Harder Beat Magazine Online

Still Hungry after 25 years

Twisted Sister’s Jay Jay French
Photo: Andy Laudano

Twenty-five years ago, Twisted Sister released Stay Hungry, the album that took them out of clubs and into arenas. Thanks to the fist-pumping metal anthems, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” the album was an instant classic. The groundbreaking videos for each, starring actor Mark Metcalf (reprising his Doug Neidermeyer role from Animal House) helped redefine the music video genre.

To help celebrate the album’s multi-platinum success, Twisted Sister has released a two disc, 25th Anniversary Edition of Stay Hungry featuring unreleased outtakes, demos and the brand new song, “30.”

But as another great band once said, “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n roll.” Twisted Sister paid their dues and busted their asses for more than a decade. “It was ten solid years of playing the bars,” recalls guitarist and founder Jay Jay French. “It was fun. It was hard and it was a grind, but it was our life. We did it five nights a week for ten years. I can’t believe we did it but, when you’re doing it, you don’t think about it. It was the way we made our living and luckily the living was great, because the drinking age was 18. We played in venues that averaged up to 5,000 people. That doesn’t exist today. We played 30 times a month within a 50-yard radius of New York for 10 years.”

Most fans are surprised to learn how many lineup changes the band went through in those early club days. “It’s kind of like a combination lock,” French explains. “You keep turning that tumbler until you find the right combination. When I started, if you would’ve told me I’d have to fire eleven guys to get to this band, I would’ve stayed in law school. I had no idea. The original band was the original band. A year and a half later, the singer pulls a gun on our drummer and threatens to kill him in a bar fight. And that ends the first band. That guy winds up getting hit by a car. The replacement singer OD’s on methamphetamines.

“The original guitar player lost an eye to cancer. The second guitar player died of a brain tumor. I went through seven drummers. You don’t think about any of this stuff when you start a band. Life gets in the way. Who knew?”

Eventually French found the right combination, Dee Snider (vocals), Eddie Ojeda (guitar), Mark “The Animal” Mendoza (bass) and A.J. Pero (drums). Through hard work, perseverance and sheer willpower, Twisted Sister scratched and clawed their way out of the bar scene. The band released their first two records, Under The Blade and You Can’t Stop ‘N Roll. Despite indifference from their record label, Twisted Sister built their reputation as one of the best live acts on the planet. All their hard work paid off when Stay Hungry came out, and Twisted Sister quickly became one of the biggest bands in the world.

But after you make it to the top, there’s only one way to go from there. Twisted Sister’s fourth album, Come Out And Play went nowhere fast, and tensions in the band continued to rise. Then the unthinkable happened. After everything they’d been through, Twisted Sister decided to quit.

“It was a horrible experience at the end,” French reveals. “We just didn’t get along. I walked offstage in ‘87, threw my guitar pic out to the audience and said, ‘that’s it. I’m never doing this again.’ I did it nonstop for 15 years, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t even touch my guitar for at least two years. Mark Mendoza would call up me each year and say, “Let’s get back together,” and I’d say no. This went on for twelve years. I had no interest at all.”

It would take the tragic events of 9/11, and a call from longtime NYC DJ, Eddie Trunk asking Twisted Sister to play a special benefit concert to finally reunite the band. “I’m a New York City guy, and the destruction of NYC was so traumatic for me,” French relates. “I can’t even think about that day. It’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life. Like most New Yorkers, I lost several people I knew. The next day, I went down to volunteer to do anything I could, and they said there’s nothing you can do. I walked away feeling dejected, I’m a healthy New Yorker, and they can’t use me? I thought, wait a minute — I have a band, and at that point Eddie Trunk called. Doing a benefit for the widows and orphans from the NYC Police and Fire department following the horrors of 9/11 was way more important than any of our differences.”

The benefit was a huge success, and Twisted Sister began playing festivals and more shows for charities. They also made the excellent Twisted Christmas album.

Time seems to have healed old wounds. “We’re taking it one step at a time,” French states. “This year we’re going to continue to play the Stay Hungry 25th anniversary show, where we play the whole album. We’re also gonna play in countries that we’ve never played before.

“As for next year, there’s a bunch of ideas. Let’s see how the Stay Hungry reissue does, and how the shows go first.”

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