In 1987, the rock&roll world was knocked on their
a**es by a new New York based Glam Band performing under the name of
Twisted Sister. With theatrics
rivaling KISS and a shock factor that Alice Cooper would be proud of, the
band released Stay Hungry which yielded the hugely successful singles and
videos "I Wanna Rock" and "We're Not Gonna Take It". The extensive touring
that followed kept them near the top of the charts for many months to come
and made the band out of Long Island a household name in America. Epiphone's
Don Mitchell recently had the chance to talk to founding member and lead
guitarist Jay Jay French.
EPI: Tell me about
your first introduction to guitar playing, how old were you?
JAY JAY: I got a Folk Guitar when I was ten and
my brother taught me Travis Picking. Not something you’d ever hear on
a Twisted Sister record but that’s what I learned first.
How did you go from Travis Picking to Rock &
JAY JAY: When I was about fifteen I started going
to the Fillmore East all the time and seeing all these amazing bands. About
that time I also got a copy of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s first
album and I think Mike Bloomfields guitar playing and his blues-based style
was the first time it ever hit me about playing lead…the first time
it ever got to me. I had like $135.00 so I went down to 48th Street and bought
the guitar that was on the back of that album, a Telecaster.
So that started your blues/rock adventure?
JAY JAY: Yeah, I started messing around with that
guitar and a few weeks later a guy in my building showed me a riff from a
Rolling Stones Album, which was really a Chuck Berry riff. The song was called
“Down The Road A Piece” and I got kind of enamored by that riff.
Another big turning point came shortly after that when I got sick with
mononucleosis. I was in bed for six weeks and I’d ask my father to get
me some records. He brought me “Born Under A Bad Sign” by Albert
King, and when I heard Albert King I went nuts. Then I heard Clapton on
“Steppin’ Out” and I went even more crazy! I just kept asking
myself, how do you do that, how do you do that?
Was it the tone or the notes that grabbed you?
JAY: Well, both but when I saw the pictures of Clapton playing a Les
Paul I asked my neighbor what the guitar was. He said, “I think it’s
called a Les Paul”. I wasn’t sure but the tone blew me away. When
I compared it to the way the Fender sounded the Fender suddenly became very
thin and I loved the fullness of that Les Paul. By the time I got out of
bed I could play a bunch of those songs but I couldn’t afford a Les
Paul so I went out and got an SG Special and put some humbucking pickups
in it. I just became obsessed with…I gotta have humbuckers! Then
“Super Session” came out and guess what…..there’s a picture
of Mike Bloomfield playing a Sunburst Les Paul and I was like Oh Man!
That’s it! That’s the holy grail! I knew that in ’68! I knew
it back then! Between Bloomfield’s playing after he got the Les Paul
and Clapton’s playing on the Bluesbreakers album…that really started
my Les Paul mania.
When did you get your first Les Paul?
JAY JAY: I got it about a year later. It was a
1968 Black Custom that I bought for 300 bucks from somebody. Then from 1969
to 1972, which is when Twisted Sister started, I had about 18 Les Pauls in
and out of my collection and I’ve owned probably 50 of them over the
years. I was just a Les Paul guy…that was it!
Probably the most famous one you had was the Pink Bursted
model. What’s the story behind it?
JAY JAY: Yes, the one Les Paul I used the most
in Twisted’s history is that one. It was a 1978 Tobacco Sunburst which
I re-did in the Pink Burst. The problem with it was that it weighed eleven
pounds! If I wasn’t playing it I could easily have used it as a door
stop…or a weapon! As our tours got crazier the guitars weight really
bothered me so I ended up switching over and was endorsed by other companies
with different body styles since Gibson wasn’t really interested in
endorsements at the time. But all the recordings I’ve done have been
with that Pink Les Paul.
So the Les Paul apparently was defining your sound?
JAY JAY: Yes, the Les Paul through a Marshall!
I got my first 100 watt stack in the Summer of 1969. I brought it home, opened
up the windows in my apartment and played my Les Paul for like an hour and
it was just awesome! I was thinking, man this is just it…I have made
it! Then I hear somebody smashing on my door and I open up to see this woman
covered in sweat! June in NYC! And she goes, “Do you have any idea how
loud that is?” I said, “What apartment do you live in” and
she screams, “What apartment…I live 4 blocks away!” I kind
of freaked out and just slammed the door in her face. When the cops showed
up a few minutes later I knew that the Les Paul through the Marshall was
my dream combination.
How did you hook up with Epiphone?
JAY JAY: A couple of years ago I went to a NAMM
show and met Jim Rosenberg. I was managing Sevendust at the time. I had just
produced their record and we were checking into endorsement for them. I sat
Epi Les Paul and said, “Wow, these are great guitars…they’re
good! They feel great!” I told Jim that Twisted was going back out so
he gave me a couple of Epi Les Pauls to check out and then later sent me
one of the Elitist Les Pauls. I was like whoa...these are amazing guitars.
I know Les Pauls! I’ve been playing them literally for 30 years. I know
how these guitars should feel and these Elitists are the best bargains in
the world. They’re as good as any Gibson for half the price and the
regular Epiphones are great too...you know the ones that sell for five or
six hundred bucks. I’ve been using Epiphones on the road since and every
guitar player that plays my guitars goes Holy Christ…they’re
And I hear there may be another Pink Burst in your near
JAY JAY: Yeah man! Jim has honored me with my own
Les Paul Signature Model. When we first started talking about it I said,
“Why don’t you make my Pink Burst with a couple little variations
like making it lighter than eleven pounds and maybe a contoured back for
comfort level. He agreed and I am happy as hell! (Ed Note: The Jay Jay French
signature model will be available Summer '05. Prices and specifications are
unavailable at this time.) The guitar is perfect! I just gotta say to all
those guitar players that might be reading this…You really have to play
these Epiphones. I mean, some people think that a sister company can’t
be as good or that when guitars are made overseas it means something different.
I don’t care where they’re made, they’re either up to standard
or their not. I’ve seen crap made in America and I’ve seen good
stuff made in America. I’ve seen crap made overseas and I’ve seen
good stuff made overseas but I’m telling you, every one of these Epiphones
has been great.
Did you ever think there would be a day when Twisted Sister
would be experiencing such huge success again?
JAY JAY: In Europe we’re headlining 30, 40
and 50 thousand seat festivals…and we’re headlining them! Next
year we’ll be headlining some of the biggest biker festivals in America!
Here’s what’s astonishing. At the biggest level, Twisted Sister
ever was, when we were selling tons of records, we played festivals all over
the place and were never higher than fourth on the bill! So, if you were
to say to me three years ago that Twisted was getting back together and going
to headline some of the biggest festivals in the world I would have looked
at you and said, “You should go have another cold one.” I mean,
why would that be? All of a sudden we come back and people can’t get
enough. The offers are big and the exposure is huge and we’re happy
as a clam. We’re just thrilled!
So this kind of took you by surprise?
JAY JAY: It was pretty strange. When the first
offer came in to headline Sweden Rock which is a festival that drew 45,00
people, I said why would we be asked to headline? I mean Yes opened up for
us…are you kidding me…you’ve got to be kidding me…you
couldn’t draw a stranger scenario than that! Then three weeks later
we headlined Bang Your Head
which is this big
Metal Festival in Germany. Then a month after that we were headlining the
Wacken Open Air Festival which is THE metal festival in Germany...that’s
What do you think it is that sparked the re-newed interest
in Twisted Sister?
JAY JAY: I really think it has a lot to do with
our reputation to put on a legendary live show. That reputation just kind
of fed on itself. And if your reputation precedes you as putting on a great
live show, you better be great live! If you’re not, you just shot the
one shot you had. If you suck, you’re dead. Dee, Eddie and I have stood
together on stage for about 8000 performances. If you’re not that good
after 8000 times you better just pack it in and become a meat packer or
something. So I think what happened was the reputation was huge and also
there’s a nostalgia for 1980’s music now and we just rode a wave
of circumstances that nobody could have predicted.
It’s pretty amazing to see you guys out drawing some
of the top-acts of the day!
JAY JAY: I think it’s just that people want
solid entertainment. The 80’s were fun and entertaining. In the 90’s
when Grunge and then the whole Ozzfest thing happened, the scene became very
depressing. Some of them are good players and nice people and all that but
I think that the scene became very depressing with the whole “my life
sucks”, “the world sucks” attitude. You know, if it sucks
why do you have to sing about it and depress the s*** out of the rest of
us? Why don’t you go back to school and go into Business Management
or something. Why do you have to make records just to depress the crap out
of everybody? Why do you have to b**** and moan? You’re being paid millions
of bucks, you’re in a limousine…what the f*** is your problem?
People are sick of being depressed…maybe that’s the answer. When
I’d go to Ozzfest with Sevendust I’d see some of these bands and
they make you want to slit your wrists! Why even get up in the morning? Just
go to group therapy and become a junkie!
It can be a bit of a downer.
JAY JAY: Yeah and I think Twisted Sister represents
having a good time and I think people relate to that. We put on a really
entertaining show and people have fun. Ironically, one of the most fascinating
parts of our rebirth is that we are asked to headline death metal festivals!
Twisted Sister is a bunch of guys from New York who play soccer with our
kids on the weekends, not a bunch of people who sacrifice animals and burn
churches. But we ask them why they like us and they’re like…because
you play Burn In Hell, Fire Still Burns which we really kind of did tongue
in cheek. Pretty funny actually. We are loved by the extreme metal heads
and we have a great time playing for them.
Given your sometime torrid history, what was it like getting
back together with the guys?
JAY JAY: Well, when VH1 did Behind the Music with
Twisted Sister it kind of exposed how much we hate each others guts. It was
broadcast in August of 2001 and any idea of reforming was subsequently destroyed
by it. But then September 11th happened and a local DJ in New York called
me and asked if Twisted Sister would consider a reunion to help raise money
for the widows and orphans of the New York City Police and Fire Departments.
I called the other guys and said look, something happened here which makes
our problems look like nothing and everybody agreed. They just said, when,
where and how. We scheduled rehearsal dates for three hours, one day a week
for three weeks. At the end of the rehearsals we went home and didn’t
talk much. We did the show in just t-shirts and jeans and brought the house
down. The word kind of spread and the next thing you know promoters were
making inquiries. By the way, we ended up raising $100,000.00 that day and
that’s something we’re very proud of.
How is everybody getting along now after a couple years
JAY JAY: Actually it’s great because we
don’t really see each other that much. The band can’t work a ton
because I manage artists, Dee has his radio show and Mark Mendoza is very
busy as well, so we generally play on weekends. When we get together we have
a hell of a lot of laughs. We meet at the airport, tell jokes, fly to the
venues, play the show and fly home. It’s like Budapest and home, Itally
and home, Spain and home, Holland and home. That’s what we do so it
works out great
Thanks Jay Jay for taking the time to chat and thanks
for using Epiphone!
JAY JAY: It’s easy man. I currently have 5
Epiphones and I can say this about all of them. The necks are set perfectly,
the frets have been dressed perfectly from the factory, the pickups are dead
center, the necks are dead straight, and even with the crazy traveling we
do with constant climate changes these guitars have performed flawlessly.
I love them!