Twisted Sister: An Unpublished History
The story of how five rock and roll thugs from New York City defied the odds, donned hideous outfits and fought their way to the top.
“I have to tell you,” says Jay Jay French, sitting back and taking a moment to reflect on the more than 30-year history of his band, the New York glam-metal act Twisted Sister. “I honestly don’t think I could have written a script as weird as this.”
This writer, for one, couldn’t agree more. It’s the summer of 2006, and I’m sitting with French in the living room of his apartment, located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. On this day, the 54-year-old guitarist is dressed in blue jeans and a loose-fitting t-shirt; he has on a pair of reading glasses and is sporting close-cropped, spiky brown hair. The following weekend, he will put on an outfit similar to the one he wore for the period surrounding Twisted Sister’s 1985 album Come Out and Play, with full makeup and a now necessary wig, and walk onstage in Kavarna, Bulgaria. He and his band mates will play a two-hour set of bouncy, anthemic pop-metal that includes songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “You Can’t Stop Rock ’N’ Roll” and “I Wanna Rock”—songs that, apparently, the entire world knows by heart—and thousands of crazed Bulgarians will scream along to every word. Shortly after walking offstage, French and the rest of Twisted Sister, which is rounded out by the well-known mid-Eighties lineup of Dee Snider, guitarist Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda, bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza and drummer A.J. Pero, will board a plane for the 5,000-plus mile trip back to New York. They’ll return to their families and day jobs, and the next time they see each other, they will most likely be standing in another airport, preparing to head to another gig in another place very far from home.
“Over the past few years we’ve been traveling all over the world and headlining these huge festivals in countries like Spain, Mexico, Finland, Greece—places where we’ve never even played before,” says French. “And we’ve been drawing bigger crowds than we ever did back in the Eighties.”
It’s a bizarre development in a career that has been packed with them. Music fans are familiar with the most well-known points of Twisted Sister’s story: One of the first bona fide stars of the MTV generation, the band, outrageously dressed and led by the wildly over-the-top Snider, were for a short time in the mid Eighties among the biggest and most recognizable acts in rock and roll. They scored big with their third album, 1984’s Stay Hungry, thanks in large part to the cartoonish videos for the singles “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” but were eventually done in by a combination of overexposure and long-simmering inter-band jealousies and resentments.
But that’s only one component of Twisted Sister’s long and varied history. There was also the many years prior to their success spent toiling in the bars and clubs of New York and its surrounding areas, an era marked by innumerable member changes, a seemingly unending string of record label rejections and a slew of alternately tragic and strangely fated scenarios. And there was the band’s post-breakup period, a time when most of the members shunned the limelight—and each other.
In recent years, there has been the reunion, an event that no one in the band imagined would be so successful, or for a long time, would even happen. When it became a reality in the early 2000’s, Twisted Sister chose to return to the scene purely as a nostalgia act, a surprising, but ultimately wise, move; over the past few years the band has received an overwhelming response from massive audience in almost every part of the world. That this has been a part-time endeavor (they have scheduled shows largely during the summer festival months and often around jobs and familial obligations) has resulted in a situation where the members—save for Snider, who still lives very much in the public eye—have forged an existence that seesaws between that of their halcyon Eighties days and the earlier, pre-fame years: They live the rock and roll high life one day, and in obscurity the next.
“It’s become this weird, part-time super-stardom type of thing,” says French. “On the weekends, I’ll get dressed up, go onstage, look out at a sea of people and essentially play the part of ‘Jay Jay French from Twisted Sister.’ But come Monday, I’m back at work, on the phone going, ‘Yes, what can I do for you?’ ”
Adding to the list of strange developments was this fall’s A Twisted Christmas, a collection of the band’s interpretations of ten Yuletide classics. A holiday-season U.S. tour followed, which also served as their farewell sendoff, Snider having stated that 2006 would be his final year with the band. If this is indeed the case, then for all involved, the reunion proved a success—and not just in terms of tickets sales.
“Twisted came in with a roar and went out with a whimper the first time around, and that always bothered me,” says Snider, reached by phone a few weeks after returning from Bulgaria. “Considering how uproarious, obnoxious and uncompromising we were, we should have spontaneously combusted. There should have been nothing left but five pairs of boots and some globules of protoplasm! Instead it just fell apart. That was one of the purposes of reuniting—to repair some relationships and end this thing on a better note. Thankfully, it looks like we’ve achieved that.”
Twisted Sister’s uproarious, obnoxious and uncompromising story begins with a young music fan named John French Segall. As a teenager growing up in New York City in the late 1960’s, Segall, who would years later change his name to Jay Jay French, spent much of his time taking in Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers Band concerts at the legendary Fillmore East, in Manhattan’s East Village, and teaching himself to play guitar like his idols, English blues-based rockers like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. That all changed in the fall of 1972, when the 20-year-old received three albums in the mail in conjunction with a magazine subscription offer: David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes and Lou Reed’s Transformer. Segall, a self-described “long-haired hippie with John-Lennon glasses,” was instantly smitten with the overt sexuality and suggestive androgyny. “I looked at those album covers and my life came crashing down around me,” he says. “I thought, This is me.”
The young guitarist ditched the glasses, cut and dyed his hair blond and set out on the road to glitter-rock glory. In the fall of 1972, he answered an ad in the Village Voice placed by another pair of rehabilitated hippies named Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, who were looking for a lead guitarist for their new band, Kiss. Coincidentally, Segall had earlier that same year auditioned for the two, then known as Gene Klein and Stanley Eisen, respectively, when they were still playing with their former outfit, Wicked Lester. “They had been doing the hippie thing the first time we met,” he says. “The music was much softer, and they had beards. I remember Gene coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re Jewish. I’m Jewish too, and I’m changing my name.’ ” Although Stanley and Simmons this time informed Segall that the lead guitar slot had just been filled by a musician named Paul “Ace” Frehley, he was invited to the band’s loft on 23rd street in Manhattan to observe a rehearsal. “I sat on a chair in this empty room and watched them perform the songs that basically became the first Kiss album,” he says. “They didn’t have the makeup yet, but they had the platform shoes and these big Marshall stacks. I was just stunned.”
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.”
Over the next few years, Twisted Sister developed into one of the preeminent club acts in the Tri-State area. The band was playing upwards of 250 shows a year, often multiple sets each night, to a growing legion of fans that they dubbed the Sick Motherfuckers, or SMF’s. Onstage, they played the role of hell-raising, hard-living rock and rollers, but in reality the band functioned with a high level of discipline. “This was the drill,” says French. “We would get to the bars at six in the evening to do our sound check, then we’d have dinner and wait to go onstage. We’d play the set—or sets—hang out a bit, load out the gear and get home around six in the morning. We’d sleep until one or two in the afternoon, wake up, maybe rehearse, run some errands and then get in our car and drive to the gig. That was what we did every single day, for years. Nothing ever changed.”
By late 1976 the band was doing well enough to rent a house in Massapequa, on Long Island. “We were making so much money in the clubs that we found this nice place in an upper-class area, with central air and a pool,” says Snider. But in keeping with the no-nonsense attitude with which they conducted their lives, the house was far from the debauched sex-and-drugs-den one would have expected. “I think we threw one party at that house, a fourth of July thing that almost got us all arrested,” says French. “And I remember joking around with Dee, saying, ‘We should smoke a joint so that we can at least tell people we’ve done drugs. That wasn’t our thing. We didn’t party—we played.”
That staunch work ethic was paying off. By 1978 the band, now with ex-Dictators—and former Twisted Sister roadie—Mark “The Animal” Mendoza on bass (Kenneth Harrison Neill abruptly quit after announcing he had become a born-again Christian), was pulling in anywhere from two to five thousand people per show, playing consistently at venues like Hammerheads in West Islip, Long Island, the Gemini in Westchester, New York and the Fountain Casino in Aberdeen, New Jersey. In addition, Snider had begun to find his voice as a songwriter, and Twisted Sister’s sets were now comprised of larger amounts of original material, including Dee-penned anthems like “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!” and “Bad Boys (Of Rock ’N’ Roll)”—hooky pop-metal tunes that were perfect for rousing a crowd and inspiring sing-alongs.
Unfortunately, the band wasn’t inspiring many record labels. They recorded a number of demos throughout the late Seventies, and in 1979 even landed a session with renowned Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin producer Eddie Kramer at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, which yielded a seven-inch single with the songs “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!” and the more aggressive “Under the Blade.” Neither that single nor a subsequent one garnered any label interest. “We were turned down more times than a bed sheet in a whorehouse,” says French.
Not surprisingly, the band’s image proved to be a major sticking point. Punk and everyman arena rock were the sounds of the day at the end of the Seventies, and there was little regard for a veteran group of heavily made-up glam rockers—particularly one that looked like a gang of linebackers dressed in cheap drag. If Twisted Sister met with a detractor while performing in a bar or club, any strife was easily avoided—“We’d call the guy up onstage, and he’d see me, Dee and Mendoza standing there, each about six-foot-ten in our heels, and just shut the fuck up,” says French—the labels, however, could not be handled in such a manner. Rejection letters included criticisms that ran the gamut from “unable to apply makeup correctly” to “platform boots are too high.” One commented that the band was too much like Alice Cooper and Kiss, but not enough like Meatloaf and Boston, while another stated that Snider looked like a “poor imitation of Roger Daltrey.”
“We heard every excuse in the book,” says French. “I remember one rejection letter that just said, We can’t sign them—the singer’s pants are too pink.”
The obvious question, then: Why not just ditch the outdated glam look altogether? “It’s not like we didn’t think of that,” says Snider. “When we were on what I think was our sixth attempt to go to the majors, we did a photo shoot for what we were gonna call the ‘Have It Your Way’ press kit. There was going to be a photo of us in full makeup and gear, and another in our street clothes. It was just like, ‘All right. This is Twisted Sister. If the makeup is really bothering you, we’ll take it off.’ We were at our wit’s end. But right around that time is when we started getting attention overseas, and landed our indie deal over there.”
The contract Twisted Sister was offered was with a small British punk imprint called Secret Records, which was turned on to the band after their “Under the Blade” seven-inch single (which, faced with no other options, the band released on their own TSR label) began charting in the British rock paper Sounds. Engaged by the song’s driving, punk-metal rhythm—similar in style to that of the bands who were part of the then burgeoning New Wave of British Heavy Metal—Secret president Martin Hooker flew to New York in December, 1981, to take in a Twisted Sister performance at the Manhattan Civic Center. Hooker loved what he saw, and after the show went backstage to offer them a deal. “We didn’t react at all,” says French. “So he walked out of the dressing room and said to our manager, ‘I don’t understand. I just told these guys I’m signing them.’ Our manager said, ‘You don’t really get the history of this band. Just send the contracts.’ ” Hooker did, and in April, 1982, ten years after forming in the suburbs of New Jersey, Twisted Sister signed with Secret and headed to England to record their debut album.
A four-song EP, Ruff Cutts, as well as series of shows supporting British metal legends Motorhead (during which time Twisted earned the support and endorsement of the band’s singer, Lemmy Kilmister) preceded the fall 1982 release of the band’s full-length debut, Under the Blade. Produced by ex-UFO bassist Pete Way and featuring new drummer A.J. Pero, the album included such Twisted Sister standards as “Bad Boys (Of Rock ’N’ Roll),” “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!” and the title track, as well as the AC/DC-style three chord anthem “Shoot ’Em Down,” the galloping “Tear It Loose” (with Motorhead’s “Fast” Eddie Clarke on guitar) and the ultra-slow, ultra-heavy “Destroyer.” The record received promising reviews—Sounds called the band “metal megastars in the making”—and Twisted Sister were featured in Kerrang! and other top metal magazines of the day.
But as had been the case too many times in the past, every step forward was met with a devastating step back. On the eve of a tour with NWOBHM greats Diamond Head, Secret Records went bankrupt, and Twisted Sister were, once again, a band without a label. “We were back in New York when we got the word,” says French. “So now we couldn’t get back over to England to tour. We decided it was over at that point. We couldn’t handle it any longer. We played one more show the weekend of Thanksgiving, on Staten Island, and then we were going to call it a day.”
Once again, however, fate intervened at the last minute. Mark Puma, Twisted Sister’s manager at the time, convinced the band to scrape together enough money to return to the UK to appear on a popular new television show called “The Tube.” At the filming, Puma bumped into Phil Carson, an Atlantic Records executive who was there with one of his clients, Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones. As luck would have it, Carson had recently received an enthusiastic letter in regards to Twisted Sister from a young Atlantic employee named Jason Flom—a letter he had summarily thrown in the garbage. Additionally, the head of the label’s New York division, Doug Morris, had told Flom, in no uncertain terms, that Twisted Sister “sucked radically.” Nonetheless, Jones, who was living in New York at the time, had heard “Shoot ‘Em Down” on local radio station WPLJ and suggested that Carson check them out. He did, and soon after approached the band at a show at London’s Marquee with the intention of signing them.
“I looked at Carson and said, “What label do you work for?’” says French. “When he told me it was Atlantic, I just thought, Of all the record companies he could have said … I figured that we were done.” Turned out they weren’t. Carson alerted Doug Morris of his new discovery, to which, says French, “Morris went, ‘Fine, you deal with them. I don’t want to know anything about it!’ ” He laughs. “And that’s how we got signed to Atlantic Records.”
The band’s first album for the label, 1983’s You Can’t Stop Rock ’N’ Roll, only increased their standing in the U.K. They appeared on the long-running British show “Top of the Pops” and played that year’s Donington festival alongside acts like Meatloaf, ZZ Top and Whitesnake. In the U.S., however, things were slower going. “The band had been around for years, but people didn’t know who we were,” says Snider. “I remember playing out in the Midwest and fans coming up to me going, ‘Where’s your British accent?’ ”
You Can’t Stop Rock ’N’ Roll did eventually find some success stateside, thanks in part to a somewhat humorous video for the title track, in which the band performed the song inside a beat-up van while being chased by two nefarious looking men. The clip garnered airplay on the infant MTV network, the beginning of a relationship that would play a huge role in helping to make their next album, 1984’s Stay Hungry, a mainstream smash. “Around that time Doug Morris said to me, ‘You guys toured a year without any support and you proved yourself. Now I’m going to put money behind you. I’ll make you one of the biggest bands in the world,’” says French. “And most people don’t know this, but back then Warner Bros. [Atlantic’s parent company] had a financial stake in MTV. So anything that Atlantic gave them, they were going to play—there wasn’t all that much to play, anyway. So we did the right videos at the right time.”
By 1984, MTV had begun to rival radio in terms of its importance as a tool for breaking new acts. And as far as the network was concerned, the more outrageous a band’s look, the better. As a result, in the early Eighties a new wave of image-conscious glam-metal acts, which included bands like Motley Crue, Ratt and Quiet Riot, was benefiting enormously from heavy MTV exposure. But none of these bands embraced the concept, and potential, of the video as expertly as did Twisted Sister. Their clips for the Stay Hungry tracks “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” were three-minute slapstick comedies, full of humorously over-the-top violence and colorful, larger-than-life characters. Both featured the band members, in full glam regalia, facing off against a parent/teacher authority figure in a Wile E. Coyote-type battle of wills, and were set to a perfect pop-metal soundtrack. The songs, like all of Twisted Sister’s recorded material, were penned by Snider, and like the majority of his work, were anthemic, catchy and ideal for riling up a club full of SMF’s; now they were stimulating kids in their living rooms all over the country. After more than a decade of struggling, Twisted Sister had finally found their moment. In what seemed like overnight, Twisted Sister were famous, their faces plastered in every magazine and all over television.
But it was one person’s face in particular. As the band’s star rose, Snider’s exploded. Being the frontman, this was, to some degree, expected. But given Snider’s natural exuberance and gregariousness, he gradually began to be perceived as a personality separate from his band, and became a celebrity in his own right. (It didn’t help matters that the Stay Hungry album cover, originally conceived as a full-band photo, in the end featured only Snider, a crazed look on his face and wielding an oversized bone). Resentment began to set in. “The rest of us wouldn’t have cared if Dee had bothered to, you know, at least acknowledge that he saw what was going on, and the role that we all played in making it happen,” says French. “But he didn’t. He just ran with it.”
“Certainly I was a megalomaniac,” says Snider. “But I always had been. It just got worse when I was proven right. Here I was writing all these songs and driving this vehicle, and then all of a sudden I was getting all the attention as the songwriter, the crazy one, the frontman, the creative force. And that really alienated the rest of the band. It’s really unfair, but that’s how it is in most cases.”
In addition to a marked discrepancy in terms of the amount of attention the band members received, there was also a widening financial gap. As Twisted Sister’s sole songwriter, Snider was reaping the majority of the monetary rewards from their newfound success. “By the time we got a deal I had written 100 songs or so, and no one ever questioned that they were my songs,” he says by way of explanation. “Then all of a sudden they had value. But as far as publishing, no one asked [for a percentage], and if they did I wouldn’t have shared it—I didn’t feel that I had anybody to share it with. They were clearly my songs. And the other guys was never discouraged from submitting their own, they just never did.”
When all was said and done, Stay Hungry had sold upwards of two million copies and produced three hit singles. But, says French, what should have been a triumphant moment felt like anything but. “I think Stay Hungry was a dividing line. As the record got bigger and bigger the band got unhappier and unhappier. I remember the day I was told it was double platinum. I was like ‘Yeah? So what.’ After all that time, I didn’t even care. I was pissed off that I couldn’t enjoy it. I mean, people think of us as an Eighties metal band, but we weren’t. We were a Seventies bar band that happened to make it in the Eighties—we had absolutely nothing in common with guys like Motley Crue and Dokken. I was already 30 years old, and we had played so much, and done it for so long.”
Twisted Sister was on the outs without one another, and also feeling increasingly disconnected from the poppy hair-metal scene they were now a part of. “In the new MTV world, we quickly became defined as the ‘Teen Anthem Band,’ ” says Snider. “And that was detrimental to our longevity.” Veteran Twisted Sister fans had become disenchanted by the band’s now cartoonish image, while, on the other hand, inflammatory watchdog organizations like the Tipper Gore-led Parents Music Resource Center were attacking them (along with acts like W.A.S.P., Motley Crue and AC/DC) for incorporating what they deemed to be inappropriate lyric content and imagery in their songs. This led to an unusual moment in September, 1985, when Snider, dressed in jeans and denim jacket, his long hair flowing wildly and teeth shaved into fangs, appeared on the floor of the U.S. Senate, alongside Frank Zappa and John Denver, to defend his band. In one particularly humorous exchange, Senate member and future vice president Al Gore, in response to Snider’s proclamation that his band’s fan club was named the Sick Motherfucking Fans of Twisted Sister, asked the singer if it was a “Christian group.”
Snider’s bold—and surprisingly lucid—performance before the Senate helped to bolster his band’s flagging credibility, but in the end proved merely another instance of the image outshining the music. The rot had set in. Twisted Sister’s next album, 1985’s Come Out and Play, featured a minor hit single in a cover of “Leader of the Pack,” a song they had first recorded back in the Seventies, but overall was a critical and commercial disappointment. Their 1987 follow-up, Love Is For Suckers, barely registered on the music landscape, and it is open to debate how much of the band, other than Snider, even performs on it. Originally planned as a solo effort, management and Atlantic pressured Snider into making Suckers a Twisted Sister effort, but the final product is one in name only. A.J. Pero had left the band at that point, and was replaced by Joey Franco, whose drum tracks on the album were largely the result of programmed beats. Most egregiously, hotshot studio guitarist Reb Beach, who would soon gain fame playing with Winger, was credited with “additional guitars.” According to French, this is something of an understatement, as he claims that both he and Ojeda played very little, if at all, on the record.
“Dee made it clear he wasn’t happy with our abilities as musicians,” says French. “He and [producer] Beau Hill wanted a contemporary sound, which at that time meant shredding guitar solos, which is not what Eddie and I do. Reb was Beau’s go-to guy for all the records he produced, so our services weren’t really required.” Things got so bad that at one point French, the band’s founder and sole original member, alleges he was threatened with being fired from his own group. “But I didn’t even care that much,” he says. “I had a marriage that was falling apart simultaneously, I was dealing with a lot of other issues. I kind of said, it’s time to move on. It had been 15 years. I had played thousands of Twisted Sister shows. I was tired.”
“Throughout our career, Twisted had a horrible habit of never confronting one another with our problems,” says Snider. “We would go to management and bitch and moan, and they would basically put a band aid on it, but not treat the real wound. So over the years those wounds festered and basically developed into cancer. It wasn’t so easy to treat at that point, and everybody’s issues ran deep.”
A video was released for the single “Hot Love,” and a tour was launched in support of the album, but tickets sales were abysmal. Snider, who was no longer on speaking terms with French or Mendoza, made clear his intentions to leave the band, and after a show in Minneapolis in October, 1987, Twisted Sister simply came to a halt, mid-tour. “We could have finished it off, but there was no reason,” says French. “No one was even coming out to the shows. It just didn’t pay to keep going.” The band officially continued as a business entity until early 1988, but there was no farewell, no big send-off, no nothing. Twisted Sister exited the scene so quietly that few seemed to notice they were gone. For a band that had endured so much over its 15 years in existence, it was a tragically anti-climactic end.
Over the ensuing years only Snider remained in the public eye, first leading a pair of metal bands, Desperado and Widowmaker, and then emerging as a successful radio and television personality and screen writer, in particular for the 1998 horror movie Strangeland. The rest of the band members eventually picked up day jobs. French, who had managed Twisted Sister sporadically throughout their career, started up his own companies, French Management and Rebellion Entertainment, where he worked with artists like the nu-metal act Sevendust, while Mendoza found employment in law-enforcement. It wasn’t until 1996, when Snider and French reconciled after not speaking for almost a decade, that any signs of life in the Twisted Sister camp emerged, and even then the future looked tenuous. Over the next few years, the band played sporadically at special events, and recorded a new song, “Heroes Are Hard to Find,” for the soundtrack to Snider’s Strangeland—though they all tracked their parts separately, working at different times in the studio.
But as the band members gradually repaired their relationships, disaster struck once again. Individual interviews conducted with band members for a 2001 episode of the VH1 series “Behind the Music” revealed how much animosity still lingered; Mendoza, in an infamous moment, went so far as to state that for a long time he had wanted Snider dead. “I remember watching the show on TV and thinking, ‘This is bad.’ ” says French. “It was sort of edited to make it look like we hated each other more than we did, but at the same time, there was so much real bitterness that was exposed. I figured there was no chance of a reunion after that.”
There was, and soon. That November, the band members looked beyond whatever resentments had once again been brought to the surface to help out with an important cause, performing, alongside other New York artists like Ace Frehley and Anthrax at New York Steel, a 9/11 benefit held in Manhattan to raise money for the New York Police & Fire Widows & Children’s Fund. With little in the way of rehearsing, and dressed in t-shirts and jeans, the band pulled off an inspired set. Afterwards, they again went their separate ways, but reaction to the band’s performance was so positive that offers started coming in from festival organizers in Europe, looking to book Twisted Sister for the following summer.
Thus began the official reunion. But, unlike other hard rock acts that, in recent years, have sought to fit into the current music landscape, Twisted Sister made no attempt to present themselves as a contemporary band. They commissioned costumes based on their Eighties-era looks, with accordingly appropriate makeup and hair, and performed only their most well-known and beloved classic songs. “Let’s be honest,” says Snider. “Nobody cares about the new stuff—they don’t want to hear it, and they certainly don’t want to buy it. They just want the songs they loved when they were growing up.”
“The minute you go, “this is a new song,” says French, “everyone’s off to the bathroom. So we just decided to say, ‘Here it is—1984. You want it, we’re more than happy to give it to you. Two hours of everything you want to hear, all killer, no filler. No bullshit.’ ”
Over the next few years the band played to audiences of both old and new fans on both sides of the Atlantic (including occasional, non-costumed gigs for which they were billed as ‘Bent Brother’). Though the response in the U.S. was impressive, in Europe it was overwhelming, with the band headlining festivals in front of tens of thousands of people. “The reaction was insane,” says French. “We first broke in Europe, but after that were always much bigger in the States. But it seemed to shift. Now we’re huge over there.”
As for why they seemed to be drawing as big, if not bigger, crowds than they did back in the Eighties, French has a theory: “Twisted Sister has a reputation for being a great live act. We played more than 9,000 concerts throughout our career; we played more shows before we got signed then most bands play, period. So when we get up onstage, people know they’re going to see an incredible show.”
On another front, the band issued a slew of releases, including remastered studio albums, demos and live performances and a tribute disc. In an effort to repair a sore spot, in 2004 they re-recorded Stay Hungry—this time titled Still Hungry—which, in addition to improved production quality, featured, as was originally intended, a full-band shot on the album’s cover. All the while they continued to tour sporadically, juggling rock and roll and home life. But living a dual existence had become too much for Snider, who finally announced that 2006 would be his last year with Twisted Sister. “Doing Twisted again was great,” he says, “but in a way it completely destroyed my home life. This past summer I just wasn’t around. We were traveling all over the world and playing to hundreds of thousands of people, which was great. But I have a job, I have a wife, I have kids. It was too much. I had to call it a day.”
With the band’s legacy no longer in question, and the members’ relationships with one another stronger than perhaps at any time in the past, it would seem to be that the Christmas album and tour will stand as Twisted Sister’s official swan song. But, as has been the case so often throughout the band’s history, things don’t always go as planned. As Snider admits, “you never know what the future holds.” He laughs. “I know I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m done, but it’s like Al Pacino said in The Godfather [Part III]: ‘Just when I thought I was out … they pull me back in!’ ”