Step back with us, please, to 1984; Paul McCartney gets dinged for possession of cannibis in Barbados, Carl Lewis collects four Olympic gold medals, Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first woman to receive a major-party nomination for Vice President, and late that spring, glam-rockers Twisted Sister released their watershed album, Stay Hungry. The band had been playing the club circuit in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut for a decade before its lineup solidified with front man Dee Snider, guitarists Jay Jay French and Eddie Ojeda, bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza, and drummer A.J. Pero.
Though its Bowie-/Hoople-/Stones-/Dolls-style jams and raucous stage show enjoyed a very strong following, record labels shied away from the band. In the U.K., however, Secret Records, a tiny indie label that focused on punk bands, saw sparks in the TS approach, and backed the band for its first full-length album, 1982’s Under the Blade. Through no fault of the band, Secret Records folded in ’83. But, the album drew enough attention that Atlantic Records’ branch in England signed the band for its 1983 follow-up, You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll.
In 1984, the band’s fortunes changed. You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll had done well enough sales-wise (despite no label support in the U.S.) that Atlantic finally became convinced to give the band a shot at the big-time. Launched upon a music market dominated by Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., and Prince’s Purple Rain, Stay Hungry made impressive headway with its lead-off hit single “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and a video in heavy rotation on MTV. It cracked the Billboard Top 20 albums chart and ultimately sold more than six million copies. French and Ojeda took it all in, riding an early-’80s upswing of anti-establishment music they helped propel to full-on rock spectacle that played to packed arenas and stadiums.
Today, Twisted Sister is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Stay Hungry, and in testament to the power of an anthemic rock hook combined with a healthy dose of nostalgia, the band is headlining some the biggest hard-rock and metal festivals in the world. There have also been also TV appearances, including last month on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends.”
“That’s right!” French exclaimed. “Marshall amps turned to 11 on 6th Avenue and 48th Street at 8 a.m.!”
We talked with French and Ojeda to learn more about the making of Stay Hungry, its effects both personal and far-reaching, what it was like atop the steamroller that was heavy metal in the early ’80s, and what it’s like to be back on top.
Stay Hungry was Twisted Sister’s third album. As it came together – through writing and recording, etc. – what was the vibe compared to the first two albums, Under the Blade and You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll?
Jay Jay French: There was change in the air that you could feel. We had toured all over the U.S. in rented cars and vans during most of 1983, supporting You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll. We never had any idea how many copies of that album were being sold; MTV had just started and we got some coverage with the video of the title track. We had two Top 20 singles in the U.K. – “I Am, I’m Me” and “The Kids Are Back,” but we never did a video for either, and we couldn’t know what was building.
Eddie Ojeda: I remember how great it was to finally get signed to Atlantic in England – despite the American office not being too happy about it (laughs)! One Atlantic guy in the U.S. – Jason Flom – wanted to sign us, and he kept bothering [Atlantic president] Doug Morris until Doug said, “If you mention Twisted Sister one more time, you’re fired!”
JJF: I met Doug in December of 1983. He had gone on record as hating us and despised the fact he had to release You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll in America because it became a hit in the U.K. He had to finally admit that the album had sold over 100,000 copies in the U.S. without any support from the label, told me that he was wrong about us, and that he was ready to make us “One of the biggest bands in the world,” if we gave him the right song and video. I thought he was full of s**t, and I remember walking out of the meeting and telling my family that I’d just been lied to. But, we made the right record, the right video, and Doug pulled the trigger. And I’m here talking about it 30 years later because of it.
How important was producer Tom Werman’s input on Stay Hungry?
JJF: Bringing Tom onboard, and the process by which Stay Hungry was recorded, is a chapter unto itself. Tom and I are good friends, but that can’t be said about Tom and Dee. Tom was super hot at the time – he had hit albums for Motley Crue, Cheap Trick, and Nugent – and we were all blown away that Doug got him. It seemed the perfect time. Tom, however, wasn’t crazy about our songs, and came in with some Saxon songs for us to consider. Dee didn’t take that very well, and even though all of Dee’s songs made the album, he never forgave Tom for this lack of support.
Their personal dynamic created some tension?
JJF: The vibe in the studio was not good for most of the two months; Tom and Dee stayed away from each other most of the time. The engineer, Jeff Workman, did most of the recording with Dee.
Was everyone pleased as the songs came together?
EO: I remember being pretty excited listening to the rough demos in the car, even though Tom was a bit “complainy” (laughs). I tried to look at the positive side of everything, but, of course, Dee had to spend more time in the studio with him, which definitely had an influence. I like the way the record sounds, some other guys in the band have never been that happy with it, but the proof is in the pudding.
JJF: At the end of the day, it sounds like a Werman-produced album. All of his work has a sound, and that sound sold millions of records. Radio loved it.
How was Tom’s approach different from that of Pete Way and Stuart Epps on the previous albums?
EO: Pete was more a “supporter” in the studio – a bit absent at times. I think he was more interested in going to the pub then hanging out with us (laughs).
JJF: Yeah, we loved Pete, but all he did was be a cheerleader. Most of the songs on Under the Blade had been performed and recorded in some way or another in the four years leading up to our recording deal with Secret Records. We knew how the songs were supposed to sound, and just needed a label to help us re-record them and push it out. Mark Mendoza did most of the work.
Stu Epps was really good, technically, and got along really well with all of us. You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll was the last effort where we were all in the studio, pushing each other to do better. The vibe was “us against the world,” and the last song we recorded, “I Am, I’m Me,” was amazing to behold; it was arranged and recorded in one day with our label chief, Phil Carson, president of Atlantic Records in the U.K., at the session. To watch it happen in front of our eyes, then watch the song become a hit, was one of the finest moments of the history of the band.
EO: Yeah, Stu was great to work with.
What were your go-to guitars for Stay Hungry?
JJF: I used a ’78 Gibson Les Paul that had been painted pink by a local luthier named Steve Carr – not the Steve Carr of Carr amps. It weighed about 11 pounds – more a weapon than an instrument, but it was my main guitar. I also I had an Ibanez Destroyer repainted by Steve. Those had been my main guitars for years, and both had DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups.
EO: I played mostly my Charvels – the ’83 bullseye guitar that was one of the first made by Grover Jackson, and the Twisted Sister logo guitar. I got the bullseye in a music store called Gracin’s, on Long Island. The guy said, “Hey, there’s this company in Los Angeles making custom guitars…” So I asked for something with pink and black circles. I wasn’t expecting a bullseye, and I wasn’t sure how much I liked it at first, but I loved the way it played and sounded, and it became part of who I am.
Do you still have them?
EO: I don’t have the original bullseye; I wore it out – it had been re-fretted three times. When I asked Grover about re-fretting it again, he said, “I think it’s time to just go put that guitar to bed.” So, I sold it in 1989. I thought, “You know, I’m not going to use it,” and there was a guy who kept asking me for it. I told him it wasn’t really playable, but he made a good offer. I was pissed at the band at the time, and I had bills. The band had broken up and it didn’t go well.
By the time the band got back together in the late ’90s, Wayne Charvel had started making guitars again, and his son, Michael, told me he wanted to do a bullseye. It was perfect timing, and he nailed it – it looks exactly like the original. I’ve had it for 11 years now and never had to re-fret it.
JJF: Yes, I do; the ’78 tobaccoburst Les Paul that was painted pink – the original pinkburst – as well as the ’74 Ibanez Destroyer which was repainted black with “Twisted Sister” on the headstock and a pearl inlay of a dragon are still in my possession.
Which amps and effects did you use on Stay Hungry?
JJF: We started the recording at the Record Plant, in New York, using our own Marshalls, which were a combination of 50- and 100-watt heads that we bought over the previous six years. When we opened for Judas Priest in 1980, we were blown away by their tone. They used stacked 50-watt heads, so we went out and bought six non-Master-Volume heads shortly after that show. In my opinion, our best stage tone was with those three heads and three Model 1960 bottoms on each side of the stage.
In mid January of ’84, we moved to Cherokee Studios, in Los Angeles, where we had a hard time with some Marshalls we rented. Tom asked Andy Brauer to help us get a “better” guitar tone, and he brought in these Dumble amps. Andy raved about how good they were. Well… not for a metal band, sorry! Voxes and Fenders and the custom clones just don’t have the tone of a Marshall, it’s that simple. So, we insisted that our amps be flown in to L.A.
As a collector of guitars and amps, I now appreciate and acknowledge the legend of Dumble, but it just wasn’t our sound.
EO: Workman always brought in great effects, though. For “The Price,” he suggested using a chorus for the clean sound – an MXR, I think. I’d always go with whatever he suggested.
How did “We’re Not Gonna Take It” develop?
EO: For most of the songs, Dee would have a melody in his head and he’d rough-out the chords, then he and I would work out the arrangements, get the parts down, then show them to the guys.
JJF: Dee came to rehearsal with about 18 songs. We all learned verse/chorus/verse/chorus of each song, then recorded them at Ninos Studios, in Baldwin, Long Island. We then each took a cassette home and listed, in order, our 10 favorite songs. Dee still has the charts from that voting process!
Dee had already done the arrangement for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” so the beginning would sound almost identical to the way “Cum on Feel The Noize” opens – later, people come up to me and Dee all the time and say, “I love your band and that great song, ‘Cum on Feel The Noize.’ (Ed. Note: In late 1983, Quiet Riot had scored a Top 5 hit with a cover of the 1973 Slade song.) It was kind of funny and embarrassing at the same time! But, we arranged all the songs on the album together, which is why the credits on the album read, “All songs arranged by Twisted Sister.” I’m sure that, in some cases, a band member came up with some specific idea.
Do you recall thinking it stood out for any reason?
JJF: I just thought it was another very commercial Dee-type anthem, the kind he has written since our first single, “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now.”
Who came up with the descending riff in the intro of the song?
EO: I’m not sure if Dee sang it to me or what, but it’s one of those lines – kinda funny, but really catchy. Dee always came up with good melodies, and I liked helping him with them.
Was there anything different about how any of the songs on the album were recorded?
JJF: They were all done in the same manner – bass and drums were laid down in about four days, Dee would do scratch vocals, then guitars were overdubbed. The first thing we did was double-track rhythms to create four tracks of rhythm on every song – then we’d do the solos.
EO: Later, as we got closer to deadline, Tom had me re-do the rhythm-guitar tracks for each song.
JJF: I remember doing a lead for “I Wanna Rock,” but Werman didn’t like it, so he had Eddie re-do it. Werman didn’t tell me about it, and I only found out after the album was done. Geoff Workman, the engineer, was non-confrontational, he simply did his job during the mixes, then Tom would select one thing over another. I have no ego about it.
After Tom finished the tracks, Dee would do lead vocals, alternating days with guitar overdubs, so he could rest in-between. We also used several backup singers, including Mick Brown and Jeff Pilson, from Dokken. In the documentary History of the Eagles: The Story of an American Band, Timothy B. Schmitt says he sang on the album because he was doing a lot of studio vocal sessions in L.A. at the time. But, neither Werman or Dee have any recollection that he was on it!
Eddie, did you do some vocal harmonies?
EO: Yeah, I was there with Mick and Jeff, and most of the time we’d do three-part. Sometimes, it was just me and Dee doing two-part, but there was very little of that because when you do background harmonies, you want them thick, so you get a couple extra guys to help.
The guitar solo on the song is pretty distinctive. How was it recorded?
EO: For that, Werman set up a Fender Twin or a Pro and a Marshall, some crazy distortion pedal, and he and Geoff said, “Let’s do something with a wah…” With all the effects, I remember it sounded like a Boeing 707 taking off – the biggest, loudest hiss. Somehow, they were able to record it without the noise.
The first one I played was just a jam, because it was thrown at me on short notice, so I didn’t have time to compose anything. After the second take, they said, “That’s it!” It took all of 10 minutes – less time than it took to set up the amps and effects. It’s one of those where I hit it on the first couple of tries and didn’t have to spend hours trying to improve on it.
How did you develop the two-guitar sound of Twisted Sister?
JJF: I met Eddie in 1969 when I transferred to his high school after being thrown out of mine for handing out an underground newspaper, and we immediately bonded over music – Led Zeppelin’s first album had just come that January, and we had a “band” that used to meet after school to jam on songs from that album.
I asked Eddie to join Twisted Sister in October of ’75, when I reassembled the band. We bought matching guitars and amps – I always had this idea of stage symmetry and tone. We have been together onstage for the better part of 39 years.
What was your overall approach to working up leads, specifically?
JJF: Over the years, we came to instinctively know what style worked for which songs; I always seemed to play the solo on the title tracks and Eddie played the solos on all the singles except, “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll.” His solos on “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “I Wanna Rock,” and “The Price” are legendary. His greatest strength is his exacting technical proficiency. We are very different in that way. You could say that I’m a free-form player; catch me at the right time and the results can be great. Eddie can, like all great session players, be relied upon to excel under pressure. Eddie also writes lead parts that actually relate to the song, because both of us came out of the era where great players – Kossoff, Page, Hendrix, Mick Taylor, Clapton, etc. – actually cared that the leads made a real melodic statement in the context of the songs. Fans actually sing Eddie’s solos! He never got the credit he deserves for his playing on many of the songs on Stay Hungry – the press was way too much about Dee, and not about the players. So, I’m declaring, on behalf of the band – 30 years later – our admiration for Eddie’s playing, for and on the record!
Did you ever get sick of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or “I Wanna Rock,” given how much they were played on radio and MTV at the time?
JJF: Not the songs, but the videos caused us lots of image problems, which we didn’t recover from the first time around. Anyone who plays in front of 50,000 screaming fans who are singing your song and says, “It’s just a job” or that it’s boring… well, they should retire. It’s one of the greatest rushes in the world, and we get to do it every summer. We are very grateful to have this life!
EO: Some guys get sick of playing their hit songs, but I never did. They’re so straightforward – fun, anthemic, and the crowd went crazy when we played them, and it still does. What’s not to like?
Why do you think they’ve had such staying power?
EO: Any hit song has that catch phrase – maybe a chorus that sticks in your head. Some may be heavier, some lighter, but a hook is a hook. Our songs were big anthems that anybody can sing along to and have fun with.
JJF: Pop culture is impossible to predict. I remember being in England in 1989, and I was watching TV when a commercial came on for Mars candy bars or Tide detergent or something, and the music was Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” Because that commercial exposed the song to a whole new audience, it went to #1 on the British charts that year – a song from 1962.
At the time, I was involved in a lawsuit following Twisted Sister’s disbanding in 1988, and because I saw that commercial, I made a bold prediction in court. I said that in 10 years, Tide detergent will probably want to license “We’re Not Gonna Take It” for a commercial and that may be the time to put the band back together. Well, 10 years to the month of that prediction, Comtrex Nasal Spray licensed the song. Since then, there have been more than 100 commercials, TV shows, movie trailers, soundtracks, and video games that have featured our songs, and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” has become the ultimate anthem of the disenfranchised. It’s used and sung around the world, and it’s amazing to watch arenas and stadiums packed to the gills – the crowds we play to in the summer are 50,000 to 80,000 fans, singing along with us.
It has become somewhat ubiquitous…
JJF: In 2013 and ’14, it was the theme song for Betty White’s TV show, “Off Their Rockers,” and it was on national radio for Extended Stay America Hotels, on Canadian TV for KFC, online in the U.S. for a huge promotion for Hornitos Tequila, and we just licensed it to the National Geographic Channel. The song has given us an amazing ride, and licensing is an important way to keep our music in the public conscience. There’s no money left in selling records, so licensing is a lucrative revenue stream, and we re-recorded – and own – all of our hits.
At its peak, Stay Hungry sold 78,000 units in one day…
JJF: In July of ’84, it outsold all Warner Music artists except Prince.
EO: Yeah, it was number 10 on Billboard when Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Prince’s Purple Rain were also on the charts. Cracking the top 10 at the time was pretty difficult, so the fact Stay Hungry made it for two or three weeks was a pretty amazing.
What’s your fondest memory of touring in support of the album?
EO: Playing the U.S. and Canada as the supporting act for Iron Maiden in ’84 or ’85. The whole thing was just great; we got along with the Maiden guys really well and it was one of those things where, when we went onstage, it was the real thing. Sometimes, opening acts get to play when the place is half empty, but when our lights went up at 8 o’clock, the place was packed – every seat was taken. So, we knew people were coming to see us too, it wasn’t just to see Maiden. It was a good matchup, and Maiden loved it because we would get the crowd so worked up that they would come out there and kill it.
JJF: For me, the irony of the success of Stay Hungry was directly connected to my father, who died the day the album went platinum. All during the summer and early fall of ’84 he was battling cancer and I would fly home every Sunday to see him. Sometime around the beginning of October, the album was nearly platinum. My brother called one day to tell me dad wasn’t going to make it much longer, so I asked the record company to rush a platinum album to him. I returned October 21st, planning to take him home from the hospital. He hugged me and my brother, told us he loved us, went back to his bed there in the hospital, laid down, and died.
Unbeknownst to me, the platinum album had been delivered a week earlier, and my wife took a photo of him holding it proudly. In all the craziness, she forgot to tell me that he got it, but when we got the photos back (from processing), in the pile was the shot of him holding the album. He died knowing that all that work had paid off, and I still tear up every time I tell the story.
Do you recall a funny or quirky story from those days?
EO: There are a lot of them, but I especially remember the time someone threw human feces at the band onstage at the 1982 festival in Redding, England. Dee goes into detail on it in our VH1 “Behind The Music” episode.
JJF: I had been playing Les Pauls almost exclusively since I bought my first one – a ’54 Junior – from a kid in Central Park on May 1, 1970. I paid $275, which was way too much at that time. I then owned about 20 different Les Pauls by the time we were signed to Atlantic.
Anyway, in 1985, I went to the NAMM show as a bona fide rock star. I walked up to the Gibson booth and proudly informed them that I, Jay Jay French from the multi-platinum band Twisted Sister, have been a Les Paul player for 15 years and it was about time I had a real endorsement. Whoever I spoke with asked me where I lived. I said, “Manhattan,” and he said “Do you know the stores on 48th street?” I told him, “Of course! I’ve been buying guitars on 48th Street since 1966.” He said “Cool! Go there when you want to buy another one, because they have great retail prices.”
Basically, he told me to get lost. I was so angry I would’ve switched to a Kent or Silvertone at that point! And I vowed to never again play a Gibson.
About 30 minutes later, I was walking down another aisle and was introduced to Mark Dronge, who at the time was president of Guild Guitars. I told him what had just happened; he was dumbstruck and said, “We will be your new company if you’re interested.” And I played nothing but Guilds for the next two years.
Years later, while managing Sevendust, I met Jim Rosenberg, from Epiphone, and told him the story. He was stunned, and not only did he bring me into the Epiphone family, he made me my own model. Jim, my Epiphone rep, Cara Hogan, and Gibson presidents Henry Juszkiewicz and Dave Berryman have become good friends.
Talk about some of the gigs you’ve played this summer.
EO: It’s been very interesting, The retro thing is so big now – a lot of bands from that era are popular again, and in some cases, like us, even more so than before. I mean, we’re headlining festivals for 30,000 to 80,000 people – big shows. Back in the day we were usually third or fourth on a bill. It’s pretty awesome to be doing this after so long. To see the enthusiasm and excitement in people, it’s like it’s 1985 all over again.
JJF: We are playing in Oklahoma, New Jersey, Denmark, England, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Austria, The Faroe Islands, Belgium, and Canada and finishing up our touring year in NYC on September 5th at the Best Buy theater.
What’s the story on the Adam Horn documentary, Twisted Fu%#&in Sister?
It tells the story about how we got a record deal. Every band’s story is different, but I can state with assurance, that the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Zep, Floyd, Queen, AC/DC, Kiss, Sabbath, etc. could not have lasted as long as an unsigned band. All of them except the Beatles were signed to deals within 18 months of their creation. It took us 10 years, and it’s a story of perseverance like no other!
Jay Jay, in the April ’11 issue, we featured a collection of guitars and amps you had custom-finished for an auction to benefit The Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation, which is helping your daughter, Samantha, in her struggles with that autoimmune condition. What’s the latest on her and your work with the foundation?
Samantha is doing well, still battling the disease, which can cause blindness and is controlled with very powerful drugs. We’re planning another fundraising concert for the foundation.
Jay Jay French
“Hearing Mike Bloomfield on the first Butterfield Blues Band album played a big role; I bought my first electric guitar – a ’67 Tele, new, for $135 – because of that album, and I had to learn what Bloomfield was doing and how he got that sound. Also, Clapton on the Mayall Bluesbreakers album, which took a Les Paul and a Marshall into a world of tone has been my sound since 1966. Albert King’s guitar tone on ‘Crosscut Saw’ and his out-of-this-world fingering style also blew me away.“There were a few others who influenced me; Chuck Berry, Magic Sam, Keith Richards. The Chuck Berry song ‘Down The Road a Piece’ had a great guitar intro, and it was covered by the Stones – the first real solo I learned was that intro, which Keith played on the Stones version. It forms the basis of almost all of my solos to this day.”
“The Everly Brothers was one of the first rock acts I was crazy about – that rockabilly thing. My aunt gave me their first album and I played it until my parents were pissed (laughs). They had such great vocal harmonies, which got me started on those, but I was more fascinated by the rhythm thing they had going. Then, of course, it was the Beatles – George Harrison was the first guy I wanted to play like, and I almost bought a Country Gentleman because of him. I’m glad I didn’t (laughs). Nothing against Gretsch, but it wasn’t the kind of guitar I could’ve done everything with.
“After that, the Stones, then the whole heavy-band thing with Cream, The Who, Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, and Hendrix. I grew up listening to all those guys.
“I remember Clapton’s SG – The Fool – was one of the coolest-sounding guitars I had ever heard when I saw them live at Hunter College. My first serious guitar was a Gibson ES-345, then later I went to a Strat and I’ve stayed with the Strat body; it works and it’s the perfect size.”
This article originally appeared in VG October 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.