ISSUE 17 JUNE 1982
That’s Twisted Sister. But as lead singer Dee Snider says to DANTE BONUTTO: ‘you don’t pull a chick while we’re on’
A FEW weeks ago a letter appeared in Kerrang! admonished us for our neglect. “As you’re Britain’s loudest rock may I’m surprised you haven’t had a Twisted Sister article, “it chided, having already implied that we probably hadn’t heard of the New York band at all.
This was too much. Our raucous references called into question, our crank-it-up credentials placed in doubt. Honour demanded an immediate response, and so it was that, gauntlet firmly grasped, I found myself making the hour long drive from NY to Connecticut with Jay Jay French and Eddie Ojeda (the Sister’s six-string strike force) quizzing me on the state of Brit rock and tour manager Joe Atlantis steady at the wheel.
The venue for tonight’s gig is the Agora Ballroom, New Haven, the most presentable on the circuit, and after six years doing the rounds the band are familiar with them all. Jay Jay it was who set the Sister in motion following a brief spell with Wicked Lester, a Three Dog Night influenced outfit containing nascent Kiss Kerrangsters Simmons and Stanley (he’s got a tape of ‘She’ complete with violins, keyboards and flutes, no kidding!) and though, as mentioned in the last issue of Kerrang!, it’s only recently the band have gained record company support, their pre-deal years were far from idly spent.
To date they’ve released two self-financed singles, ‘Under The Blade’ produced by Eddie Kramer and ‘Bad Boys Of Rock’N’Roll’ produced by Rob Freeman who recently sat at the desk for the hugely successful Go-Go’s album, drawn some 12,000 people into their fan club, a debauched version of the Kiss Army known (officially) as the Sick Motherf–king Friends of Twisted Sister, and acquired their own lighting rig and PA. These are no juke-joint amateurs. Having headlined 4,000 seaters and moved up into arenas to support the likes of Priest, SOC and Jefferson Starship, they’ve enough clout to ensure that their services are properly rewarded. A two set show, two to three times a week is now enough to keep them ticking over.
‘Walk around here on your own and you’ll be left with nothing but your accent,” warns Jay Jay as we pull up outside the Agora. Windswept and inhospitable, New Haven looks assured of one star status in the Michelin Mayhem Guide, but a few hours on and doubts about the city’s r’n’r potential prove nothing more than first Impression folly.
‘TWISTED SISTER! TWISTED SISTER!” While the non-committed and the hopelessly non-plussed, (‘tourists’ inTS terminology) cower in the Agora’s darker recesses, chanting card-holding SMFs, some local some not, besiege the front of the stage. Their call to arms is swiftly answered. Vocalist Dee Snider, a stack-heeled Mae West/Dave Lee Roth hybrid, leads the band onstage and the greatest, grossest spectacle on the tri-state circuit careers into action.
More than cosmetic castaways from a bygone glam era, this now legendary five-piece both shock and disorientate. On one side there’s the image, the vampish attire and crudely painted make-up, and on the other the music, delivered with a primal feel exemplified in the roughly hewn bass chords of one-time Dictator Mark ‘The Animal’ Mendoza. Add to this Dee Snider’s sardonic wit and off the cuff crowd abuse and you have a band that remains of interest despite the fact that halt its repertoire consists of covers. ‘Sweet Leaf’, ‘Crazy Train’, ‘Problem Child’, ‘Grinder’, all are sacrosanct and hammered home with note-for-note efficiency.
“The thing is people don’t come to the clubs to hear original rock’n’roll they expect bands to play music that they know, 100 per cent. We’re one of the few outfits that get away with a 50/50 thing – halt our own songs and half covers.”
Backstage, fresh from the evening’s first 40 minute salvo, Dee Snider busily works rouge into a hollow cheek. His eyes remain fixed on the dressing room mirror yet all the time he talks with unpunctuated passion…..
“In a club like CBGBs in the City people will accept original material, but clubs like that only hold a couple of hundred people and Twisted Sister draw a thousand people a night. Also, the original clubs don’t pay much money so if you want to make a living and you don’t want to work in a factory you’ve got to play some cover material. It sucks but that’s the way it is.”
Satisfied with the facial repair, Dee makes the necessary adjustments to his costume, designed and manufactured by Mrs Snider – wife not mother. His flow, however, is unbroken.
“Another problem with the original scene in NY is that it’s all new wave (shocking pink boots are removed and tossed into a corner), there’s very little room for heavy bands. So you’ve got to come to clubs like this in order to get the HM freaks ‘cos they don’t want to mix with new wave assholes – pardon me! They don’t want to mix with that shit,”
The band may have to compromise when it comes to choice of material but in terms of what goes on between the songs they’re their own masters, Dee, an avowed crusader for the immoral majority, uses the time to bully and bludgeon his audience in an effort to make them shrug off conformist pressure and let themselves go.
“The people who stand around like mannequins from a department store re going nowhere,” he proclaims. “One day they’ll be old and grey, sitting in bed, 65 years old with a porcelain bedpan, ice-cold, catching the shit coming out of their ass, no teeth, arthritis so they can’t even jerk off, y’know. And when they look back on their lives they’re gonna want to kill themselves because they blew it. Meanwhile, all the Sick Motherf**kers are probably dead already but at least they went out with style, at least they partied their ass off to the end.”
For Dee hedonism isn’t a sin it’s an art, a point of view most exhaustively explored at the annual fan club party where 4,000 like-minded souls revel and roister with a vengeance.
“We had people jumping off a pier into the low tide at the last one,” he points out proudly, “it was wild And then we’ve got this trophy, It’s about three feet high with a toilet bowl on top and a bottle of Heineken beer in the middle, It goes to the Sickest Motherf–ker of the day. Last year it went to some guy who was wearing a lounge chair as a hat; he was beating himself up and rolling in glass so I guess he deserved it.”
Gross the Sister most certainly are, but on a circuit chock-full of hardworking hopefuls it’s the theatricality and the outrage that has brought them to the fore.
“We go for broke, black or white, no bullshit, no in-between. After being in a band at high school and playing local bars I refuse to be ignored any more. When we got this band together we started dressing outrageously and wearing lots of make-up and we turned up-the volume so you couldn’t possibly talk if you f**king tried. If you want to pick up a chick do it in your own time not when we’re onstage!
“And that’s the way it’s gotta be ‘cos either way they’re gonna talk about you. If people think we suck they’re gonna go out and go ‘that band, f–k, they’re jumping around like a bunch of assholes, loud, obnoxious’, and if you hear that on the outside you’re gonna think ‘man, I better check them out’. Like a bad car accident you don’t want to look but you always end up peeping through your fingers.”
Here Dee’s natural modesty (cough) gets the better of him. In the early days, when he took to the stage in little more than a negligee, the band had all the head-turning capacity of (at least) a motorway pile-up and audience reaction was sometimes a little too extreme.
“We were playing one club,” he recalls, “and some motherf**ker threw a bottle at me. So I started looking but couldn’t find him. Finally, I said ‘if you’ve got half of one ball, not one ball, not two balls but half of one ball, you’ll tell me who you are’. I said ‘listen. You’re a wimp, your father’s a wimp and your mother’s a wimp,’ and that was it. This guy’s finger went up and he started shouting ‘F**K YOU! F**K YOU!”
By this point Dee has gone supersonic. Striding back and forth, hands clapping for emphasis, his words take shape at such a pace that interruption becomes impossible. All I can do is stand well back and nod occasionally in assent as the story unfolds.
It seems that an irate Snider, determined to follow in Clark Kent’s footsteps, launched himself into the audience expecting trusty minions to break his fall and shoulder him into battle. What in fact happened was that on seeing 13 stone plus of frilly slumberwear plummeting earthwards the trusty minions parted quicker than the Red Sea, a departure that left dents in both the Snider pride and anatomy.
“I went down. DOWN! Luckily, I grabbed some shoulders but my knee smashed on the ground. So I drag myself up and this maniac who threw the bottle is in a Kung Fu stance. He’s got the arms up and the fingers in a death grip, he’s gonna tear my face off. He takes a karate chop at me, I duck it, grab him round the waist and start football-ploughing him through the crowd, there’s people flying everywhere.
“I mean, I don’t get into fights as a rule, it’s usually just a push and a shove, but bottles man, that’s nowhere. If you’re gonna say ‘f–k you’ to someone at least have the decency, DECENCY, to say ‘f–k you’ to their face, don’t be a pussy hurling things through the lights. Anyway, I throw this guy down and I’m just about to smash him in the face when the bouncers arrive and carry him away. So I go back onstage and I’m a big hero, y’know, the place is going wild and l’m shaking a million hands, but the next day my leg blows up like a balloon. It was agony!”
With Dee unable to walk for a week the band had to cancel a number of shows—a rare occurrence in the TS camp. In the early days missing one night often meant losing a whole week’s money and the determined, die-hard fostered by this system remains with them to this day. Indeed, it was as a result of singing with laryngitis, which in turn resulted in a long term throat infection, that Dee acquired his distinctive gravely growl. Before his voice was relatively high-pitched.
“It was really a blessing in disguise,” he says breezily. ‘The Good Lord above looked down and said ‘so you want to be a star, huh? Where do you think you’re gonna go imitating Robert Plant, son? Here – BAM! Your voice is shot to shit now what are you gonna do asshole?”
At which point duty calls and Dee, resplendent in pink and black satin, leaves to front the second set of the evening which, if anything, is more OTT than the first. Front-line SMFs cheer and yeehah! (an appreciative outburst much favoured by US crowds) as he hurls his six foot five frame about the stage and Jay Jay, altogether more serious, steps briefly into the spotlight to announce that the Sister have finally secured a spot on network TV. YEEHAH! “OK you, don’t just stand there like a dick with ears,” snarls Dee at a ‘tourist’ not showing the required degree of euphoria, and the band launch into another fiery opus…
It’s just a shame that UK fans have so far been denied access to these gonzoid goings-on, but as the Secret Records deal was agreed on the basis that the band should record their debut album here that situation may soon be put right— and the sooner the better.
Driving back from the gig early the next morning (Jay Jay and Eddie still talking about England and Joe, as ever, at the wheel), a car pulls out behind as if to overtake then draws alongside measuring its pace with our own. Slowly, the nearside window is wound down and a spray of blond curls thrust into the chill night air. Grimacing horribly, Dee Snider (for it is he) grabs our wing mirror and, thus joined, the two cars weave along the highway until the TS songster, tired of this diversion, relinquishes his hold and speeds on ahead.
No-one, myself included, is the least bit surprised.
Reading Review SEP 1982
Then it was time for Twisted Sister and their indefatigable brand of Heavy Metal, but much as had happened to Anvil at Donington, The Sister had to endure some abuse from certain dumbos who couldn’t handle the sight of five macho-looking boys in make-up. Fortunately Dee Snider is a little more forward than shy Lips and accused those responsible of being wimps, following it with an offer of personal conflict. As the Kerrang! badge claims, this music is ‘Not For Wimps’, so the shouting soon stopped and all enjoyed a short resumé of Twisted Sister’s rock ‘n’ roll achievements to date.
‘Bad Boys Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’ and ‘Under The Blade’ were both there with a far superior sound to the one which had blighted them at the Marquee earlier, When the band were joined on stage by Lemmy, Pete Way and Eddie Clarke for a jam at the end of the show they were finally taken to everyone’s heart. About time.