When Twisted Sister was full touring and racking up hits like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” guitarist Jay Jay French felt justified for the decade he had spent playing in bars and clubs and playing in bars and clubs. work on his rock’n’roll dreams.
And when bitterness and bankruptcy broke the band a few years later? French fell so far that he found himself working at the cemetery in a friend’s billiard room, moving to provide for his family until he could prepare a second act.
“Working in the pool hall was the first level of humiliation,” said French, 69, in a recent call from his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “But I didn’t have time to dwell on this (thing).
“It’s like, what are you going to do?” Kill yourself he says. “It’s like, move the (beep) with your life.”
His next job, at a high-end audio store, was a small step forward.
“I was like, ‘OK, I’m married, I have a child. I had a rock’n’roll dream, and it ended, ”he says. “It’s time to move on, you know, you can’t really dwell. “
Sometimes at night, however, as he swept after hours, French said he wondered if that was it.
“I started to feel a ‘Death of a Salesman’ sort of thing,” he says, referring to the downcast and deceived protagonist of Arthur Miller’s iconic play. “I was Willy Loman, I was like, ‘Is that really how it goes? Will you be nothing but a stereo salesman? “
“Twisted Business: Lessons From My Rock ‘N’ Roll Life” is the story of a high school dropout turned teenage drug dealer who left him to form a glam-metal band.
It’s the story of how a bar band in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut struggled for mainstream success for years, then won it, and then it all. see it disappear.
And it’s also a chronicle of how French finally realized his talent for business was equal to that for music, a discovery that led to reuniting Twisted Sister, a career as a motivational speaker, and now a book that mixes memory and business advice.
“I decided it would come from a business perspective because that’s how I saw my position in the rock world – through a business lens,” French explains. “And that would be unusual because most people don’t realize it.
“Most people have a soft spot for, you know, rock and roll musicians are successful because you make a deal with the devil or something. You know, sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, fairy dust. Somehow, as if by magic, it all turns out.
“And that might be the case for some people, but for me it was a methodical process.”
The hustle and bustle of the street
Looking back, French can trace his interest in business back to his childhood in the early 1960s, when he realized he could make enough money selling cookies to buy a $ 25 guitar.
“My dad was a jewelry seller, and look, if you’re a kid from New York and your dad is a seller, there’s a certain shtick, some kind of ebb and flow,” French says. “Especially in New York, because New York, you know, operates at a pretty fast pace.
“And my father, he knew that, and he would expose me to it,” he said. “It’s almost like ‘Guys and Dolls’, you know, that Damon Runyon kind of arrogance. That’s what I grew up with, and so did all my friends.
“Most of my friends were all into scams and all kinds of scams. I sold firecrackers before I sold Boy Scout cookies, and didn’t enter the drug scene until I was 15.
It was around this time, French says, that he realized he could make a lot more money selling marijuana to other hippies in Central Park and using it to buy a better guitar. .
“What I was like was, ‘I have to raise funds to buy guitars and amps and fund my rock’n’roll dreams,” he says. “So I could go to the Fillmore whenever I want, see any show I want. It was kind of the mentality behind it.
And that is exactly what he did over the next five years: selling drugs, taking drugs, attending shows by new bands such as Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, and David Bowie.
And finally, a heroin overdose, a wake-up call that led him to stop everything at 20 and refocus on rock’n’roll.
Work on a dream
After auditioning for Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley but not landing a spot in costumed metal band Kiss, French crossed the Hudson River to New Jersey to join the band that became Twisted Sister.
Alcohol and drugs drove the first two versions of the band to fall apart, leaving French, the last founder standing in the mid-1970s, looking for musicians like singer Dee Snider who were like him: clean, sober and addicted only to making it big.
“The moment Dee joins, I’m like, ‘I’ve had it, I’ve had it, I don’t trust alcohol or anything,'” French says. “Like, that’s it: right, right, right, right.
“Dee says, ‘I’ve never been high in my life.’ You’re my kind of guy, ”he says. “(Mark) Mendoza joins the bass, he says ‘(beep) drugs, (beep) alcohol, I hate them all.'”
For the remainder of the decade, Twisted Sister played multiple sets five or six nights a week at clubs that hosted 3,000 or more, huge venues fueled by an 18-year-old drinking age at the time. The record companies rejected them over and over again, but the clubs paid enough to keep the band going.
“You know, when you can have 3,000 people, 4,000 people yelling at you at night, telling you you’re awesome, you can get over that letter of rejection,” French says. “And we’ve had the flexibility and the luxury of that for several years.”
In 1982, after a few false starts, Twisted Sister finally signed the deal with a major label he had been seeking for a decade, signing with Atlantic Records even though its president hated the band and refused to spend any money promoting it. .
No matter. Two years later, fueled in part by the strong turnover of MTV’s music videos for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” the group’s second album for Atlantic, and third overall, was a resounding success, eventually reaching triple platinum.
Three years later, Twisted Sister broke up.
The French didn’t stay that long in the stereo store. As the owner of the brand and name of the band, he began republishing Twisted Sister’s catalog and authorizing his music for commercials in the early 90s. Yet the bad blood of the breakup made reunion impossible. .
And then the terrorist attacks of September 11 took place. A metal benefit concert was launched. Twisted Sister agreed to play.
And everyone – French, Snider, Mendoza, guitarist Eddie Ojeda and drummer AJ Pero – got along really well. A unique reunion turned into 15 years of touring, a Christmas album and other projects.
French met his co-author, leadership expert and motivational speaker Steve Farber, at a business conference in 2009. Soon, at Farber’s request, French began speaking at conferences and groups, too. , business lessons he learned from rock ‘n’ roll.
The idea to make a book came soon after: “The progression of speaking activity is: ‘Where is your book?’ French says. “Everyone has a book.
A business theory – something to organize the book around – came to him during a long walk. The TWISTED method, as the French called it, emphasizes the role of tenacity, wisdom, inspiration, stability, confidence, excellence and discipline to succeed in business.
“I said, ‘So why did I succeed? “, Says French. “I was tenacious. I was smart. I was inspired. I was stable. I had a group of trustworthy people around me. And we have succeeded through excellence and discipline.
“None of those things come up when you talk about rock and roll bands,” he says. “Most people think most guys in heavy metal are just dope.
“And we’re not dope, or at least I’m not a dope. There is a method behind the madness.
Jay Jay French events
Sunday September 26: French will sign in person at Barnes & Noble at The Grove, 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. The event is at 2 p.m., bracelets will be distributed from 10 a.m. Phone: 323-525-0270
Monday September 27: French will be in conversation with co-author Steve Farber at a virtual event hosted by Book Soup in West Hollywood. Go to crowdcast.io/e/jay-jay-french to register