Twisted Sister PhotoFORMED: 1973
DISBANDED: 1987

A product of New York City's early-'70s rock scene, Twisted Sister were faithful students of the New York Doll's glam school, with Kiss' theatrics and the shock rock of Alice Cooper thrown in for good measure. While excellent role models from an artistic stand point, the Dolls' decadent and unreliable behavior would set a terrible precedent, turning the signing of a New York band into an industry taboo. Twisted Sister were among the most obvious victims of this problem, struggling for nearly a decade before getting their big break in the early '80s. And when this break finally came, the band would become one of the most gruesome examples of over exposure in the history of rock & roll, bringing an abrupt end to their brief moment in the sun. Founded in December 1972 by guitarist Jay Jay French (who as John Segal, legend has it, played in a pre-Kiss band called Rainbow with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley), Twisted Sister was initially a glam rock cover band modeled after the New York Dolls.

Their apprenticeship on the local club scene was a slow one, but by late 1975, a somewhat stable lineup had coalesced around French, fellow guitarist and high school buddy Eddie "Fingers" Ojeda, bassist Kenneth Harrison Neil, and drummer Kevin John Grace. A number of different vocalists filed through their ranks, but it was only with the arrival of Dee Snider in early 1976 that the band found a true leader. Snider brought a strong Alice Cooper influence to the band, giving their by then antiquated glam sound a welcome kick in the ass. He also quickly developed into the band's dominant songwriter and, with new drummer Tony Petri in tow, Twisted Sister finally began making a name for themselves in and around the city. A significant growth spurt ensued; Snider wrote a wealth of original material and the band's live performances grew to be a local legend, setting attendance records in many clubs and culminating in a fruitful, May 1978 recording session which would yield most of the material released 20 years later as the Club Daze album. Their transformation from glam rock into metallic hard rockers was completed later that year with the arrival of ex-Dictators bass player Mark "the Animal" Mendoza. November 1979 saw another studio session, this time at Electric Lady studios with famed Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer. It resulted in their first single "I'll Never Grow up Now!," released on the band's own TSR label in early 1980, with another single, "Bad Boys of Rock 'n' Roll," following that summer. But for all their hard work, by 1981 the band had nothing to show except a growing collection of record company rejection slips. Finally, independent Secret Records decided to take a chance on the group and, after cutting the four-track Ruff Cuts EP (initially released only in Britain), the group flew to England with new drummer A.J. Pero (ex-Cities) to record their first full-length album, Under the Blade, with famed UFO bassist Pete Way producing.

Despite obtaining only a mediocre sound (the project was Way's first attempt at production), the album became a surprise underground success and created enough of a buzz to attract giant Atlantic Records, which came calling with a major distribution contract the final ingredient for Twisted Sister's assault on the charts over the next two years. 1983's You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll laid the groundwork for their success with their more polished production values and strong material, which, despite yielding only one single in the title-track (for which the band filmed their first, incredibly cheesy but already mildly amusing video), garnered instant cred with the metal crowd. Later that year, L.A.'s Quiet Riot topped the charts with their debut Metal Health (the first heavy metal album to do so), and Twisted Sister took advantage of this sympathetic musical climate to unleash their definitive statement, Stay Hungry. Digging deep into his pop and glam roots, Snider added new commercial appeal to the band's hard rock onslaught. And with such monster hits as "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock" (with their hilariously tongue-in-cheek accompanying videos) leading the way to radio and MTV saturation, the album would exceed the multi-platinum barrier. The extensive touring that followed would keep them near the top of the charts for many months to come and would help make the "sick mo-fos" from Long Island a household name in America. Of course the backlash, when it came, was equally as quick and incredibly vicious. Overexposed to the breaking point after converting every angry teenager in America (and their parents), Twisted Sister had lost the edge of their dangerous image, not to mention the respect of their loyal, but terribly possessive, core metal fan base. To complicate matters, 1985's Come Out and Play album was very uneven.

Attempting to cater to both the band's hardcore elements and their newfound pop constituency while introducing an excessively glammed-up image makeover to boot, it quickly slid off the charts. Not even Atlantic Records' reissue of Under the Blade (with an added bonus track, "I'll Never Grow up Now!") could staunch the bleeding, and a dumbfounded Twisted Sister quickly transformed from media darlings to their favorite whipping boys. Snider remained in the camera eye, however, appearing before a Senate committee later that year (along with such rock & roll luminaries as Frank Zappa and Bob Denver) to testify against the demands of Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) for music censorship legislation. Sadly, it would prove to be Twisted Sister's highest profile appearance that year, as their concerts were frequently marred either by low attendance or crowd animosity, and, as if to add insult to injury, drummer Pero quit at tour's end. 1986 was a troubled year for the group, with rumors running rampant about a rift between Snider and French over the band's direction, as well as ownership of the Twisted Sister name. Eventually, the group returned to action with 1987's disappointing Love Is for Suckers (featuring new drummer Joey "Seven" Franco), but not even the services of flavor of the month pop-metal producer Beau Hill could save the album from oblivion, and Twisted Sister disintegrated shortly thereafter. 1992 saw the release of a Twisted Sister greatest-hits package, entitled Big Hits and Nasty Cuts, followed by the self-explanatory Live at Hammersmith two years later.

The bandmembers would fade from sight in the early '90s, but Snider eventually re-emerged. First as the voice behind the New York State Lotto commercials, then with a new band called Desperado, featuring Franco and ex-Gillan guitarist Bernie Torme. Later changing their name to Widowmaker (and hiring guitarist Al Pitreli), the group released two albums in the early '90s to little media or public success. Snider would transition into a career as a nationally syndicated heavy metal DJ, before writing and starring in the 1998 terror flick Strangeland based on a couple of songs from the Stay Hungry album. The film would also spur a return of the final Twisted Sister lineup in order to record a brand new song, entitled "Heroes Are Hard to Find," for its soundtrack (guitarist French, coincidentally, was managing Sevendust, also featured on the soundtrack). 1999 saw most of the band's Atlantic albums re-released by Spitfire Records with bonus tracks, as well as the aforementioned demo collection, Club Daze, Vol. 1. The same year, rumors began circulating about an impending Twisted Sister reunion tour (going so far as being confirmed as fact on www.MTV.com), and while relations between members were the best they'd been in years, a tour failed to materialize. Snider kept his profile up by appearing in the video "Zip-Lock" by MTV darlings Lit, that parodied Twisted Sister's classic "We're Not Gonna Take It" clip (this time, Snider played the drill instructor-like father).

2001 saw the release of a Twisted Sister tribute album, Twisted Forever (featuring such metal acts as Motörhead, Anthrax, Vision of Disorder, Joan Jett, and Sebastian Bach, among others, plus a cover of AC/DC's "Sin City" performed by Twisted Sister themselves), as well as another rarities set, Never Say Never: Club Daze, Vol. 2. All five bandmembers united for several autograph signing sessions in record stores and one-off performances during the summer, sparking further rumors of a full-on reunion. ~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide