Twisted Sister’s Jay Jay French reveals secrets to success in new business book

When Twisted Sister was selling out tours and racking up hits like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” guitarist Jay Jay French felt vindicated for the decade he’d spent playing bars and clubs and working on his rock ‘n’ roll dreams.

And when bitterness and bankruptcy broke up the band just a few years later? French fell so far he found himself working the graveyard shift at a friend’s pool hall, scraping by to support his family until he could plot a second act.

  • Jay Jay French, guitarist and cofounder of Twisted Sister, has written a book that combines memoir with business lessons from his life in rock ‘n’ roll. He’s seen here with his “Twisted Business” coauthor Steve Farber. (Photo by Kim Dower)

  • Jay Jay French, guitarist and cofounder of the glam-metal band Twisted Sister, is also a motivational speaker. Now he’s the author of Twisted Business,” with coauthor Steve Farber, that combines memoir and business lessons from his life in rock ‘n’ roll. (Courtesy of Rosetta Books)

  • Twist Sister guitarist Jay Jay French, cofounder of the glam-metal band, seen here in concert in Las Vegas in 2006, is also a motivational speaker. Now he’s the author of Twisted Business,” with coauthor Steve Farber, that combines memoir and business lessons from his life in rock ‘n’ roll. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Twist Sister guitarist Jay Jay French, cofounder of the glam-metal band, seen here in concert in Las Vegas in 2006, is also a motivational speaker. Now he’s the author of Twisted Business,” with coauthor Steve Farber, that combines memoir and business lessons from his life in rock ‘n’ roll. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Twist Sister guitarist Jay Jay French, cofounder of the glam-metal band, seen here in concert in Las Vegas in 2006 with guitarist Eddie Ojeda and bassist Mark Mendoza, is also a motivational speaker. Now he’s the author of Twisted Business,” with coauthor Steve Farber, that combines memoir and business lessons from his life in rock ‘n’ roll. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Twisted Sister play a concert in Mexico City in 2016 on its final tour. Jay Jay French, guitarist and cofounder of the glam-metal band Twisted Sister, is also a motivational speaker. Now he’s the author of Twisted Business,” with coauthor Steve Farber, that combines memoir and business lessons from his life in rock ‘n’ roll. (AP Photo/Christian Palma)

  • Dee Snider, right, and guitarist Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister perform at a concert outside of Fox Studios in New York City in 2014. French, guitarist and cofounder of the glam-metal band, is also a motivational speaker. Now he’s the author of Twisted Business,” with coauthor Steve Farber, that combines memoir and business lessons from his life in rock ‘n’ roll. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

  • Twist Sister guitarist Jay Jay French, cofounder of the glam-metal band, seen here in concert in Las Vegas in 2006, is also a motivational speaker. Now he’s the author of Twisted Business,” with coauthor Steve Farber, that combines memoir and business lessons from his life in rock ‘n’ roll. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • “Working in the pool hall was the first level of humiliation,” says French, 69, on a recent call from his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “But I didn’t have time to dwell on this (stuff).

    “It’s like, what are you gonna do? Kill yourself?” he says. “It’s like, move the (bleep) on with your life.”

    His next job, at a high-end audio store, was a small step up.

    “I thought, ‘OK, I’m married, I have a kid. I had a rock ‘n’ roll dream, and it ended,'” he says. “Time to move on, you know, you can’t really dwell.”

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    Sometimes at night, though, while sweeping up after hours, French says he wondered if this was it.

    “I started to feel a ‘Death of a Salesman’ kind of thing,” he says, referring to the beaten-down and deluded protagonist of the iconic Arthur Miller play. “I was Willy Loman, like, ‘Is this really how it goes? You’re gonna 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 that to form a glam-metal band.

    It’s the tale of how a bar band in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut struggled for mainstream success for years, and then earned it, only to see it all slip away.

    And it’s also a chronicle of how French eventually realized his talent for business was equal to that for music, a discovery that led to the reunion of Twisted Sister, a career as a motivational speaker, and now a book that mixes memoir and business advice.

    “I decided it would come from a perspective of business because that’s how I perceived my position in the rock world — through a business prism,” French says. “And that would be unusual because most people don’t realize that.

    “Most people have a thing about, you know, rock ‘n’ roll musicians become successful because you make a deal with the devil or something. You know, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, fairy dust. Somehow, magically, it all happens.

    “And that may be the case for some people, but for me, it was a methodical process.”

    Street hustles

    In hindsight, French can trace his interest in business to his childhood in the early ’60s when he figured out he could make enough money selling cookies to buy a $25 guitar.

    “My father was a jewelry salesman, and look, if you’re a New York kid, and your father’s a salesman, there’s a certain shtick, a certain kind of ebb and flow and jive,” French says. “Especially in New York, because New York, you know, runs at a pretty fast pace.

    “And my father, he knew that, and he would expose me to it,” he says. “It’s almost like ‘Guys and Dolls,’ you know, that kind of Damon Runyon-esque cockiness. That’s what I grew up with, and so did all my friends for that matter.

    “Most of my friends were all into scams and all kinds of hustles. I sold firecrackers before I sold Boy Scout cookies, and I didn’t get into the drug scene until I was 15.”

    It was around then, French says, that he realized he could make a lot more money selling marijuana to fellow hippies in Central Park and use that to buy a better guitar.

    “What I said to myself was, ‘I need to raise money to buy guitars and amps and finance my rock ‘n’ roll dreams,'” he says. “So I could go to the Fillmore anytime I want, see any show I want. That was kind of the mentality behind it.”

    And that’s exactly what he did for the next five years: Dealing drugs, taking drugs, going to shows by then-new acts including the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie.

    And ultimately, overdosing on heroin, a wake-up call that led him to quit it all at 20 and refocus on rock ‘n’ roll.

    Working on a dream

    After auditioning for Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley but not landing a spot in the costumed metal band Kiss, French crossed the Hudson River to New Jersey to join the band that became Twisted Sister.

    Drink and drugs led the first two versions of the band to crash and burn, leaving French, the last founder standing by the mid-’70s, to seek out musicians like singer Dee Snider who were like him: clean, sober and addicted only to making it big.

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    “By the time 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: straight, straight, straight, straight.

    “Dee goes, ‘I’ve never been high in my life.’ You’re my kind of guy,” he says. “(Mark) Mendoza joins on bass, he’s like, ‘(Bleep) drugs, (bleep) alcohol, I hate ’em all.'”

    For the rest of the decade, Twisted Sister played multiple sets five or six nights a week in clubs that held 3,000 or more, huge venues fueled by a drinking age of 18 at the time. Record labels rejected them over and over, but the clubs paid enough to keep the band going.

    “You know, when you can have 3,000 people, 4,000 people screaming at you in the night, telling you you’re great, you can get over that rejection letter,” French says. “And we had flexibility and luxury of that for several years.”

    In 1982, after a few false starts, Twisted Sister finally scored the major label deal it had sought for a decade, signing with Atlantic Records even though its president hated the band and refused to spend money to promote it.

    No matter. Two years later, fueled in part by MTV’s heavy rotation of the videos for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” the band’s second album for Atlantic, and third overall, was a smash hit, eventually going triple platinum.

    Three years after that, Twisted Sister broke up.

    Talking business

    French didn’t stay at the stereo store that long. As the owner of the band’s trademark and name, he started reissuing Twisted Sister’s catalog and licensing its music for commercials by the early ’90s. Still, the bad blood of the breakup made a reunion impossible.

    And then the terror attacks of 9/11 happened. A metal benefit concert was pitched. Twisted Sister agreed to play.

    And everyone — French, Snider, Mendoza, guitarist Eddie Ojeda and drummer A.J. Pero — got along great. A one-off 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 urging, French began speaking to conferences and groups, too, about business lessons he’d learned through rock ‘n’ roll.

    The idea to do a book came soon after: “The progression of the speaking business is, ‘Where’s your book?'” French says. “Everyone has a book.”

    A business theory — something to organize the book around — came to him on a long walk. The TWISTED method, as French called it, emphasizes the role of tenacity, wisdom, inspiration, stability, trust, excellence and discipline in finding success in business.

    “I said, ‘So why did I make it?'” French says. “I was tenacious. I was smart. I was inspired. I was stable. I had a trusting group of people around me. And we succeeded because of excellence and discipline.

    “None of these things come up when you talk about rock ‘n’ roll bands,” he says. “Most people think most heavy metal guys are just dopes.

    “And we’re not dopes, or at least I’m not a dope. There’s a method behind the madness.”

    Jay Jay French events

    Sunday, Sept 26: French will be signing in person at Barnes & Noble at The Grove, 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. Event is 2 p.m., wristbands will be distributed starting at 10 a.m. Phone: 323-525-0270

    Monday, Sept. 27: French will be in conversation with coauthor Steve Farber in a virtual event hosted by Book Soup in West Hollywood. Go to crowdcast.io/e/jay-jay-french to register

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