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Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister has a message for men

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Why is it that guys too often stick their head in the sand when it comes to their health?

Jay Jay French – guitarist, manager and founding member of the heavy metal band Twisted Sister – says he was one of them, but no more. French knows what it’s like to lose it all and to bounce back. He’s done it repeatedly over the last five decades, and he nearly paid the ultimate price with his most recent setback.

In his new book, the part memoir/part business guide “Twisted Business: Lessons From My Life In Rock and Roll” (co-written with Stephen Farber), French rolls out the dizzying details of his rocky road to the present while offering practical tips and advice from his perspective of nearly half a century as a musician, manager and entrepreneur.

French shared his most important message for men during the following interview with The Maine Edge when he described his 2018 prostate cancer diagnosis. Now a survivor, he’s joined forces with ZERO – The End of Prostate Cancer, to raise awareness of the importance of early detection, in a campaign titled after his band’s most famous song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Twisted Sister parted as friends after a farewell tour in 2016. “We’re the most heavily licensed band in the world so we talk every day,” French says of his surviving bandmates Dee Snider and Mark Mendoza. Drummer A.J. Pero died of a heart attack in 2015.

The Maine Edge: Just as Twisted Sister was starting to break big in 1984, the band played a show at the Bangor Auditorium which resulted in you guys getting banned from performing in the city again. Do you remember that?

Jay Jay French: I remember it quite well because Stephen King came to the sound check. I was wearing a belt that had the eyeballs cut out and he said “That’s an amazing belt, can I have it?” I was amazed that he noticed it. I said “No, actually (laughs).” My wife gave it to me as a gift so I told him where he could buy one. He’s a heavy metal fan and I think it’s so great that he mentioned us in one of his books.

The Maine Edge: I think the Bangor ban was related to the use of naughty language at the show. How often did that sort of thing result in a ban?

Jay Jay French: We got banned from a lot of cities. They passed a lot of anti-rock laws against us down south, it was ridiculous. Texas had some law that if you perform songs about sex with dead people, children or animals, you can’t play there. As if every band had songs like that. It was the dumbest thing in the world, but it only helped our record sales in the end.

The Maine Edge: You’ve reinvented yourself over and over again. Could you give an example of that?

Jay Jay French: We’ve been turned down more than a bed sheet and we’ve come back more times than Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees. It happened when my best friend and my girlfriend became heroin addicts. I was facing ODing and trying to figure out how to survive. Shortly thereafter, jumping into a transvestite rock band while totally straight was also interesting but that band was unfortunately created with alcoholics and drug addicts, so we had to get rid of all of them.

Then my mom died, my girlfriend left me, and the initial band broke up because our original lead singer – not Dee Snider – pulled a loaded gun on the drummer in a bar fight and I thought I’d be witness to a murder.

So the band eventually became huge and at our peak we were sued for millions of dollars so we had to file for bankruptcy and lost everything. I wound up working overnights in a pool hall and in a stereo store. I came back to manage the band Sevendust and that became a hit then it fell apart and my second wife left me. I had two heart operations and was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Just saying all of that in one shot is a little overwhelming.

The book talks about the ability to come back and reinvent oneself, and the prostate cancer issue was a huge one because it had been looming in my life for many years. My father died from it in 1984, just after “Stay Hungry” went platinum. My brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 66 but he faced it head on and he’s a survivor. Ten years later when I turned 66, I was diagnosed.

The Maine Edge: And now you’re leading a national campaign to get the word out about getting checked. Tell me why you got involved with the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” campaign.

Jay Jay French: I’ve teamed up with ZERO and Bayer to raise awareness, to especially tell men they need to be advocates for themselves, to understand what early screening can do for you. Starting at age 50, you need to get screened for a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test. Should it happen to you, you can deal with it. It’s curable if you catch it early enough. Men don’t like to talk about prostate cancer in general. I’m here to tell you don’t stick your head in the sand. Why? If I can save one guy’s life today, that’s better than all of the hit records in the world.

Last modified on Wednesday, 27 October 2021 11:59


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