Some bands just define an era and Twisted Sister, with their demented take on glam rock and hard driving lyrics about teenage rebellions did just that in the ’80s. But many people don’t know that there was over a decade of hard clubbing before that “overnight success” came about. Now, with their new Andrew Horn directed documentary “We Are Twisted F***ing Sister” hitting theaters on Feb. 19th, the rest of the story will finally be told. We caught up with Jay Jay French, founding guitarist for the band, for a wide ranging interview ahead of the film’s release. Part 1 of the interview discussed the documentary and the band’s early days. In part 2, Jay Jay discusses how the band reunited after 9/11, shares a favorite story about their late drummer AJ Pero, and talks about their upcoming final tour.
Examiner: You spoke before about that 9/11 benefit show in 2001. Was the chemistry immediately there? Because obviously there was a lot of hard feeling when the band broke.
Jay Jay French: If your band’s been together 40 years and you don’t hate each other’s guts, you aren’t worth shit! A band is like a family. There’s love and hate. I think there is an understanding that when the four of us get on stage, four now that AJ died, when me, Dee, Mark, and Eddie get on stage, there’s a thing that happens that only happens when we’re all together. That’s the byproduct of a lot of work. Take away all the emotional baggage of any band’s fight, be it The Beatles or The Stones, but in the end, you just enjoy the creativity. That’s what the legacy is.
Ex: You talked about how the documentary shows the character of the band and you spoke of losing AJ Pero last year. Can you tell a favorite AJ story, either from the documentary of just your memory?
JJF: One of the first shows that AJ played with us, I read him the riot act that we’re a straight band. We don’t drink, we don’t smoke, we don’t do drugs, even though we sold ourselves in a particular image, we were a really straight band. And we were going to a theater in New York to play a show and we’re being driven by a security guard friend of ours. We get pulled over on the New York State Freeway and the find an eighth of an ounce of cocaine in the driver’s bag and AJ’s looking at me like “I thought this was a straight band and we’re arrested for cocaine?” They arrest all of us so now we’re handcuffed together on this bench and the cop comes out and said “your guy has taken the rap for it, but can you do me a favor before you go. We don’t know if this is cocaine or heroin, can you taste it for me?” And I just looked at him and said “no. You got the wrong guy.” So he let us go and AJ was like “what the hell was that?” But the end of the story is that we hired our friend a lawyer and when the judge asked for the evidence, the cops had done the coke and there wasn’t any!
AJ was my little brother. The day before he died he called me to talk about the future of the band for the summer. The next morning, 7 in the morning, we get a call from the tour manager telling us he died on the bus of a heart attack. I cried my eyes out for four days. He was a sweetheart.
Ex: You guys are going out on tour this summer for the 40th anniversary retirement tour…
JJF: Well, we have dates, a handful of dates in Europe. I don’t know if that’s going to extend to any shows in the states yet.
Ex: And you have Mike Portnoy filling in on drums this tour. Mike, of course, has played with everyone from Dream Theater to Winery Dogs.
JJF: One of the greatest drummers in the world. He’s played with everybody.
Ex: What was your relationship with him that made you decide to pull him in for the tour.
JJF: We didn’t have one. I didn’t know the guy. Well, our paths had crossed before, but no relationship. Two days after AJ died, I went to a club in Jersey where AJ’s band Adrenaline Mob was playing, AJ had replaced Portnoy in Adrenaline Mob and Portnoy was sitting in that night. Backstage, we started talking about AJ and Mike said “listen. I don’t know what your plans are. I don’t know if you have anyone else. But if you need me to play drums, I will.” And you wouldn’t believe how many people called us wanting his job, within hours of AJ’s death even, it was disgusting. I said “anyone who calls about the job, that’s a guarantee we won’t return the call.” But Mike just said “I’m here if you want me.” And as good a drummer as he is, he’s a better person. Phenomenally great guy, total pro. Absolutely great addition to the band.
Ex: One thing that always set Twisted Sister apart from the rest of the ’80s metal crowd was that so many of them primarily wrote “how much sex can we have, how many drugs can we do, how many parties can we have?” But you guys always tackled more serious issues. Was that a plan or just writing what you know?
JJF: It just evolved. It was Dee’s songwriting style. He didn’t do drugs, he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep around. He met his wife when he was 23 and he loves her. It may shock people to know how straight the band was considering our image was a bunch of Sick Mutha F***ers, we were actually just a bunch of hard working guys. Dee’s songs were always much more rebellion oriented, not sexual or partying.
Ex: As you’ve gotten back together and done shows, are there any songs that you as a guitar player find you enjoy playing most live?
JJF: “Under the Blade” is my signature song, “You Can’t Stop Rock & Roll.” I end up playing lead on the title tracks, so those are always fun, “Stay Hungry.” “Shoot ‘Em Down” is a fun song and it’s not about guns but about shooting down the people who make you feel bad, but it can be misconstrued so you have to be sensitive. There was no way to know “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” would be huge. The first commercial license for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” happened in 1999, so it took 15 years for people to license the song, but now it’s one of the most licensed songs of the era.
Ex: Good luck with the documentary and good luck with the tour. It’s going to be a busy year.
JJF: Thanks. Fans can keep up with me at JayJayFrench.com, at TwistedSister.com, and my Inc. column as well. And go see this movie. You’re going to love it!
“We Are Twisted F***ing Sister” will debut in limited theatrical release on Feb. 19th before being released to digital and physical home media on February 23rd.