When I was a young boy, one of the first cassette tapes I ever bought with my own money was Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry. I played that tape (yes, I said cassette tape) until it was eaten by my Walkman. (Yes, I said Walkman, a device that played cassette tapes.) I cried for a week until my uncle went out and bought me a new Stay Hungry tape. That tape, which featured “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “I Wanna Rock,” “S.M.F.,” “Burn In Hell” and “The Price,” solidified my love for hard rock and heavy metal. Twisted Sister was my first love with many more to come after them.
This October 1, Twisted Sister will be making their final area appearance at this year’s Food Truck and Rock Carnival at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, NJ. In case you didn’t already know, Rock Carnival will be taking place from September 30 until October 2 and will feature Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, Clutch, Zakk Sabbath, Almost Queen, Alive ’75: A Tribute to Kiss, Overkill, Daughtry, Ace Frehley, Fuel, Monster Magnet, Jackyl, Texas Hippie Coalition, Shaman’s Harvest, Zebra, Punky Meadows, Four By Fate, Cycle of Pain, Jester, American Angel, Killcode, Halestorm, The Used, Sebastian Bach, Life of Agony, Tom Keifer, Jim Breuer and the Loud and Rowdy, Trixter, 10 Years, Bullet Boys, Citizen Zero, Doro, Legion, River Monsters, Dark Sky Choir, and as I said, the final area performance of Twisted F’n Sister.
I got a call from the founder and heart and soul of Twisted Sister, guitarist Jay Jay French, a few weeks ago, and bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza, to discuss the band’s final area farewell, as well as what is to become of him after the band retires, and his thoughts of rock’s current state. Here’s what J.J. had to say:
So, is this really the end for Twisted Sister? I mean after all, Twisted Sister did go away for a little while back in the ’90s and you came back as Bent Brother…
JAY JAY FRENCH: Well, we went away for 12 years. That wasn’t really a little while. That was a big while. We went away and never expected it to happen again, so when people ask me about it this time, I tell them the band’s history covers a 40-year span. That’s a long time and we’ve been through a lot. We have certainly learned some crazy lessons, but I think we’ve done just about everything that we wanted to do. So, there comes a point where you just go, “It’s time!” The band’s performances have been phenomenal. Our live show is the best it’s ever been. Now is the time to walk away.
MARK “THE ANIMAL” MENDOZA: What we’re doing really is retiring from the live shows. If TV shows came up or a movie part or appearances, I mean we’re still a band. We’re not dissolving the band. We’re just not doing the live concert circuit that we’ve been doing for the last 13 years.
You are the base of Twisted Sister and the founding member of the band, are you content with your accomplishments and your place in music history?
JJ: I don’t know what that is really. That will be written by people, and it’s hard for me to even know what that is. It’s extremely gratifying to talk about me or the band in that way. Like it’s a meaningful thing that what we created meant something to people. I think as a human being, if you can do something to impact someone’s life, that’s about the greatest accomplishment you can have…at least from our side. I mean you can also kill somebody, but I wouldn’t advise that. (laughs) But I’m talking about the beauty of art. You can create art that makes people feel better and so many people have said that we’ve done that and I guess there’s a certain satisfaction that one needs to take away from being told that. It’s very meaningful.
MM: Me personally? No. I always wanna do more.
I read somewhere that when the band eventually calls it a day, Dee Snider already stated he will continue as a solo act, but what’s to become of Jay Jay French and Mark “The Animal” Mendoza?
MM: Right now, I’m speaking with a couple of guys from other major bands that still wanna play and those bands aren’t available to play anymore. I can’t say who it is because of contract involved with the people. But it looks like we’ll be a band called Animal Tactics next year, and those people will be in that band with me and we’ll continue on doing maybe some originals, but especially old songs from the bands of the guys who are in that band. I love what I do, and I intend to keep playing. If you’re asking me my personal feelings on everything, I was the only guy in the band that didn’t want to retire. Jay Jay, Eddie and Dee, they don’t wanna do this anymore, but me? I’m gonna continue doing it. It’s in blood and I will do it till the day that I can’t do it anymore.
JJ: Well, I have a book to write, and I do mentoring and I do motivational speaking. And that’s the focus of me. Playing occasionally…I have a side project that’s a lot of fun with some really great musicians like the drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Michael Cartellone, the guitarist from Whitesnake, Joel Hoekstra, the producer for Joe Bonamassa, Bobby Helm on bass. We have a really great band and we play some shows here and there which is really fun to do, but as for touring and at the level we used to do it at, I don’t have much interest in doing that playing.
That’s pretty awesome! And Joel Hoekstra? Who isn’t he playing with?
JJ: Yeah, it’s kind of like Mike Portnoy. What band is he not playing with? The joke is he plays with The Beatles, Stones, Who, Zeppelin, Queen, Black Sabbath…(laughs)…Portnoy is just everywhere and God bless him for it!
Speaking of Portnoy, was he the obvious choice to fill A.J. Pero’s shoes when the band decided to head out on this Farewell Tour in A.J.’s honor?
JJ: Well, it became obvious by those circumstances that occur at those times when you least expect it. The day after A.J. died, I went down to the Starland Ballroom to appear with the guys from Adrenaline Mob. I had to play a song in A.J.’s memory and Mike Portnoy was there and the Winery Dogs were off the road and Mike came down because the guys from Adrenaline Mob, his former band, asked him to come down. We were both in the dressing room and I didn’t know Mike well at that point. We met at certain events but never sat down and talked, and here we were alone in this dressing room kind of crying our eyes out in disbelief. A.J. had just passed away and Mike just said, “Listen, I don’t know what your plans are, but I’m free if you need any help or if I can be of any help, let me know.” And I think it was that offer, at that moment that I kind of expressed to the other guys, Mike’s offer, and everyone said, “Ok!” At least we didn’t have to think about the option if we continued to go on. We know that it’s there and Mike has been fantastic!
I know there was a Twisted Sister documentary released back in February and a live DVD this past July, but has there been any talk about a Twisted Sister biography to be written?
JJ: No, nothing official. Somebody would have to spend a lot of time with it. It took eight years to put together that documentary of the first 10 years. Someone would have to spend the time and the money to do it. That 10-year story is kind of crazy, but when I tell what happened afterwards will make that look like nothing. What happened the next 10 years was even crazier. So…maybe one day.
MM: You mean a book? I don’t think the average person gives the shit about a book that listens to heavy metal music. I read books when I have time. I probably spend a third of the time watching TV, and the rest of it is reading, but I read. I just find that if you’re not in the industry or not a fanatic, the average cream cheese person or consumer does not give a shit about reading a book. They don’t sit still long enough, and I find that to be a huge problem. So, to put together a book, and try to sell it? I don’t know. I mean I always get told that me and Jay Jay tell the best stories and we should write a book, but Dee couldn’t even get his books to sell that well, you think anybody gives a shit about what I have to say?
Can you believe Twisted Sister is in the papers again here in 2016? Dee Snider’s acoustic rendition of your song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” with Criss Angel to help raise awareness pediatric cancer research and treatment reached over four million views on YouTube recently. That has to be something you must be proud of…
JJ: Well, it goes to a good cause, and the song itself is a great song. It’s become a folk song in a way. It’s ironic. We never did acoustic songs. Dee said to us, we’ll never play any of these songs acoustic ever! And he used make it a point saying it on stage by smashing an acoustic guitar, and saying, “For us to play a song acoustically, you’ll have to pull this guitar from my cold dead fingers!” Or some shit like that. So, I was kind of shocked that he hates acoustic so much, but at the end of the day, if it does something good, then that’s all that really matters.
There are many bands today who consider Twisted Sister a major influence musically and performance-wise. Who influenced you?
JJ: Well, I’m at the age where The Beatles were the epicenter of my life. I was 15 when Sgt. Pepper came out. That’s a great age to be, 15. That summer that Sgt. Pepper came out, so did Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? and The Doors’ debut album and Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale and The Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request came out in December of 1967. These are the records that formed my life. When you get into ’68 and ’69, you got Floyd, Zeppelin, The Who, AC/DC, Judas Priest, these bands were critical to my rock pace as I got older and we developed. David Bowie had an enormous effect on me. He changed my entire focus from a Grateful Dead fan to a glam guy. Lou Reed changed me a great deal, and then there were all the blues guys like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis.
If you’re asking me have I purchased a CD, a DVD or downloaded a current artist? The answer is no. I find some of the stuff interesting, but the longer you live, the longer you hear the repetitiveness of things. So, it’s hard to get excited about new stuff. But I’m a blues guy and I listen to blues all the time and blues is timeless. If you came to my house and said, “Well, here’s the new Katy Perry record,” I would give it a listen, but these records are constructed by producers in production houses with no human beings playing on them and it’s interesting, but we grew up with human beings playing on records. So, I have a problem with that, but I don’t discount their impact of any of these artists. People tend to forget that we tie our life history to music like the soundtrack to your life in many more ways than just having a hit record on the radio. Just ask yourself what record you played over and over again when you were depressed or what record made you really happy? Those will never change and you should never be embarrassed by it. Music is a potent energy force and we know that because we play around the world in 40 countries and people who don’t speak English, they sing our songs, which means it crosses cultures and language barriers and it makes people feel good.
MM: One of my favorite bands right now are the Winery Dogs and not because Mike Portnoy is in the band. I happened to really love the band before I knew Mike Portnoy. I love that type of rock and I love the Winery Dogs, but I also love a band called Super Vintage and Monster Truck. I love that root rock type of stuff. As for my influences, I like all of the typical hard rock bands. I’m an AC/DC fanatic. I love ZZ Top, just about any Van Halen, any Judas Priest, the list goes on and on, most of the Iron Maiden stuff. Those are the big bands, but I got my feel from, I grew up on Mountain and Humble Pie. That kind of stuff is where I get my feel from.
I’ve seen Twisted Sister a handful of times live and you’re still one of my top five favorite bands to see live. What are bands lacking these days in their live performance that you guys, even at your age, still have the knack for?
JJ: Have pride and entertainment. I think that a lot bands just don’t know how to do it anymore or they lost interest in it or don’t care and are just cashing a paycheck. I play with a lot of these bands at these festivals and they’re pretty much, eh, and I’m going, “Wow!” As long as you want to pay to see a band, what makes the band want to get better? Nothing! Really! The Stones are, God knows, horrible beyond horrible, but it doesn’t stop the fans from paying money to see them decompose in front of your very eyes. (laughs)
MM: I can tell you what I think it is, and some of the hardcore facts. Number one, we’re a well-oiled machine. We could not play for how many years, then get up at New York Steel and put on a show like we played yesterday. The band shows its professionalism when it comes to getting up and doing this stuff under the worst and best circumstances. To put it in terms of sports, Twisted Sister has the best quarterback in the world in Dee Snider. Twisted Sister and Dee Snider have the best linemen ever, and those linemen are the other four guys in Twisted Sister. That combination of songs, the energy, the band members and all of the craziness that goes on the stage is what works. You put these five guys together with this name and all of a sudden it’s magical and the event goes through the roof. It comes down to that and that’s probably what it is. We are entertainers!
With the Rock Carnival in October being Twisted Sister’s last area performance, I’m sure there will be some tricks up your sleeve to say good-bye to your fans…Any hints?
JJ: I tell people that the only thing you need to know is that we’re showing up! (laughs) That’s all you have to know because either we show up or we don’t. If we don’t, you lose out on seeing a great band and if we show up, you see a great band. There’s nothing more than that. Just be happy we’re playing. We can play 40 countries. We’re only playing 15 shows this year and the U.S. gets one and we’re happy to come here and play. That’s really it! The band is excellent at delivering great shows, which is really the key to all of it. It should just be a celebration of our fans and their enjoyment of what we do live and we do what we do because it’s all we know how to do. We don’t know how to do anything else but play at 10 all the time. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I have so many relatives coming to the show it’s disgusting. (laughs)
MM: I guess scheduling-wise and the rooms around New York City, we couldn’t make it work and Lakewood was the only show close enough to our real backyard. That was the only one that worked. Unlike most bands, we’re not a full-time band. No matter how big we are, it’s tough to make our schedules meet at the same time. It’s real tough, hence, the reason we don’t play that much since we’ve been back together. So, this is the closest we can get to New York.
One last question for you, Jay Jay…On a personal level, you always seem to be involved in charity work from helping the firemen and their children during 9/11 to a charity that is near and dear to your heart, The Pinkburst Project. Before we hang up, can you tell our readers about this one?
JJ: Well, the Pinkburst Project is named after my guitar and it’s to raise awareness to Uveitis, which is the leading cause of blindness in girls who have been diagnosed by the age of six. It’s not a curable disease, but it is a treatable disease and it’s a horrible disease. My daughter would be blind today if she wasn’t diagnosed early. The fluky test she was given in school, they didn’t even know what they were seeing. That’s how under the radar this disease is. If you get your kid diagnosed early and they treat it early, you’ll save your kid’s sight. Girls get it way more than boys get it. You can get it as an adult, but it’s much more devastating as a child because you have no pain as a child when you get the disease. So, you can have it for three years and the scarring in the Uvea lens, which is the middle lens of the eye, can be so damaging that you can’t correct it. My daughter was diagnosed after having it maybe for six months. She’s in drug induced remission. She’s on a very powerful anti-inflammatory drug and that’s, right now, the state of the medical advances for the disease. We raise a lot of money for the foundation and my daughter has her eyesight today because she was diagnosed early. So, I always urge parents, especially ones with daughters, to have them go for an eye exam just to make sure they don’t have this disease. You just have to be aware as a parent. Thank you for asking me because I do like to talk about it. Thank you! I appreciate it! You can learn more about the disease at uveitis.org.
Catch Jay Jay French and Mark “The Animal” Mendoza with Twisted Sister at the Rock Carnival in Lakewood, NJ on October 2 as they rock the Tri-State Area one last time before they ride off into the Rock ‘N’ Roll sunset. For more info on Twisted Sister, visit TwistedSister.com. For more info on this year’s Food Truck and Rock Carnival, visit TheRockCarnival.com.