Shortly after the release of TWISTED SISTER: Metal Meltdown Live at the Hard Rock Casino Las Vegas – A Concert to Honor A.J. Pero I had the opportunity to chat with guitarist and founding member Jay Jay French. I was really excited for this one because he’s a New York/Long Island boy made good. We touched on a lot of different subjects, too many to include in just one piece, so welcome to Part I of the A&GS conversation with Jay Jay French. Here he talks about the early days of the band, discovering SEVENDUST, and the sad passing away of longtime drummer and friend, A.J. Pero. Take a look:
Amps: The decision to do the TWISTED SISTER – Metal Meltdown live DVD, and do it with such gusto…was that a no-brainer, especially to honor A.J. Pero?
Jay Jay: I don’t know about that. We had negotiated the decision to do the DVD in February of 2015. When A.J. died in March, two months before the DVD was to be filmed we seriously questioned everything. “Do we do the DVD? Do we even play anymore?” The irony of the decision to go forward was that the day before A.J. passed away he and I had a serious conversation about the future of the band. We had gotten back together in 2001 and been seriously touring since 2003 thinking it was gonna last a year or two or three. Here it was 2015 and the band was still touring. We didn’t think it was gonna last this long, and we really didn’t have a desire to keep it going this long. And Dee Snider (vocals) said we should really call it a day in 2015. I called A.J. and I said to him, “This is it. This year is it. So, if you’re gonna play on other projects know that 2015 is it for TWISTED SISTER. In fact you should call your son if you’re gonna use him as a roadie.” Then I said, “I’ll see you Monday in New York.” And he said, “Look bro, my arm is bothering me, and I’m gonna do some rehab.” And when a drummer tells you his arm is bothering him, you don’t automatically assume he’s having a heart attack. But apparently he had one three days earlier and did not seek medical attention.
We always called each other Mr. French and Mr. Pero in our conversations, and this one was rather innocuous. He said, “Okay, Mr. French I’ll see you Monday.” And I said, “Yes, Mr. Pero.” And that was it. Twelve hours later I get a phone call that they found him on the bus unresponsive while touring with ADRENALINE MOB, then a half hour later he was pronounced dead. So, this called everything into question. We needed some time to think about everything. The next day I was asked to play the memorial concert with ADRENALINE MOB at Starland Ballroom, and Mike Portnoy came back to play this one. Mike and I were in the dressing room`commiserating, and understand, this is a day later, so we’re still in shock. Everyone’s in shock, crying, in total disbelief. So Mike said to me, “Hey, I don’t know if you guys are playing, not playing, or what you’ve decided to do. But understand if you’re interested at all, my obligations for the year are done. And I would be happy to help you out in any way.” Four days later, at the wake and funeral I told the guys that Mike offered his services, and everybody was like, “Unbelievable. Amazing!” and we got excited.
But even then the promoters and agents for the festival told us to take our time, because we were still stunned. Once we committed to this I said to Portnoy, “You realize your first show is gonna be a filmed DVD, right??” (laughs). But TWISTED’S been around a long time and we know how to do things. And Portnoy’s such a pro, he knows the songs as good, maybe better than us. And you can see on the DVD he did a hell of a job.
Amps: When A.J. passed we were all sad. I immediately had to do a Classic Albums segment on Stay Hungry. I simply HAD to. Because I listened to the band since I was 10 or 11 years old.
Jay Jay: Well, thank you. A.J.’s drum fill on “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is one of the Top Five drum intros inthe history of rock and roll. When you hear it, there’s only one thing it could be. A.J. wrote one of the most iconic intros in the history of all rock music. It is always humbling to hear that we had an impact on someone’s life. I think that’s the best compliment you can get as a musician.
Amps: After the Rock Carnival in New Jersey, what’s next as far as shows?
Jay Jay: I think there’s a Mexico show. At this point I’m just waiting for confirmation. Either way, we stop this year. But that doesn’t mean we might not be playing somewhere December 30, who knows? Right now the Jersey show is the last one listed, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.
Amps: Also, thank you for introducing the world to SEVENDUST back in ’96-’97.
Jay Jay: Yeah, I know those guys for a long time. And I was excited when they got together. They kind of combined two bands called SNAKE NATION and BODY & SOUL. I said to the guys in SNAKE NATION, “If you ever get a singer like that guy,” and I was referring to Lajon (Witherspoon, vocals), “gimme a call.”
About five years later I get a call from the guys in ’95 and they said, “Guess what? We GOT that guy.” I said, “You’re kidding me. I’m retired from the music industry. I have a kid, I’m out of the business completely. I’m sorry. My wife won’t let me do it, so forget it.” They said, “No, man you don’t understand. We’re really good!” So I booked them some shows`in New York City. They came up and Holy Christ, they were amazing! We did a demo, shopped it, got a deal 20 years ago in summer of ’96. And in fact, 20 years ago this week we mixed the debut album. How’s that for timing? Then they released it in April ’97 and “Black” and “Bitch” became the #1 and #2 metal songs of the year on college radio. They were a great band, still are a great band, and they’re still kicking ass 20 years later. Which brings me a lot of pride. You know, TWISTED SISTER has been around for 40 years, SEVENDUST has lasted 20. This is a business that does not have longevity as its calling card. So, I’m very proud of that band.
Amps: Have you thought about doing that with any other bands?
Jay Jay: No. Not anymore. The music business is horrible. I tell everybody, “Stay away from it and learn how to code. And screw the music industry.” But when I do get bands that come to me, what I say to them is, “Well how many gigs have you played?” “Oh, we’ve played about 20.” I say, “Yeah? When you get to 500, call me.” They say, “We’ll never get to 500.” And I respond with, “Then don’t call me. I won’t know how good you are till you hit 500 shows. So call me then.” And that ends the conversation right there. Because TWISTED SISTER had played around 4,000 shows by the time we got a record deal. And that’s why the band is good. Because we learned our craft, we learned how to entertain. People say, “It’s amazing how you guys get up in front of 100,000 people like it’s nothing.” It’s not nothing. It’s called “training.” We know how to play to 100,000 people, we know how to entertain them. They have fun, and we can do it. There are very few bands who can. Maybe 20 of ’em, MAYBE.
Our skills were forged in the fire of the bar scene. And that bar scene doesn’t exist anymore. The drinking age back in those days was 18. When it was that age, 15-year olds got in with fake proof. So, imagine the pool of kids you had, it was HUGE. Consequently, the clubs were huge. That doesn’t exist anymore. We played clubs that typically held 3,000-5,000 people for you to do cover material. Doesn’t exist anymore (laughs). We were at the right place at the right time with the right circumstances that allowed us to learn our craft and be really good.
(WELL SAID, JAY JAY. AND WITH THAT, STAY TUNED FOR PART II, COMING SOON!!)