Most people think of Twisted Sister as Dee Snider’s creation that took the heavy metal world by storm in 1984 and then quickly disappeared. While 1984 was definitely the pinnacle of their career, it was neither the beginning nor the end.
Twisted Sister was founded by Jay Jay French in 1971 as a gender bending cover band in the mold of the New York Dolls. Ironically, French’s inspiration for starting Twisted Sister was to get off of drugs. It wasn’t until 1976, after three years of toiling away in suburban New York City clubs, that they discovered Snider, a self-proclaimed angry reject with few friends and even fewer believers that he would succeed in life.
As a high school outcast, Snider would spend his days after school singing Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath songs into the mirror. He was determined to create his own destiny as a frontman and prove his many detractors wrong.
It didn’t take long for the charismatic singer to become the leader of the band, despite the fact that he had never written a song before joining Twisted Sister. But success didn’t come quickly for the band, even with Snider’s anti-establishment anthems of rage.
Twisted Sister’s motto…“look like women, talk like men and play like motherfuckers” did nothing to help their cause. Record labels avoided them like the plague, so much so that label executive, Jason Flom, was fired just for mentioning their name.
BEST KEPT SECRET
They enjoyed local success in New York, but the perception that they were nothing more than a club band left them with no choice but to sign a deal overseas with the aptly named, Secret Records. Their debut album, Under The Blade, made them an instant sensation on the underground club scene, but they still could not attract a mainstream audience.
The band was so despised by mainstream audiences that they were bombarded by a barrage of food, bottles and cans when they played the Redding Festival in 1982. But that wasn’t the worst of it. After the show, it was discovered that one fan threw a box filled with excrement at the band. Snider laughed as he pondered aloud “how mad do you have to be to take a shit in a crowd of 30,000 people, pick it up and throw it at the band?”
YOU CAN’T STOP ROCK AND ROLL
Although they survived the vulgar reception that they received in Redding, the band nearly broke up when Secret Records went under. With one more chance to make an impression on the world with a live performance on a British television show called The Tube, Snider threw caution to the wind and berated the audience for not accepting the band for what they were.
Amazingly, the crowd loved it, and Twisted Sister’s career was saved, though they were still persona non grata with label executives, including Phil Carson, who signed them to Atlantic Records in Europe, but didn’t even want to meet the band. If not for the goodwill that Carson had banked by signing AC/DC and Yes, his head may very well have been on the chopping block when he reported his signing of Twisted Sister back to Atlantic Records headquarters in the United States.
In June of 1983, Twisted Sister released You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll. With virtually no label support, the band still managed to sell 100,000 copies of the album when MTV used part of the song in one of their promos.
THE RISE TO THE TOP
In 1984, music videos were still relatively new and fairly basic. Snider, now the official face of the band due to the Stay Hungry album cover, created the first music video with a storyline for the band’s signature hit song “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” The video, along with the follow-up video for “I Wanna Rock” propelled the album to quadruple platinum.
After years of struggling, Twisted Sister had finally arrived. Their videos, which featured cartoon-type violence, attracted audiences as young as elementary school age. It wasn’t long before entire families started showing up to their concerts. Unfortunately, their ability to attract a young audience played an integral part in their eventual downfall.
ROCK AND ROLL OUTLAWS
In October of 1984, in Amarillo, TX, a couple brought their 9-yr old son to a Twisted Sister concert. Appalled by the band’s act and Snider’s foul language, they called the Amarillo police to file disorderly conduct charges. The matter was eventually settled when Snider paid a $75 fine, but it set the wheels in motion to destroy Twisted Sister. Suddenly, they were the poster children for everything that was wrong with rock and roll, and they were accused of pedaling smut by Tipper Gore and the PMRC.
In September of 1985, Snider appeared before the Senate. Accused of producing violent music videos, Snider’s defense was that the videos contained cartoon, Roadrunner-inspired violence where no one was ever injured. When asked what S.M.F. stood for, Snider responded truthfully to the uptight panel…“sick motherfuckin’ fans of Twisted Sister.” Needless to say, they were not amused.
Painted into a corner and forced to defend himself, Snider stated that he was a tea-totaling family man who never drank, smoked or did drugs, a revelation that would ultimately destroy his credibility with Twisted Sister fans.
NO LONGER HUNGRY
Aside from his issues with the PMRC, Snider’s life was good…too good in fact. As the primary songwriter for Twisted Sister, he was getting very rich and living a lifestyle that most would envy, including his bandmates whose earnings paled in comparison to Snider’s.
The man who spent his whole life angry and trying to prove something to the world could no longer dig deep enough to write lyrics that spoke to the fans. To make matters worse, Snider had become domineering and turned on the band.
Fully entrenched as “the leader of the pack,” Snider’s lack of rage contributed to the band’s downfall. The follow-up album to Stay Hungry, entitled Come Out And Play, fell on deaf ears and barely went gold.
HITTING ROCK BOTTOM
All of the band members blamed Snider for their precipitous fall from grace, but none more than Mark “The Animal” Mendoza who readily admits that he would have been happy to see Snider die, although he didn’t want to be the one to cause it.
When a promising career falls by the wayside, there are bound to be regrets. And though Snider eventually filed bankruptcy and took a minimum wage job which he traveled to by bicycle because he no longer owned a car, his biggest regret was the falling out with Mendoza (his best friend). French also ended up filing bankruptcy, but rebounded in a faster, more dignified way as the eventual manager of the band Sevendust.
REUNITED BY TRAGIC TIMES
Twisted Sister reunited to play a private birthday party for Jason Flom in the summer of 2000, but the reunion was short-lived as Mendoza wanted nothing to do with Snider or the band. If not for a tragedy of epic proportions, Twisted Sister may very well not have played together again, but the events of 9/11 brought the native New York band back together to help raise money for 9/11 charities.
The concert fundraiser at the Hammerstein Ballroom, spearheaded by Eddie Trunk, featured Twisted Sister as the headliner. In spite of the bond created by 9/11, Mendoza was still hesitant, and brought a (licensed) gun with him to the band’s first rehearsal.
RISING FROM THE ASHES
They didn’t plan on staying together beyond the Hammerstein Ballroom concert, but in early 2002, they received an offer to headline Sweden Rock for more money than they had ever made before. Nearly 20 years after their peak, Twisted Sister, through an unusual turn of events, reclaimed their headliner status, but that is not the strangest thing that happened to them.
Back in 1985, when Snider was being grilled in Senate hearings, no one would have ever predicted that, 18 years later, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” would be the campaign song for the future Governor of California. Of course, no one would have predicted that the Governor in question would be named Schwarzenegger either.
A SISTER LESS TWISTED
Twisted Sister’s Christmas album entitled A Twisted Christmas was a surprise to many, but it has been well-received in hard rock circles. The band continues to play today sans makeup and outrageous outfits, a look born of out necessity after Snider showed up five minutes before a show via helicopter, leaving no time for makeup. Although unintentional, the late arrival may have been a blessing in disguise as the stripped down version of the band allows them to be taken more seriously and allows the music speak for itself.
Though they’ve had their share of ups and downs, the members of Twisted Sister finally seem to be at peace with whatever the future may hold.
The once angry Mendoza said “I don’t think that it will last much longer, but I would do it forever.” And Snider, who has created a niche for himself on radio and various reality television shows is proud to say that “these old men are still kicking ass!”