Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
What can you say about Dee Snider? Legends are born, legends are made, legends cultivate themselves. In Dee's case, all apply. Picture a still-green novice interviewer enjoying a sit-down with one of the greats of hard rock and metal. I talk frequently about having tons of posters and cut-outs from metal magazines on my walls as a teen in the eighties and how I used to daydream about putting a mike in front of any one of them. Little did I know I'd have my wish fulfillment to the nth power later in my life.
Dee was one of the first guests I booked for the Headbangers project and I'm sure you readers have seen well enough firsthand how pro the man is in an interview. Of course, being a frontman for one of rock's most colorful and sometimes controversial bands, a film director and DJ of a syndicated hard rock show probably has nothing to do with it. Still, I can tell you from experience Dee Snider is always on his game and ready to talk. In this excerpt of a two-day chat session, you can taste the humor of Dee Snider, who had yet to rally his Twisted brethren back into action. All to the better he did, because I will never forget my time with Dee, particularly how wounded he was back then that Twisted Sister had faded before its time, and with them their fans.
I remember when Dee called on day one, my wife and I were yelling back and forth to get the phone since I had a toothbrush in my mouth and hadn't realized we were upon the hour. The voicemail Dee left me is a treasure I keep in my taped archives. Such a funny dude and we certainly got on splendidly once he called back a few minutes later. As you'll read, I puttered a bit in the beginning as I was gaining my treading feet in the host's position. I thank Dee for his patience back then, much less his willingness to bring me onto his website House of Hair Online as an interviewer later in my career.
What else can I say but enjoy...
Ray Van Horn, Jr.: What made you want to be the frontman of a high-profile rock and roll band originally?
Dee Snider: I think the very very first thing was The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I hadn’t actually seen The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, my father had decided to ban t.v. from my house in that year (laughs), but I was in third grade and I remember coming up to the bus stop and everybody that Monday morning, everybody was buzzing, talking, and I remember asking--clear as a bells-Russell Biederman, saying “Did you see The Beatles on Ed Sullivan?” And I’m like, “The What-les? The Beatles? What’s a Beatle?” He goes “That’s a rock band!” He says “Everybody was screaming,” and if everybody was screaming, I said “I wanna be a Beatle.” And I found out soon thereafter that I couldn’t be a Beatle, actually, I had to be in a rock band, so, I played crappy guitar, you know, and sang. I went to this front thing when I realized my fronting abilities far exceeded my guitar playing, and a band is only as good as its weakest link, and I could be in a better band if I just fronted. So I dropped the guitar--I was a lunatic on guitar, horrible player, probably because I was jumping around and contorting so much. I could barely keep the chords together.
DS: And just get rid of the guitar and just lose your mind, and you could front the band.
RV: Right, well you can move around as a frontman.
DS: Yeah, there’s no limitations.
RV: The next question I have is...
DS: Is if I’m in the Marines? I say that a lot. A big rumor is that I used to be a Marine.
RV: (laughs) Many casual fans had no clue that Twisted Sister had to work like dogs before you found success. You guys paid your dues more than most bands of the period, so what was this long stretch of hard work like for you before you found some success in the early eighties?
DS: Well, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves, so to speak, you know, because there’s one thing that I hope with this reunion and the shows that we’re doing, I would really like to go on a mission to clear that up. That misconception that we were, you know, sort of jump-on-the-bandwagon kind of people. We were the fucking bandwagon! There was no bandwagon. We were the guys.
DS: I mean, Jay Jay formed Twisted in 1973, at the height of the glam era. Disbanded in ’74 and reformed in ’76, and continued in spite of the fact that glam was dead as a doornail, to carry the torch for glam. You know, it was over and done in ’76. Kids were the only ones still carrying the torch, but we were a little more originally from the glam school. You know, the feminine clothing, and the feminine makeup, and what have you. I joined the band and I brought with me my armada of metal albums. I was a glam fan, of course, but I also had the metal thing. So we were doing our thing when nobody was doing our thing, and we were playing thousands of shows. Thousands before we had a record deal! We were six-and-a-half years of being together until we got a deal, and that was an independent deal overseas. We were rejected by every company in the U.S. five times.
DS: Five fucking times! Yet we were playing for crowds of 1000 to 3000 people a night, five nights a week! Suburbs of Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, outside New York City...we could not get record executives to even come see our band.
RV: What do you think drove them away that forced you to go overseas to the Secret label?
DS: Well, it was really a last ditch effort. We had actually taken a series of photos without makeup, and street clothes, to show that we were so desperate. It was like a Have-it-Your-Way pitch to record companies. We were selling out theaters without a record deal. We did a free concert on Long Island, as a matter of fact, on the 25th anniversary of that event here on Long Island. In 1979, a local theme park was having a concert series on the outside of the park; they would do an outdoor show with local bands. They were different every Tuesday night, a different local band, and they would have like 300 to 800 people there. Twisted did one of these shows. Kiss was at the Garden that night, playing to half a house, yet we had 23,000 people show up!
DS: Without a record deal, ’79.
DS: We were banned from every outdoor venue in the northeast for our careers. They had like five security guys and, yeah, there was pandemonium. I mean, it was what nobody expected! I just recently met with the owners of that theme park on Long Island, because I actually thought it would be cool to do a 25th anniversary, you know, return with better staging this time, a little more security…
DS: But you’re still scarred for life from that kind of experience. (laughs) Anyway, the point was, we had this huge fanbase, yet record executives would not come see us. So in a last ditch desperate move, we followed the footsteps of Hendrix, Joan Jett, The Stray Cats and many others, and we went to England, where we were already getting a little press. A photographer by the name of Ross Halfin for Kerrang had been in the States photographing Ozzy or Maiden or one of those people, and he had an off night. He ran into a bunch of girls who were fans of ours and they said, “Oh, you gotta see this band, Twisted Sister, they’re unbelievable!” Ross came out to a club in New Jersey on a weeknight or Saturday night, and there was like a thousand people losing their minds he said this is like the fucking second coming here, and it was an old bowling alley! (laughs)
DS: He took pictures and sent them home to England and the interest just erupted over there. So thank you, Ross Halfin! Then we got our deal with Secret Records, but that fell apart shortly thereafter. So it was an incredible, tortuous struggle where you just had rejection from the industry, wholesale rejection during the day, yet at night you’d get onstage in front of thousands of freaking-out suburban kids! Well, they know what’s going on!
DS: The guys in the fucking suits who think it’s hip to go down to CBGB’s because his band had fifty people in the house and he was so fucking impressed…
DS: We offered, dude, standing offer in the industry. Standing offer. Free limo ride and dinner if you’d come out to see our band!
RV: And they still wouldn’t take it?
DS: One taker! One taker, the then-president of Atco Records. I remember her name. Came out, saw us, said “Holy fucking Christ, this is unbelievable!” She went back and said “I saw a great band and we’re gonna sign ‘em!” Everybody said, “Great, who is it,” and she said “Twisted Sister,” and everybody was like, “What, are you kidding, that bar band?” All of a sudden the second guessing set in, her peers are going “What, are you nuts? It’s a bar band that plays clubs,” and all of a sudden the memories faded, and there were no more return calls. We got dropped from Secret Records and then again in one of our coming apart at the seams at that point...that was the darkest hour. Secret Records folded and we had done a farewell tour of the area, we were going for our first tour ever, with Diamondhead and Twisted, a tour of the UK. Secret Records folded under the weight of having an American band even though they just couldn’t handle it. We couldn’t play because it was embarrassing to go back out after we had just done a farewell run. I was married with the kids, living in a studio apartment; things were rough.
RV: Salad days.
DS: We got offered a shot on a show called The Tube, the one show we did for Secret, and they wanted us to come on, play three songs live. We went on that show, we borrowed money from everybody we knew, we flew to England, and at the end of the show we had like five offers on the table, including Atlantic Records Worldwide, and not Jason Flomm. He gets credit for signing the band, but he didn’t. The guy’s name was Phil Carson, President of Atlantic Europe. He’s the one who signed the band.
RV: Sweet. You know, I actually used to own a copy of the Secret label version of Under the Blade, and like an idiot, I sold it in a big pile of other stuff, and I didn’t even see, I mean, I ghave it on CD now, but that’s one of the things I’ve always kicked myself for, was selling the Secret version of that. That'll always remain my favorite Twisted album.
DS: Yeah, yeah, that’s the one I have. You know, that record for certain people is their favorite. My son Jesse was a VJ on MTV2 and he ran into the guys from Rancid, and they were like, “Dude, tell your dad, Under the Blade..." since we were on the same label as The Exploited, you know, one of the big second wave of punk bands.
RV: You bet. One of my favorites.
DS: There was a story I told on VH-1, you know, Behind the Music?
DS: You see the “shite” story I told?
DS: And what’s wrong with "shit?" That was Big John! The Exploited were crewing for us and he was, you know, with a heavy Scottish accent, “It’s all a bunch of shite, mon!" (laughs) And I’m like, what the fuck? What are you saying, man? It's shit, man! (laughs)
To be continued...
(c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.