125 of the biggest shows. When I walked off stage in 2016, I was done. I’m not saying it will never happen again. It’s not impossible as long as we are alive. But, there comes a point where you’ve played one too many football games and you call it a day.