In Part II of our conversation with TWISTED SISTER’S Jay Jay French, he tells us what it was like growing up in a time when rock and roll ruled the world. He also muses on the state of the music industry today, and gives us insight into his business life outside of music. So here it is…Jay Jay French Part II:
Amps: Away from music for one second, what do you like to do that’s not guitar-related?
Jay Jay: I write a business column for Inc. Magazine. You can read my articles there, I’m a featured writer. I do some keynote speeches, business consulting and entrepreneurial development. This is what I do for a living, so that’s Jay Jay French. On the music side of things I encourage artists who I really like, but I do it in a benevolent way. If I see an artist I really think has something going I’ll talk to them a little bit. But the problem in the industry, especially the rock side of it, is there’s no “there” anymore.
Amps: No “there”…can you explain that in more detail?
Jay Jay: There’s no record sales, no radio play, and that’s a real problem. Because it’s not enough to say “Rock is dead.” How can it be dead? TWISTED SISTER, WHITESNAKE, JUDAS PRIEST, SCORPIONS, AC/DC, all play shows to hundreds of thousands of people a night all over the world. Well, here’s the problem with that. All those bands I listed are 60 years old. That’s the problem. When I was 17 years old THE BEATLES, THE STONES, THE WHO, LED ZEPPELIN, PINK FLOYD, CREAM, etc…they were no older than 26 when I was 17. We had hundreds and hundreds of 25-year old spectacular rock musicians that controlled the world. Well, if I asked you to name me a 26-year old rock musician that’s lighting the world on fire, you and I would be sitting here for a long time in silence. Now, you can name me 26-year old Hip-Hop artists that are huge, no problem. 26-year old Country artists, no problem. Female Pop stars? No problem. This is not about whether you like Hip-Hop, or Pop, or Country. It’s an acknowledgment of the energy today and where things are.
So, for the people who are conspiratorial saying, “Oh, they’re keeping our music down!” that’s nonsense. People wanna make money, they don’t care how it comes. It just so happens that the 26-year old rock star doesn’t exist. And until they exist, the 17-year old dreamer is not gonna have someone to look up to. They’re not looking up to 60-year old guys. If I told my mother when I was 17 that I was seeing a band of 60-year old guys she would have thought I was crazy.
SEVENDUST is an extraordinary band, but they’re 40-50 years old now. AVENGED SEVENFOLD and SLIPKNOT, they’re a new generation of band. Those guys are mid-to-late 30’s, not 25. To think that all those 1960’s bands were 25 years old when they were making those records, it’s mind-blowing, don’t you think?
Now, on the commercial side of things, why should I complain? It makes me more valuable. Everybody wants KISS, JUDAS PRIEST, TWISTED SISTER, SCORPIONS, etc…So we’re the beneficiaries of this bizarre state of affairs. It’s weird, man. I say to myself, “This is just a strange set of circumstances right now.”
Amps: So with that in mind, what are you listening to nowadays?
Jay Jay: I don’t listen to music. I listen to Talk Radio all the time. I listen to Political Talk Radio and Sports Talk. That’s the majority of my time. When I do listen to music it’s the Hamilton soundtrack. It’s absolutely brilliant. When I’m not listening to that I’m listening to Blues records. Most stuff people recommend to me doesn’t stick with me, so I go back to my old Blues albums. I’m an Albert King fanatic. I love Memphis Slim, B.B. King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, that stuff is timeless. The list goes on and on. There is a timelessness to that music that makes me happy.
And obviously THE BEATLES, THE WHO, FLOYD, LED ZEPPELIN, etc. It’s said that the music that you listened to from age 12 to 20 tends to be the music you listen to for the rest of your life, which is very true. I spent my youth at The Fillmore East seeing Jeff Beck, THE YARDBIRDS with LED ZEPPELIN as an opening band, Jimi Hendrix, GRATEFUL DEAD a million times. I was able to wallow in this ridiculously phenomenal music that cost nothing to see.
Tickets to The Fillmore then were $3, and if you missed a band you went to Schaeffer music Festival in Central Park and saw them for $1, $1.50. I saw ZEPPELIN and Jimi Hendrix there for $1.
But you could see a band at The Fillmore four times a weekend for their 8 pm and 11 pm shows at $3 a pop. For $12 you could see them four times!! People who saw TWISTED SISTER back in the day will say they saw us every week at Speaks on Long Island or Hole In the Wall, or The Silk Factory, and how much were those tickets? $4. And you saw some great bands. Because back then there were a lot of cover bands who sounded better than the bands they were covering.
Jay Jay: ZEBRA was better than LED ZEPPELIN because by that time ZEPPELIN was awful live. People don’t realize how bad they were by the end. In 1977 we couldn’t give tickets away to see them at MSG. People would rather see ZEBRA! And I guarantee you bands like THE CRYSTAL SHIP did THE DOORS better than THE DOORS. It was a weird world before they were known as tribute bands, and we didn’t have an association with any one band. We did PRIEST, AC/DC, and our own stuff in our own crazy way. The fans who grew up with us will talk about it the same way I talk about The Fillmore East.
Amps: What would you like to say to all the TWISTED SISTER fans out there?
Jay Jay: It’s because of you, the fans, you’ve allowed me to live out a dream that I never thought was possible. And I never take it for granted. So to those of you who have benefited by enjoying the music, I want you all to know that I benefited by your support. It’s given me a life that I never dreamed of, so thank you.
Jay Jay French has lived quite the rock and roll life. His unique insight and pull-no-punches attitude when it comes to talking about the industry then vs. now is the stuff I could listen to for hours on end. This was one of the most affecting conversations I’ve ever had in the almost four years A&GS has been running, and I am so glad it happened. And don’t forget to grab TWISTED SISTER: Metal Meltdown Live at the Hard Rock Casino Las Vegas – A Concert to Honor A.J. Pero if you haven’t already!