Twisted Sister: An Unpublished History
By December of that year Segall had found his own band, a New Jersey-based glam-rock covers act named Silver Star. The group was comprised of an odd cast of characters—singer Michael Valentine was an alcoholic who would often walk offstage mid-song to have a drink at the bar, while drummer Mell Starr took great delight in telling the story of how his brother, Al Anderson, had landed the guitarist slot in Bob Marley’s Wailers by “dressing like a Jamaican” and speaking in a native patois—but Segall nonetheless was finally playing the music he loved. First, however, a few modifications were in order. Taking a cue from Kiss’ Simmons, he changed his name to the ethnically ambiguous Johnny Heartbreaker, and eventually to Jay Jay French. More significantly, Silver Star adopted the moniker Twisted Sister, a fitting name, seeing as how the band’s image went well beyond the standard glam getup of platform heels and feather boas and into the territory of full-on female impersonation. “We tried to look as feminine as possible,” says French. “I even shaved my legs.”
The glam rock movement was reaching its zenith in the U.S. when the newly christened Twisted Sister made its live debut in March, 1973, performing a set of Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed and Rolling Stones covers. Over the next two years the band kept up a consistent six-days-a-week show schedule, often playing as many as five sets a night, throughout New Jersey, suburban New York and the surrounding areas. The crowds were increasing in size, but the band members’ wild personalities eventually proved an insurmountable obstacle. After a gig in Massachusetts, an inebriated Valentine pulled a loaded gun on Starr and was fired, one in a series of substance abuse-related lineup changes. Things gradually devolved to the point where French, an able guitarist but by no means blessed with much vocal ability, found himself fronting the band, selecting songs based on whether they were easy to sing. It all became too much for the driven—and staunchly sober—guitarist, and in the fall of 1975, Twisted Sister called it quits. “We broke up and I took a job waiting tables in a restaurant,” says French. “I thought I had played my last show.”
That was hardly the case, as within months French, clearly not one for the blue-collar life, resurrected Twisted Sister, this time enlisting, among others, former bassist Kenneth Harrison Neill and a guitarist from the Bronx named Eddie Ojeda. But with glitter rock now on the wan, and French still croaking his way through “Walk On the Wild Side,” gigs were becoming less frequent. A change was clearly in order. “Our agent at the time said to me, ‘You’ve gotta do some Zeppelin,’ ” says French. “ ‘That’s what people wanna hear now.’ ”
Enter ex-Peacock singer Daniel “Dee” Snider, a 20-year-old former choirboy from Baldwin, Long Island, with the pipes and the personality—not to mention the hair—for the job. Brash, extroverted and wildly charismatic, Snider had an outsize ego that matched his robust frame. “He didn’t drink or smoke, but he was out of his mind,” says French. “A crazy, over-caffeinated, manic depressive, dysfunctional guy, but also very driven and professional.” He pauses. “A lead singer, you know?”
Snider, for his part, sees things a bit differently. “I was a little ostracized right from the start,” he says. “Jay Jay and Eddie were a few years older than me. They were city guys. I was this rube from Long Island. They already had a bit of a name, and I wanted to join their band. And they treated me like a kid. So I felt I had to prove myself.”
For all the underlying friction, the new version of the band (completed by drummer Tony Petri, who was brought in after their previous sticksman was unable to pull off the Grand Funk Railroad cowbell-classic, “We’re An American Band”) had undeniable chemistry, and signaled the beginning stages of the classic Twisted Sister lineup. Snider’s formidable presence, not to mention his aggressive onstage persona, fostered by a desire to prove his mettle both to the audience and his fellow band members, injected new life into the group. In addition to Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk tunes, Twisted Sister began incorporating into their sets the music of artists that Snider loved, including Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, and their glitter/glam appearance slowly morphed into something “a little more Rocky Horror,” says French. The harder-edged look and sound resulted in Twisted Sister becoming, says Snider, “the first hair-metal band.”
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