The Twisted Sister History: S.M.F. Forever!
"Old SMFs never die... we just smell that way!" - Dee Snider
On April 7, 2015, heavy metal heroes Twisted Sister announced that they were calling it a career. The band marked the 40th anniversary of the formation of their "classic" lineup in 1976 by embarking on a series of farewell dates - dubbed "40 and F**k It" - with former Dream Theater/Adrenaline Mob drummer Mike Portnoy taking the place of longtime Twisted drummer Anthony "A.J." Pero, who passed away unexpectedly on March 20th, 2015. The last show of this tour took place on November 12, 2016 at the Corona Northside Rock Park Meeting Festival in Monterrey, Mexico, after which the glam metal legends hung up their makeup bags for good.
Led by the lion-maned, leather-lunged Dee Snider, Twisted Sister earned their stripes the hard way - by clawing their way to the top of the cut-throat late '70s New York City club circuit thanks to their outrageous image, their never-say die attitude, and their sheer volume. Ignored by record company scouts for years, they signed a major-label deal just in time to reap the rewards of the early '80s Hair Metal boom with the now-classic anthems "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock."
After a brief spin atop the MTV hit parade, they split up in the late Eighties, but reunited in 2001 and became a regular fixture on the retro-metal tour.
The retirement announcement was not unexpected in the wake of Pero's sudden passing, but it was still sad news for the band's worldwide legion of fans, who are affectionately referred to as "SMF's" (shorthand for "Sick Mother F***'n Friends of Twisted Sister").
In The Beginning...
Though they are closely associated with the New York scene, Twisted Sister was actually formed in Ho-Ho-Kus, a small town in the northern New Jersey suburbs, in 1973. The young T.S. was heavily inspired by the British "glam rock" scene (i.e. David Bowie, Slade, T-Rex, etc.) and they hoped to be the Garden State's answer to the then-hot New York Dolls. Guitarist Jay Jay French was the only member of this "original" lineup who stayed in the band through its entire run.
After several years of revolving-door band membership, the "real" Twisted Sister finally began to take shape in 1976 when they were joined by brash new lead singer Daniel (aka "Dee") Snider, whose heavier musical influences and songwriting skill soon turned him into the band's driving force. The Sisters re-located to Long Island, New York and began attacking the local club scene with a vengeance, altering their pretty-boy "glam" look in favor of a rougher, dirtier image that resembled a group of deranged drag queens. The "classic" lineup of Twisted Sister eventually came together with the additions of guitarist Eddie "Fingers" Ojeda, bassist Mark "The Animal" Mendoza, and finally drummer A.J. Pero. By the early 1980s, Twisted Sister had become the tri-state area's "you gotta see this!" rock act.
Labels Finally Start Listening...
Twisted Sister had a fanatical local following in the early '80s -- they held the attendance records at dozens of New York area venues and boasted thousands of fan club members - but as hard as they tried, they couldn't get arrested by the record industry. Legend has it that a major label once returned their demo tape to them with a note that read "Dear Twisted Sister: You suck. Don't ever send us your music again."
Twisted eventually attracted attention from Secret Records, a small British indie label that was known mainly for punk rock. Secret brought Twisted Sister to the U.K. in 1982 and while they recorded their debut album Under The Blade on British soil, they opened shows for Motorhead and played a pivotal gig at England's prestigious Reading Festival, where their over-the-top stage presence, take-no-crap New York attitude, and an endorsement from Lemmy Kilmister himself won over the initially-hostile crowd. It looked like things were finally falling into place for the band... until Secret Records went bankrupt just as Under The Blade hit store shelves. (D'oh!!)
"You Can't Stop Rock N Roll" (1983)
The U.K. division of Atlantic Records swooped in to snap the band up when Secret closed up shop - a move which reportedly earned them a reprimand from the label's home office in America, who had already rejected T.S. several times. However, the musical tides were beginning to turn in Twisted Sister's favor. Thanks to the breakout successes of MTV-driven hard rock bands like Def Leppard and Quiet Riot, heavy metal was gradually becoming big business. While Twisted's Atlantic debut, 1983's You Can't Stop Rock N Roll, didn't set the charts ablaze, it was an underground success that helped to expand their rapidly-growing cult following.
1984 was when Twisted Sister's ship finally came in -- BIG time. Powered by massive MTV support for the cartoonish "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock" music videos, their second Atlantic album Stay Hungry went multi-platinum and turned the band into household names. By 1985, even top 40 and pop fans who normally hated metal music knew who Dee Snider was, thanks to his trip to Washington D.C. to speak out against the music-censorship efforts of Tipper Gore's P.M.R.C. (Parents' Music Resource Center), where he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with John Denver and Frank Zappa on Capitol Hill. The world was Twisted Sister's oyster - for about a year.
"We're Not Gonna Take It" (1984)
The Decline and Fall...
What goes up must come down, and by the time they released Come Out and Play in late 1985, Twisted's wheels were beginning to fall off due to a toxic combination of egos, overexposure, and record company pressure. The album's first single, a cover of the Shangri-La's "Leader of the Pack" (which had been a fan favorite during their club era) failed to catch fire with the MTV generation, and Atlantic quickly pulled the album's promotional plug. Come Out and Play sold less than half as many copies as Stay Hungry, and the rest of the band was growing tired of standing in the background while Dee Snider hogged the media spotlight. A.J. Pero left the band at the conclusion of the disastrous Come Out and Play tour and the dream seemed to be over.
1987's Love Is For Suckers was originally supposed to be a Dee Snider solo album, but Atlantic refused to release it unless it had Twisted Sister's name on it - even though Snider had recorded the bulk of the disc with studio players (including future Winger members Kip Winger and Reb Beach) instead of his TS bandmates. Suckers' slick pop-metal sound did nothing to reverse the band's waning fortunes, and in 1988 Dee Snider announced that he was leaving Twisted Sister. The band split up under a black cloud of hurt feelings and grudges; Mark "The Animal" Mendoza once told VH1 that he'd wanted to "hospitalize" Snider after the breakup.
Snider remained the most visible of the former Sisters during the 1990s - trying his hand as a solo artist, a talk-radio host, and an actor (he wrote and starred in the 1998 horror cheapie Strangeland, based on the Twisted Sister song "Captain Howdy"), while French retired from performing to manage and produce other bands. Given the amount of bad blood between the Sisters when they split up, a Twisted reunion seemed unlikely for many years, but VH1 host and radio personality Eddie Trunk pulled off the impossible in late 2001 when he convinced them to headline a special 9/11 benefit concert dubbed "New York Steel." Though the New York Steel gig was intended to be a one-shot deal, response was so positive that Twisted Sister performed several more reunion shows over the next few years. and eventually returned to the studio to release 2004's Still Hungry - a 20th anniversary re-recording of their classic Stay Hungry album with meatier, more "metal" sounding production - and 2006's surprise holiday hit, A Twisted Christmas. Twisted never went back to the full-time recording/touring grind after that, but they still managed to perform at least a handful of live gigs every year.
Adrenaline Mob with Jay Jay French:
A.J. Pero passed away on March 20, 2015 while on tour with Adrenaline Mob - a band he'd joined in 2013. His Mob band mates discovered him unresponsive in his bunk on their tour bus and quickly rushed him to a hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he was pronounced dead of an apparent heart attack. Rather than cancel their next scheduled concert date at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey, Adrenaline Mob turned the hometown show into a celebration of A.J's life, with Mike Portnoy (whom A.J. had replaced in Adrenaline Mob) returning to sit in on drums while Jay Jay French made a special appearance onstage to bash out the Twisted Sister classic "You Can't Stop Rock N Roll." It was a fitting salute to A.J.... and the beginning of the end for the legendary Twisted Sister.
"Look like women, talk like men, play like mother@#$%'ers!"
After A.J.'s funeral the remaining members of Twisted Sister announced that they were coming to the end of the road. They performed two shows in Pero's honor, in Las Vegas (in May) and New Jersey (in June), with Mike Portnoy filling in on drums at both concerts. The Vegas gig was recorded for release as a live album/video, and the Jersey date was a benefit show to raise money for A.J.'s family. TS already had a number of European festival gigs and other 2016 shows booked prior to A.J.'s death, which they honored before they officially closed the Twisted book for good. .
The Twisted Movie!
Twisted fans got one last memento from the band in 2016 - the long awaited documentary film We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!, which started racking up raves on the film festival circuit in 2014, was finally released on DVD/Blu-Ray in February. Director Andrew Horn received full support from the band members, who sat down with him for hours of interviews and provided unprecedented access to Twisted's memorabilia and video archives. We Are Twisted F***ing Sister! is a fascinating in-depth look at the band's formative period and their ten-year struggle to escape the tri-state club scene. It's required viewing for all SMF's!
"We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!" trailer
Hail and Farewell, Sisters...
As a fan for more than thirty years, this writer was sad to see Twisted Sister hang up their wigs for the last time, but at least they left behind a catalog of amazing music to remember them by. Rest in Peace, A.J., and thanks for the memories, guys.
Remember: ONCE AN S.M.F., ALWAYS AN S.M.F..!!
© 2015 Keith Abt