A Word with Twisted Sister’s Fearless Jay Jay French

A Word with Twisted Sister’s Fearless Jay Jay French

jayjay rocking his red guitar on stage

“ I just saw Bob Dylan’s show and it was the worst $@#% I’ve ever heard in my life.”

— Jay Jay French

“I just saw Bob Dylan’s show and it was the worst $@#% I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m saying this from a loving perspective.” Thus began my interview with Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister and Copper Magazine, one I was keen on doing for a couple of reasons: Twisted Sister was both a big part of my musical landscape during my suburban upbringing, and I was intrigued by the idea that the founding member of one of the loudest rock bands of the 1980s was also into good audio. Turns out Jay Jay was always into good audio.

“It was 1967. I was fifteen,” he says. “I couldn’t stand the Zenith stereo garbage my parents gave me, so with the money I made selling pot I walked into New York’s Liberty Hi-Fi on Lexington Ave. and bought my first real hi-fi. It included a Sony receiver, a pair of KLH speakers, and an AR turntable with a Shure cartridge”. It turned out to be the start of a lifelong romance between Jay Jay and audio gear, one that has, by his count, seen him own over 40 turntables, 40 different amp-preamp combos, and a boatload of speakers.

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Raised in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, by 1972 Jay Jay was captivated by glam rock, particularly the androgynous look of artists such as David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and The New York Dolls, the latter he’d consistently go see live because, in his words: “I couldn’t believe a band could suck that bad and look that good. I thought to myself, if you could only look that good, and be able to play. What a concept! So that’s what we did. Twisted Sister looked like a bunch of crazy transvestites, but we could play.”

Was his appreciation for good audio a factor in the recording quality of a Twisted Sister record? “Never. Because we were in a genre that plays with 100% distortion. We didn’t want it. Our fans didn’t want it. I’m not a snob. I listen to old cassettes. The music always comes first.”

Still, as much as he enjoys his Sonos and Vanatoo-B&W computer system at home, Jay Jay’s pride and joy is his reference setup, which includes gear by VPI, Ortofon, Simaudio, Marantz, PS Audio, Pass Labs, Wilson Audio, Wireworld, Magico (not shown – to view a video of Jay Jay’s system with the Magico A3 speakers, click here.), and Elac. Jay Jay calls the $USD500 Elac UB5 the best speakers for the money. “Connected to my amp, it’s almost like a goldfish sniffing cocaine and thinking it’s Jaws, you know?” He likens the experience of listening to his big rig to taking a Maserati tour along the countryside — a special occasion.

During a Twisted Sister hiatus in the late 90s, Jay Jay worked as a salesman at New York’s Lyric Hi-Fi, a gig that lasted four years. There, Jay Jay sold the cream of the hi-fi crop – Infinity, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, Goldmund. “The more I played on the gear at the store the less I wanted to listen to my system at home.”

Was there a turning point in his life that made him realize he was into hi-fi for the long haul? “Yes, it was the first pair of speakers that made me go “wow, that sounds real” — JBL L100s. I heard Cat Stevens’s guitar strokes through the L100s that sounded like he was in my living room!”

“These days,” he says. “You can get a great system that doesn’t cost a lot of money: a PS Audio Sprout, Elac or B&W speakers, you can stream, or add a CD player or turntable for less than $1000.00. It’ll be a system that’ll make you happy. If you tell me you want to spend $100.00 on a USB turntable at Best Buy, I’d tell you to &@#$ off!”

Thanks for your honesty, Jay Jay.

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ADDENDUM, June 2, 2020

The above interview was conducted prior to the pandemic. We thought we’d do a follow up with Jay Jay to see what he was up to.

“I’ve been listening to a lot of vinyl lately,” he says by email. “Probably more continuous vinyl listening since the early 70s.

I decided to concentrate on a music form that I really know nothing about: Jazz. I was signed to Atlantic Records, received a ton of classic Atlantic Jazz records given to me by (Atlantic Records co-founder and President) Ahmet Ertegun years ago.”

Did that mean he was into jazz now?  “It’s a genre that has been and remains a mystery to me. I play it over and over waiting for something to catch. Time will tell if it sinks in.”

In a selfless gesture of goodwill, I offer to buy Jay Jay’s jazz collection. I still haven’t heard back.

2024 PMA Magazine. All rights reserved.

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