Guitar hero uses French connection to share Twisted path for business success
Jewish Telegraph, December 2021
JAY Jay French is founder, guitarist and manager of heavy metal legends Twisted Sister, but that only tells half the story.
Before he became Jay Jay, he was drug-dealing high school dropout John French Segall. Now, though, he is an in-demand motivational speaker and author — along with Steve Farber — of self-help book Twisted Business: Lessons from My Life in Rock ‘n Roll (Rosetta Books, £22.99).
By using the letters of TWISTED, Jay Jay explains his tips to success — Tenacity, Wisdom, Inspiration, Stability, Trust, Excellence, Discipline.
“People said to me, ‘What’s the book going to be about?’ And I go, ‘Well, it’s a business book. Well, it’s a memoir. Well, it’s a business book. Well, it’s a memoir’. Well, which one is it?,” Manhattan-based Jay Jay told me.
“The answer, it’s both. It’s a ‘bus-oir’ — a business book and a memoir all rolled into one, it starts off in one way and ends completely differently. And I want to take people through a journey of evolution so they would appreciate that business story.”
Jay Jay’s rise to stardom began in the early-1970s when he answered an advert for a band called Wicked Lester.
The two leaders of the band, Gene Klein and Stanley Eisen, went to watch Jay Jay jamming with a band called Scout at a church dance.
“When I walked off the stage at the end of the set, Gene came up to me and told me to take my glasses off,” Jay Jay writes in Twisted Business. “‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because you look too Jewish,’ he said.
“I’d never heard that before. ‘If you join the band,’ said Gene, ‘you’ll have to change your last name.’ My name was still Segall back then. ‘It sounds as Jewish as you look.’
“When I asked him why it was a problem to seem Jewish, Gene explained that the new band was going to portray itself the way English bands look and sound; therefore, their band member names had to sound English, too. That’s why Gene Klein was going to call himself Gene Simmons, and Stan Eisen was changing his name to Paul Stanley.”
Jay Jay wasn’t asked to join Wicked Lester. The job went to Ace Frehley and the band became Kiss.
“I didn’t think twice about it. It never affected me,” Jay Jay told me. “When Twisted Sister were created, Kiss had not become famous yet. When they made it, I was happy for them. They made it with the right person. Ace was a great look. A lot of guitar players tried out for that band. And Ace got the job. Why? Because he was the best one for the job.
Jay Jay recalled a conversation with Gene after landing the opening slot at a Mott the Hoople show.
“He goes, ‘How did you do that?’ And I said, ‘We’re gonna make it before you’.
In the end, though, Twisted Sister had to wait 10 years to make it big, while Kiss became one of the biggest bands in the world after the release of fourth album Alive! in 1975.
On the subject of changing names, Jay Jay said that when Daniel Snider — whose father was Jewish — was recruited as Twisted Sister’s lead singer, he renamed him Dee Snider.
He also references iconic punk band The Dictators.
“Here’s a band of Jewish kids from Queens called The Dictators,” Jay Jay said. “First of all, that’s ironic. Right? So secondly, look at the cartoon characters they all became.
“Singer Richard Blum became Handsome Dick Manitoba, Mark Glickman — future Twisted Sister bassist — became Mark ‘The Animal’ Mendoza, Scott Kempner became Scott Top 10, Ross Friedman became Ross the Boss. you starting to get a picture here?
“This was an era of alternate cartoon-like creations. It also helps you as a performer to create an alter image so that you go out on stage and be somebody that you’re not.”
He added: “My family name was Segal, but it was changed to Segall upon my grandparents’ entry into America at Ellis Island in 1890.”
Twisted Sister’s success came at just the right time as Jay Jay had given himself until his 30th birthday to make it big — and their breakthrough after appearing on The Tube on Channel 4 came when he was 29.
But would he have followed through on his promise to quit?
“Woulda, coulda, shoulda, it’s impossible to know,” he said. “Although, if I think back to my history, every time I’ve given myself some sort of a timetable, I’ve stuck with it. I quite naturally may have just said, if things didn’t happen, when it happened, it would have been over.
“We did discuss that as a band. We had taken it as far as we could, there were no paths left. My book is about pathways. And it’s about constantly finding pathways.
“But there are some times that there are no pathways no matter what you try, or every pathway is closed. And that’s happened a couple of times in my life. And certainly, that was a pathway that probably I had to face head on.”
Jay Jay hadn’t planned for a life outside music. Although he was a “high school dropout, I was also very self assured about what I thought I could do. And then I thought I could do anything. I thought I was invincible, which is something a lot of young people believe.
“But who knows what could have been. I could have gone back to school, I could have got a degree, I could have gone into finance, I could have done many things. We could sit here thinking about that forever, it’s impossible to know.”
Of Twisted Sister’s legacy, Jay Jay said: “If you look at 1973, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Kiss and Twisted Sister were all created. Do you think any of us thought we would be talking about any of our bands 50 years later?
“If we’re honest, we would say we would last five years, maybe 10. Here we are 50 years later, my records still sell by the boatload, our music is downloaded by the boatload, our music is licensed by the boatload.”
He added: “I’m sure there are many bands out there that will say what we do has influenced them.
“Fifty years after the formation of the band, the band still remains a worldwide brand, bigger now than possibly it was back when we started.
“And if you take a 10-year-old kid, and you go ‘sing me a Kiss song’, they may not know one, you go ‘sing me an AC/DC song’, they may not know one, you go ‘sing me a Judas Priest song’ . . .
“But you say We’re Not Gonna Take It and the kid will sing it. It is an international theme.
“Just this past month, someone from South America sent me an email showing me the guy running for president is using We’re Not Gonna Take It as his song. And the guy running for president in Spain is using it as his theme song.
“And when Brexit was happening in England, they were singing We’re Not Gonna Brexit on the steps of parliament.”
During his speaking engagements, Jay Jay talks about “on any given day, you can walk out of your door, and something can change your life.
“And in this particular case, I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe in preparedness and opportunity. And so we were fully prepared to take advantage of the right opportunity.
“And the opportunity finally availed itself that day on The Tube TV show. And we took full advantage of it because we were completely prepared to take advantage of it.
“So all that work, we put in paid off and all that work we put in continues to pay off because, here we are, 50 years later, and the band’s viability is intact.
“And the band’s licensing of its music is intact, and the band retired at the peak of its career. We could have gone on to play festivals forever because we’re that good live.”
Jay Jay believes the band made the right decision to call it a day in 2016 because of the effect Covid-19 has had on the industry in the past couple of years.
“By 2020, the whole business was going to collapse,” he said. “I made a decision. I didn’t want to go any further. I’d had it, it was enough for me. We accomplished everything.
“We had reformed in 2003 officially, and thought it was going to last two years, that’s the most really we considered playing. And the reuniting period lasted 14 years. And we did everything we wanted to accomplish.
“We had very strict requirements for how we were going to continue. We were not going to be the kind of band that played in a club, in a bar, we’re only going to headline the world’s biggest shows.
“And we did exactly what we wanted to do and then, like everything else in this world, things get old and you move on. I’ve never regretted it.
“But meanwhile, all of our friends, whose livelihoods depend on this world, all got screwed, because of Covid; their entire business model was destroyed because of Covid.
“Our business model was not destroyed. Our business model was let’s make money off licensing that’s what we do. So our income never changed.”
Jay Jay, who ran the New York Marathon twice, said he always wanted to be David Bowie’s guitarist Mick Ronson.
“I wanted to make myself up as a blonde shiksa,” he laughed.
Until he discovered Bowie, Jay Jay had been a Grateful Dead fan.
“Bands from that era of the hippie world, pretty much you are who you are. You’re on stage with T-shirts and jeans, and you just have your name and you play music, man, because the music is all that matters.
“Obviously Bowie changed it all. It became image, if not image first, then image equal. And so the desire to change became the focal point.
“However, if you were to say to me back in 1973 that you foresaw a management career, I would have said no, I was a guitar player. That’s all I ever wanted to be.
“The book is about my evolution, from a street kid, drug dealing, drug addict, into a manager of running a business.
“And it just uses rock and roll as its backstory because it’s sexy. But all the lessons I teach in the book, the TWISTED method of reinvention, are all basically transcendent business lessons that have evolved over my experiences as being a manager of a rock band, because people don’t think the rock bands become rock bands successfully because of a business practice.
“They think it’s some sort of a fantasy world of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and fairy dust to make a deal with the devil and somehow make it.
“Twisted Sister made it as a byproduct of a business plan. And that’s what I’m most proud of. In the book, I explain step-by-step exactly how and why that occurred.”
The book doesn’t get too personal. There are no mentions of his first two marriages to Jodie Glickman (Mark Mendoza’s sister) and Janice Brock, or his current marriage to Sharon Gitelle.
“If I was going to write the book the way I originally had envisioned it, it would have been the 18 volume history of the Jews or an ongoing eight billion page description of everything that ever happened to me.
“And when I brought in my co-writer, Steve Farber, he said to me, ‘Stop. This is what we’re going to talk about. You have to edit it’.
“Does it matter that I had failed marriages? A little bit. But did I want to waste time and effort on it? Not particularly. Did I get into my heart operations? I could have. I had two heart operations, one almost killed me. I didn’t get into my prostate cancer because it was a business book.
“If the world cares enough, perhaps, there will be a second book. But right now I’m enjoying this. I’m in the entertainment business. The entertainment businesses is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ business. And the problem with my businesses, you can’t even enjoy being successful with what you do, because the first question somebody says is, ‘So what’s next?’.
“And you go, can I just enjoy this s*** for like five minutes. So there may be other things. But right now I’m just enjoying this book, I’m enjoying the promotion of the book, I’m enjoying the reactions that people have with the book.”
Jay Jay said that in his youth, his parents, Lou and Eveline Segall, lost total control of him.
“They crossed their fingers and hoped I didn’t get killed. But that wasn’t unusual. For the era that I grew up in, I don’t think any of my friends were any different than me,” he said.
“Most of my friends were Jewish or Puerto Rican kids from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Most of us decided we wanted to be rock stars, whatever that meant. Most of us decided that we were going to take as many drugs as possible, for whatever reason we wanted to; most of us did whatever the hell we wanted to do.
“Most of us paid no attention to our parents, under any circumstances. I don’t think any of us cared what our parents thought. We all thought we were getting away with murder.”
His experiences in life led him to be honest with his daughter Samantha when she was 15.
“I said, I’m going to tell you about my life,” Jay Jay explained. “I’m going to tell you everything, because I’m a public figure and one day someone’s going to tell you about it. So rather than them tell you, I’m going to tell you.
“So I was brutally honest with her about me. And my parents were not necessarily brutally honest about them to me. Because I did not know that my father’s mother died in a car crash in which my father was involved on his 21st birthday.
“And I did not know that the family held him responsible for her death, and did not know that he did not talk to his sisters because they blamed him for their mother’s death. He never told that to me, but my parents were of that generation. They just didn’t talk and I didn’t ask.”
Despite his drug-dealing years and drug taking, Jay Jay says he hates drugs and alcohol.
“I hate them because I lived through it,” he said. “And I had to listen to the idiots who took them. So if anything, I am the greatest exponent for people who don’t like that s*** that you could ever ask for. Because you can’t look at me as a role model and go, well, he’s a drug addict. No, he’s not a drug addict. But if you did any of that s*** around him, you’d be fired.
“Drugs destroyed my world. They destroyed my friends; destroyed my relationship with my girlfriend. I thought we were invincible, but by the time I was 20, the drugs scene had left a minefield of disasters.
“If anything, the book is a cautionary tale. I certainly do not romanticise it to the point where someone says I want to do that. I walked away with my brains intact before it destroyed me.”
Jay Jay’s mother was very politically motivated and campaigned for John F Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign — which led to a seven-year-old Jay Jay sharing a car with the future president.
“My mother Eveline (nee French) was politically connected to a lot of New York politicians, and it was exciting,” he said. “You know, this was a new reform, democratic movement, pretty much created by Jewish intellectuals. There was this whole atmosphere of intellectuals, and my parents were part of that.
“And they would sit around my apartment with all their friends smoking cigarettes, drinking their cocktail and discussing political philosophy.
“And that left-wing mentality spoke to me, and led to the anti-war demonstrations and the civil rights marches. It was a very interesting time very different than today.”
But Jay Jay made the decision to keep politics out of his music.
“This wasn’t going to be like Rage Against the Machine,” he explained. “I am a classic entertainer. Let me make this the two hours that takes you away from the crap you’re dealing with.”
Jay Jay was never barmitzvah because his parents had no religious affiliation.
“They rejected it completely,” he said. “I once asked my mother why I wasn’t getting barmitzvah. She said, ‘Well, you have to go to Hebrew school’. So I said, ‘Why am I not in Hebrew school’ and she said ‘We don’t go to temple and we are not observant’.
“So I went to Hebrew school, came home and told her I didn’t like it and she said, ‘I could have told you that, but you want to do this on your own’. So that was the end of it.
“My brother, Jeff, on the other hand, is much more culturally aligned. And he was barmitzvah at the age of 40.
“And the irony of all of this is that my wife is the granddaughter of Salo Wittmayer Baron, the greatest Jewish historian who ever lived, who wrote the 18 volume A Social and Religious History of the Jews.
“He testified at the Eichmann trial. My wife’s family is full of brilliant people. The fact that she married a high school dropout rock and roll musician, former drug dealer actually shocked everybody. Another irony is that her ex-husband’s name is John Segal.
“Yeah, that’s like Woody Allen on steroids and cocaine and Jack. That’s pretty freaky.”