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Becoming UnTwisted: An Exclusive Interview With JAY JAY FRENCH Of TWISTED SISTER

By Ruben Mosqueda, Contibutor
Monday, November 1, 2021 @ 10:35 AM


"The biggest mistake that young musicians make when they have success right away is that they think that it lasts forever. It just doesn’t! The biggest mistake is that you think you own fame and you never own fame! You rent fame!"

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KNAC.COM sat down for a chat with TWISTED SISTER founding member and guitarist JAY JAY FRENCH on October 20th, 2021 to talk about his bizoire Twisted Business: Lessons From My Life In Rock ‘N’ Roll which was released this past September. I last spoke to Jay Jay in 2016 [for Sleaze Roxx] and I’ve pulled apart where he talked to me about the 1987 TWISTED SISTER album Love Is For Suckers, which I’ll admit I love. I didn’t ask him about that album since I’ve already done that, so instead, let’s look at what he had to say and get right into it with Jay Jay. “I don’t even know if I am on that record. I have given up on trying to figure it out. My name is there. They brought in a studio guitar player, REB BEACH, to do all the guitar parts. In those days, that happened all the time. The drumming on KISS records wasn’t Peter Criss most of the time. The guitar player on AEROSMITH records wasn’t JOE PERRY or BRAD WHITFORD most of the time. Or maybe it was mostly Brad and not Joe? Producers would do this all the time, but people just don’t talk about it”. He went on to say. “In this case the band was falling apart and I didn’t really want to be there. I have no idea if I’m on there. So to answer your question; I listen to that record every once in a while and I think it’s an interesting record. Should it have been a Dee [Snider] solo record? Absolutely. I mean at that point, A.J. wasn’t in the band and [drummer] JOE FRANCO played a drum machine on that record so there’s no drummer on that record. So technically there’s no drummer on the record and the guitar player isn’t me or Eddie [Ojeda]! [laughs] So is it a TWISTED SISTER record? [laughs] I don’t say that with any particular rancor. We’re past that. There are pretty cool songs on there. It was an ugly time.”

KNAC.COM: Twisted Business: Lessons From My Life In Rock ‘N’ Roll is a cross between a biography and business manual. Was that the initial vision or was that what it evolved into?

FRENCH: I think the more I thought about how it needed to be done, it had to be. It had to be that. I call it a bizoire, it’s a business book and a memoir. Most business books are memoires, the person who is writing the book is giving you their business philosophy and their life philosophy. There’s no way that you can separate the two. I decided that I would write it as a bizoire and I handed it over to my publisher to put it together. I said, “Here’s a great marketing angle. You can promote this as the first bizoire. I think by writing this book in the way that it was done, it really allowed me to encapsulate the whole story.

KNAC.COM: Have you thought about trademarking ‘bizoire,’ at all? I have never heard that term before until right now.

FRENCH: I have the URL so I own ‘bizoire’ that’s for sure! So, if you want ‘bizoire’ you have to come to JAY JAY FRENCH!

KNAC.COM: That’s brilliant!

FRENCH: Yeah, it is! I brought in my co-writer STEVE FARBER who has written some best sellers, because I wanted it to be a very ‘readable’ book. The book is a cautionary tale, but I don’t want to scare people straight, especially musicians, I want to scare them smart! I want to teach them. It’s not just musicians...especially when I go through the memoir part. No one knows my story. The business side of the book can apply to any business, it can be rock ‘n’ roll or selling shoes for that matter! It can be anything, the rules apply. I do most of my public speaking through corporations and national institutions, like insurance companies. That’s not what I expected, looking at it from the musician's side of things. Corporations hire me because I’m straight forward, I tell them what they need to hear and what their workers need to hear. I just got back from speaking at a fellowship organization called Birthing Of Giants, a group of people whose businesses are worth a little over 100 million dollars. They hire people like me, the only difference is that I’m the only former drug dealer and high school dropout and rock ‘n’ roll musician! That is who they’re getting their lessons from, which is kind of ironic!

KNAC.COM: You could do a TED TALK Jay Jay. Less business and more of a motivational speaking appearance. You pulled yourself from addiction and the peddling of the drugs, you got straight, you built the TWISTED SISTER brand from the ground up and you made it and yourself a success.

FRENCH: It very much could be a TED TALK! They should be getting a hold of me! I’ve had so many people tell me that this is the book of the year. I’m thrilled to hear that from people who are in these huge corporations that feel that this is a great book. People probably didn’t expect this kind of book. They probably expected a ‘tell all, metal disaster’ type of book. While we were a ‘metal disaster’ to a degree, we were turned down more times than a bed sheet, and came back more times than FREDDY KRUEGER! We detail it all in the book. As I said, it is a cautionary tale, it tells you how to come back from constant rejection. We’re in the entertainment business and there is no more rejection than in the entertainment business. You have to reinvent yourself. The Twisted outline of how to do that is in the book. It’s T-W-I-S-T-E-D, which is tenacity, wisdom, inspiration, stability, trust, excellence and discipline. I take people through the seven letters in the book and explain to them why it matters. Not just why it matters in rock ‘n’ roll, but why it matters in every business and why it matters in life.

KNAC.COM: Tell the readers what the moment was for you when you decided that it was time to change your ways. You were addicted to substances and were also dealing for a period of time early in your life.

FRENCH: [laughs] Like I said to my mom at the time, “The good news is I’m straight! The bad news is I’m now joining a transvestite rock band”. [laughs] My decision to end drug use was a result of watching the destruction of the New York City drug scene. The New York drug scene in the 60s and the 70s was just unbelievable! When you hear these California bands talk about partying? They had no idea! In New York City the lower east side, The Fillmore East rock ‘n’ roll scene was monumental! The amount of drugs was monumental. The consistency of the use of drugs was the same, day in day out, year in year out. The dealing, the taking was unreal. We started out as hippies with ‘flower power’ in 1967, by 1972 heroin had taken over and it was killing people. They were getting murdered in drug deals, they were winding up in mental hospitals, my best friend was a junkie and my girlfriend was heading down that path. I was storing 100 sets of hypodermic needles in my house. I actually O.D.’d on heroin. I had come to the conclusion that if I didn’t completely reinvent myself and get out of it I was either going to end up dead, either murdered or as a consequence of a drug overdose or wind up getting arrested and having a police record. Any of those combinations or maybe death by ‘misadventure’. It was all in the cards. I said to myself, “Man, you’re so lucky. You have no police record. Your brain is still intact, even though you’ve taken acid more that 250 times. You’ve been smoking pot daily for years”. I was also jamming in rock ‘n’ roll bands, dealing drugs and was involved in political ‘left wing’ politics and war stuff. I had to completely change my life. I had to do a 180, not a 360, I had to go from that to something different. So I had decided that Easter Sunday 1972 was going to be the last day that I was going to be using drugs. Whatever I had in the house, I did it that day. I took all of it. It was a lot. I said to myself, “If I wake up tomorrow morning, I’m never doing this again”. I woke up and never went back and completely changed my life. That was it. I saw the self-destruction of everyone around me. I had to escape from all of that. Then I joined a rock ‘n’ roll band! I didn’t drink. I never drank. I never liked the taste of alcohol. I never understood why people drink stuff that tastes so bad. I joined TWISTED SISTER and that was a bunch of ‘alcoholics’.

All of a sudden, I was around people that didn't do drugs, they didn’t do coke, but they were drinking. Social drinking is fine, but that band fell apart due to alcohol abuse. I go into detail into how much drinking was going on and what eventually broke that band up. The singer pulled a loaded gun on the drummer and killed him in a bar fight. What an awful situation. Then the replacements for those guys were methadrine addicts and it was a complete disaster. After about three years of this, I said, “I can’t have people in this band that use drugs and drink. I have to find some straight guys. Slowly but surely, I put a straight band together, I hired Dee, he was completely straight, he never used drugs, he didn’t drink. He hated that stuff. It wasn’t that he didn’t like that stuff, he hated it. Then I got Mendoza and it was the same thing. I get asked how we avoided that stuff as we got bigger. I have to tell you, it’s not that hard if you just don’t do it, then you just don’t do it. Everyone knew. The bands we toured with kind of knew that. They didn’t bother coming to us and asking us to come to a party, because it wasn’t going to happen. We were a pretty antisocial band, which made it easy because we kept to ourselves. The record label was freaked out that we were going to talk about being straight! They didn’t want that! They said, “Look we’re not telling you that you have to say that you get high, but we don’t want you to tell people you don’t get high. We don’t want to ruin your reputation”. How ironic is that? The only business where saying that you’re not fucked up is actually a bad thing! In politics if you’re found in a hotel with an underage person and cocaine, you’re done! You’re an athlete? Same thing! You’re done! If you’re a musician and you’re found in your hotel with an underage person and cocaine, they give you a Grammy! [laughs] Then they’ll make a biopic of your life! [laughs] We were warned. Just don’t say it. For a long time we didn’t, but eventually I said, “Screw it! I’m not going to lie''. I remember being asked what I thought about drugs and alcohol and I would say, “I think that sucks and I don’t like it”.

KNAC.COM: The book also serves as a guide written by a mentor....you’re giving free advice and guidance.

FRENCH: Are you saying that it’s like a heavy metal version of TONY ROBBINS?

KNAC.COM: Yeah, something like that.

FRENCH: It is. It’s exactly what it is. It is a road map to success. I’d like to think of our experiences as turning road blocks into pathways. I love that phrase by the way. I don’t do that as a hypothetical, I put it in ‘real terms’ as if this is really what happened. This is what happened and this is our response to what happened, this was us retooling and this was the result of our retooling. When I go into the Twisted method of reinvention...I tell people how to come back from rejection. That’s one of the most fundamental aspects of life. We all get rejected. I don’t think anyone gets rejected more than the people in the entertainment business. It’s a 'what have you done for me lately' business. The biggest mistake that young musicians make when they have success right away is that they think that it lasts forever. It just doesn’t! The biggest mistake is that you think you own fame and you never own fame! You rent fame! The public allows you to rent it for a certain period of time. If you abuse it, you’re out of there! Again, it’s a cautionary tale. It’s not to scare you, but to educate you.

KNAC.COM: You trademarked the name TWISTED SISTER, that was important to you.

FRENCH: The trademark happened at the very beginning. It was in 1973, there were five partners. The two were fired, so then there were three partners. Then another guy left and two partners retained the name. Then it was down to two myself and Kenny the bass player at the time. We kept on bringing in new people. When Kenny left I bought his rights from him. I didn’t want anyone to screw it up, so I decided that I would be the steward for the name and I would help keep things credible. The thing about TWISTED SISTER is that it’s always credible. It’s never watered down, it’s never what it’s not supposed to be. You’ve seen these bands where there’s no original member in it anymore or they have their cousin’s brother’s uncle! I never wanted that with TWISTED. I wanted to keep the lineup intact. When we stopped playing in 1988 because the band broke up, I filed for bankruptcy and Dee filed for bankruptcy and we had to rebuild our lives all over again...I felt that the only way that we’d ever come back would be with all five guys, because then it would have value. People would get their money’s worth. They bought those albums and they want to see that band. I think that’s very important and I think I’ve been a good steward.

KNAC.COM: I need to ask you about managing SEVENDUST. I remember watching TV late on a Saturday night and what appeared to be an infomercial promoting SEVENDUST comes on. It was brilliant! It woke me up after almost falling asleep at like 1 in the morning. I went out and bought the record.

FRENCH: It was brilliant at the time. The band’s label didn’t have any bullets in the gun! When you are Columbia or Atlantic you have ten bands on your roster, you can force feed these bands through the tunnel of success and piggy back yourself on the backs of all of these other bands. Their label didn’t have anything! They had nothing but money. They couldn’t piggyback themselves onto anything else so they had to try something different. They had to come up with an idea that was unique and that could put them above everyone else. The sad part is that KID ROCK, LIMP BIZKIT and all of these bands that opened up for SEVENDUST bypassed SEVENDUST! The label just couldn’t get them to that level. However, having said that here we are 25 years later and the band is still out there and they’re still kicking ass. I started working with them 8 years prior to the record deal. They went through about as many incarnations as TWISTED SISTER did. I was proud to have built and maintained that relationship with them to get them to the point where in 1995 they got a record deal. I am very proud of that first album as a great album. I’ve only produced one record and that was it. I’ll admit, I’d be hard pressed to produce another one like that. Everything about that record was right, the tracks are great, the band was great. They caught the wave at the right time.

KNAC.COM: I understand why TWISTED SISTER recut the Stay Hungry album under the title Still Hungry. When I spoke to Dee [Snider] years ago when promoting the newly recorded version he said that the band wasn’t happy with the original. He has some choice things to say about [producer] TOM WERMAN. Wasn’t the real reason you guys recut this because you’d have the rights to the new recordings?

FRENCH: Owning the masters was the primary reason. The fact that we could make it sound better was an added bonus to us. The idea was to re-record that album so we could have those masters, that was purely a business move on our part. Licensing music is one of the last things of ‘old time’ money in the music industry; streaming has altered the entire landscape of that. Licensing music for TV shows, movies and soundtracks, that’s really where the money is these days. That’s where the big money is, and touring! If you’re not touring, you need to own your masters so you can license your music. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” are by far our most famous songs. The thing about the 80s, it produced some great bands and great songs and we possess two of the biggest songs from that era. If someone likes TWISTED or doesn’t like TWISTED, that’s irrelevant because those songs are known worldwide! I just received an email from a fan in Ecuador using “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as his campaign song in a clip! The legality of that is an entirely different issue but what I’m getting to is that it’s so universal. Before that I received another clip with the president of Spain that was also using it as a campaign song! NPR had it in the top list of songs that unite America along with such greats as “Born In The USA”, “We Shall Overcome”, “Blowing In The Wind”, “This Land Is Your Land”, it’s just one of those songs that when they were campaigning against ‘Brexit’ in the U.K. someone sent me a video of people singing “We’re Not Gonna Brexit”. It’s been on commercials in the U.S. and South America!

KNAC.COM: Those songs are so catchy. I remember playing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” in the car when I was taking my kids to school and they picked it up right away with just one run through. They’d sing along from there on.

FRENCH: That’s right! You can take a 10 year old kid today and say TWISTED SISTER and he may not know. If you sing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” he’s going to sing that song! You can do the same with “I Wanna Rock”. That’s the timelessness of these songs. We are so grateful to have these songs that have been so universally used.

KNAC.COM: What’s your thoughts on the band’s portrayal on VH-1’s Behind The Music? You touched on that little bit in the book.

FRENCH: I kind of knew the ‘trainwreck’ that they created. We didn’t give them what they normally get. A band gets together, the band makes it, then drugs, alcohol and drugs destroy the band. That’s the story, isn’t it? Then a guy dies, they lose everything, their manager robs them and none of that ever happened with TWISTED SISTER! There were no drugs, there was no robbing of the band’s money! I knew exactly where every penny went! There’s three kinds of people in this world, there’s people that make it happen, then there’s the people who watch it happen and the people that don’t know what happened. I knew exactly what was going on. Shit did happen, bad decisions were made for sure, we discuss that in the book. It wasn’t unknown to me that this was going to go down. So when VH-1 zeroed in on the fact that we hated each other so much, that was all they had to work with! They didn’t have the standard alcohol and drug narrative. What were they going to do? What were they going to do? They played up the hatred part. Oh, there was hate and jealousy. They had that in spades. The documentary that we made, We Are Twisted Fucking Sister, to me is much more what the real story was. The book is almost like a prequel and sequel to the documentary.

KNAC.COM: Would you be opposed to doing another installment of We Are Twisted Fucking Sister?

FRENCH: The only is that Andy Horn, the brilliant director of the documentary, died of Leukemia a couple of years ago. We were in talks about doing it. We were talking about financing for it. He got the German government to finance the last one, even though he was a New Yorker, he lived in Germany, he was eligible for government financing for the project. When Andy died, I was sad and disappointed, because if anyone would do the sequel it would have to be him and with him gone, that was done. We are grateful that we have the first one. Making a sequel is kind of obvious. TWISTED SISTER isn’t obvious. When I wrote this book, I wrote it so it wouldn’t be obvious. If you asked someone what they thought this book would be vs. what it actually is….let me ask you this question. You’ve read the book. Were you surprised as to how the book was laid out?

KNAC.COM: It’s not contrived. It is not like anything I’ve read before.

FRENCH: Yeah, that was the point. That’s the beauty of it. It is a truthful book. I’m so proud of this book and I’m so proud of my co-writer Steve. He was able to take my words and make it a cohesive story.

KNAC.COM: Can I call you ‘professor’ JAY JAY FRENCH?

FRENCH: [laughs] That would be ironic as a high school drop out! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: Love the book Jay Jay and your podcast Jay Jay French Connection.

FRENCH: Yeah, we’re on PODCAST ONE which I’m really proud of. You can also look me up on CAMEO if you’d like any personal messages and TWISTED SISTER is releasing a double vinyl set in November. It’s a greatest hits package! Two vinyl albums! It’s called Tear It Loose, it’s greatest hits studio on one album and then the best live performances on the second record. That includes songs from The Astoria, Hammersmith and The Marquee in England. I will be doing three in-stores on November 5th, 6th and 7th, I will be in Bedford Massachusetts on the 5th, on the 6th I will be in Long Island, New York and on the 7th I will be in West Babylon, New York. You can get the details on JayJayFrench.com or TwistedSister.com.

The Offical Website with link to Twisted Business:
https://www.jayjayfrench.com/

Jay Jay French Connection Podcast:
https://www.podcastone.com/pd/The-French-Connection-The-Music-Business-and-Beyond

Jay Jay French on Cameo:
https://www.cameo.com/frenchmoss


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