Tone Quest Report Interview with Jay Jay French

Tone Quest Report Interview with Jay Jay French (Adobe Acrobat file)

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash and I’m looking for the Twisted Sisters.” – Johnny Cash

The upper west side of Manhattan, 1966…“John… John! Turn that down!” his mother pleads. “He is so obsessed with that guitar,” she whispers to the boy’s father, wringing her hands. “Why does he have to play so loudly? And the screeching… like something is dying. I’m afraid that amplifier will catch fire and burn the apartment down if we aren’t evicted first. The neighbors have even stopped speaking to me… You must stop this.” “Don’t worry – he will outgrow this obsession soon enough,” John’s father replies. “Our boy does nothing halfhearted, and for that we should be grateful. It is a good omen for his future… He will be a good earner some day, our son. A macher!”

But of course, his obsession did not wane, the amplifiers steadily grew in size and power and the earnest and determined boy with a stack of records and a guitar morphed into “Jay Jay French” – founding member of a heavy metal glam band formed in 1972 called Twisted Sister.

It wasn’t easy to get noticed by major U.S. record labels in 1972, but the demand for live music was strong enough to support any outfit that could keep it together long enough to work up a couple of sets and resort to 20 minute extended jams as needed. Remember “In a Godda da Vita?” Twisted Sister was intended to be the Jersey version of the New York Dolls, and they started out playing covers of Mott the Hoople, Bowie, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper. Despite their ability to pack clubs throughout the Northeast, the band was viewed as a cheesy joke by the New York record labels, but French persevered, repeatedly retooling eleven different versions of Twisted Sister until he was able to assemble a group of “straight” band members unimpaired by the excesses of the ‘70s bar scene. As French put it, “In December 1974, the original singer, Michael Valentine, got onto a fight with Mel. Both were drunk, and we were playing in a club in Adams, MA. We shared a dorm-like room upstairs and a family lived in the other room. There was a rifle belonging to the family that was kept outside their door. During the fight between Mel and Michael, Michael grabbed the rifle, aimed it at Mel’s chest and threatened to pull the trigger. It was at this point that I walked in, and I saw my future pass before my eyes as I thought Michael was going to kill Mel. He threw the gun down and they started fighting. It was at this time that I came to the conclusion that alcohol and drugs don’t mix well when you are trying to make a successful business out of rock & roll.”

Twisted Sister was eventually signed to Atlantic Records in England, and the band performed over 9,000 shows, sold 10 million records and recorded 25 platinum and gold records from 8 countries between 1973 and 1987. Today, the original band is playing to the largest audiences of their career in Europe, while we Americans continue to doggedly lose our sense of humor in the New American Culture of Fear. If the terrorists don’t get you, the bird flu will, or perhaps nine little goblins with green glass eyes… Regardless of how you may feel about the twistedness of Twisted Sister, there is something remarkable about any culture in which people are capable of losing themselves and all illusions of civilized comportment long enough to become enraptured in the 120dB thrash of vintage heavy metal transvestite theater.

Beneath the theatrics and the stage makeup, Jay Jay French is one of us – a man whose adolescent attachment to the guitar and rock music has remained intact and only strengthened with time. Anyone reading this would find him remarkably energetic, articulate, funny, and approachable – the kind of cat you can easily hang with and talk about gear, music and the arcane history of rock and blues. His success – admittedly carved from the outer limits of mainstream rock – has not left him jaded, addled from past addictions or plagued by the peculiar, suffocating distance that so many celebrities seek to maintain between their inner circle and the rest of the human race. In other words, he’s a guitar and tone freak who has managed to remain completely normal. Well, almost…

On the day we met Jay Jay he had just received the cleanest vintage ‘59 335 dotneck we have ever seen. As he pulled out case after case holding still another vintage guitar from every corner of his New York apartment, Jay Jay’s contagious enthusiasm infected the entire room – not in a prideful way – but with reverent respect and admiration for so many rare instruments artfully created by men and women now departed from this world, their legacies left in sunburst, ebony, cherry and gold. Enjoy…

TQR: How did your obsession with the guitar initially take hold?

I grew up in a household in Manhattan in which my parents constantly played music by the group The Weavers, Harry Belafonte and Perry Como. Although my parents didn’t play musical instruments, my brother Jeff, who was ten years older than myself, was a really good folk guitar player. Since this was the early 1960’s, folk music was really big. I was compelled to play guitar so that I could compete with my brother. In the summer of 1962 I went to a camp in upstate New York called Camp Thoreau. Mike Meeropole, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, was my camp counselor. Mike taught me how to play guitar. After I came back from camp that summer, my brother was shocked to see that I was playing and he dared me to learn how to “Travis pick.” In an effort to do something better than my brother, I learned how to Travis pick. It is a technique I have never had to use professionally; however, I am glad I know how to do it. My biggest influence in my early days was my brother.

TQR: When and how did you discover your own personal voice as a player? What kinds of music were you playing and how did your choice of gear specifically evolve to the point where you said, “That’s it – now I’ve got it nailed. This is me.”

Once I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show I decided that I wanted to be a rock star, but wasn’t quite sure how I was going to get there. In 1965, after I heard Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” I started my first real band. The drummer’s name was Paul Herman and the lead singer was a Chinese kid named Bing Gong. We called the band John, Paul and Bingo. With me on guitar, Paul on drums and Bing on vocals, we played our first battle of the bands and got annihilated by a local hot shit group called “The Bats.” The Bats had a great guitar player named Chris Wallace, who at that time was the fastest guitar player I had ever seen. The Bats didn’t have a bass player, so I broke up John, Paul and Bingo and started hanging out with the Bats. I figured my way in was to play bass. This was during the winter of ’65- ’66 and it seemed like everybody and their mother was putting a band together. My father agreed to spend $35.00 on a bass guitar. I bought a red Hagstom bass, which I promptly took to wood shop and stripped off the finish. About a year later I replaced the neck pickup with a Gibson bass pickup and had Gibson controls put in. It was the first of four boneheaded major modifications that I had done to my guitars and it also represented the first time I met guitar repair legend Dan Armstrong, who did the work when he was still working out of a small shop in Midtown near 48th street. I had thought that I lost the bass a long time ago, but I found it recently and realized that the strings had been on it since ‘66! Somewhere around this time I got a hold of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s first album. I couldn’t believe how great Mike Bloomfield was on guitar.

There was a guy in the neighborhood named Nick Katzman, who I had heard played just like Mike Bloomfield. He had a Fender Telecaster, just like Bloomfield. Emulating Bloomfield was my first obsession. I was 12 years old. I went down to 48th street in Manhattan and wound up buying my first Fender Telecaster from a store called “Jimmy’s” for $135. I lost the guitar in a card game a year later, but by this time the album that really changed my life had come out – John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. Up until this time, all my friends had Fender amps and Fender guitars. After hearing the scorching tone Clapton had on that Bluesbreakers record, I knew it would alter my playing style forever. My quest for tone had begun and I have been on that journey ever since. In fact, I believe it is safe to say that the entire industry that we are a part of, which is the “tone quest” industry, was fundamentally created with that Bluesbreakers album. None of my friends had Marshalls yet, and nobody was playing through humbucking pickups, either. I went back down to 48th street with $242 in my pocket to see how close I could get to a humbucking pickup. All I could afford was a Gibson SG Special with P-90’s.

Being a guitar player in NYC during this period was particularly historically significant because many of the legends of
today started out as merely students of technicians back in those days. To give you an example, Steve Blucher who basically runs DiMarzio pickups, used to do fret jobs for me back when he worked for Carl Thompson. Richie Fliegler, who runs Fender marketing, used to do repair work for Charlie Lebue at the Guitar Lab. All the while this was happening, Dan Armstrong had moved into his new guitar shop on LaGuardia place, where at any given moment in the summer of 1967 – 1968, rock stars could be seen walking in and out, getting their guitars and amps repaired. Here I was, this 14-15 year old kid, hanging out in all these places, including Manny’s music on 48th street, trying to get a vibe or a feel, steal a guitar trick, learn a lick, and try to play some sound I heard in my head. This obsession was so strong that it diverted my attentions away from all things scholastic. Eventually I came to the conclusion that rock and roll was my future and I decided to to drop out of high school with two months left in my senior year. The P-90’s on my SG Special of course were not humbucking pickups, so I still had a way to go as far as finding my sound. Fender amps were not happening for me, either. After saving all my money, I finally bought my first stack, which was an Ampeg V4 with two 4×12 cabinets.

Growing up in New York during this time also gave me the luxury of being able to go to the Fillmore East almost every weekend. However, one year before the Fillmore opened for business, rock shows were still being promoted by local DJ’s in New York.

The most famous was Murray the K, who also called himself the fifth Beatle. Murray the K had been promoting rock and roll shows for years at the Fox Theater in Brooklyn. As ‘50s music faded out and the ‘60s came in, Murray went with the times and blew off all the oldies acts. When the Beatles music lead to more progressive acts, Murray the K helped to lead the way. He promoted concerts in 1967 which became legendary in the history of New York rock and roll. At my first rock show, which Murray the K put on, there were ten bands on the bill, but the two most famous bands were The Who and Cream. Both bands only played two songs each. The Who did “I Can’t explain” and “My Generation” and Cream played “N.S.U.” and “I Feel Free.” When I watched Clapton play through humbucking pickups and a Marshall stack, I knew that was my future.

When the Fillmore opened up in 1968, I was able to see some of the most awesome guitar players in the world on a weekly basis. I would go to the Fillmore on Friday, see an amazing guitar player and spend the next week trying to figure out how he got his sound before I would see the next great guitar player the following Friday. A kid in my 10th grade chemistry class, whose name was Ricky Paul, had a brother named Steve Paul, who was an influential club owner in Manhattan during the ‘60s. I had just read an article in Rolling Stone magazine that Johnny Winter was a super guitar player out of Texas and that he was signed by this guy Steve Paul. No sooner did I read that article article than Ricky Paul came up to me in chemistry class telling me, “My brother just signed this guy Johnny Winter. Wanna come see him at the Fillmore East?” I saw BB King and Johnny Winter that night. To be able to see guys like Johnny Winter, BB King, Alvin Lee, Henry Vestine from Canned Heat, the guitar player from Pacific Gas and Electric (whose name escapes me, but had an amazing sound), Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, and of course, Jimi Hendrix, every week at the Fillmore was an experience that not only will I never forgot, but I don’t think will ever be repeated again in anyone’s lifetime. I used to come home from the Fillmore and stand in front of my mirror at 4 a.m., trying to emulate something I learned that night. Now, I know this is going to sound strange, but the one band I saw more than any other was the Grateful Dead. I saw them 26 times between 1968-1972. As much as Jerry Garcia is an icon and as much as I was blown away by the band that he created, I have to say that I never liked his guitar tone, never learned a single Dead song or had any desire to emulate anything about that band. It’s just an example of how you love a band for other reasons than their guitar player.

I realized that Fenders were not my sound… P-90’s were not my sound. I needed humbucking pickups on a Marshall. Back in the ‘60s, buying accessories like tuners, pickups, pickguards, etc, was much more difficult than it is today. None of the after-market pickup companies were even in existence yet. I remember going down to Manny’s, deciding I didn’t want a tremolo bar in my SG special, and having decided that I wanted a stud tail piece, I needed the wooden base of the bridge to be shaved down to accommodate the neck angle of the body of the SG. At about this time, I was also able to buy a pair of Gibson humbucking pickups, and I went to Dan Armstrong’s store and had them install humbucking pickups, which meant they had to chop up the pickguard, remove the vibrato mechanism, drill holes for a stud tail piece and put a tune-o-matic in. My V4 stack was loud, but it wasn’t a Marshall.

Finally, in the summer of 1968 I got my first Marshall Stack. I believe it was about $900. I brought it home to my apartment on the Upper West side of Manhattan, turned everything to 10 and proceeded to deafen my neighborhood. When I stopped playing I heard a bang at my door. I figured it was a complaining neighbor. It was. She said “You son of a bitch, do you know how loud you were?” I said, “What apartment do you live in?” “She said, “I don’t live in your building.” I asked, “Where do you live?” and she said, “I live four blocks away” and I thought to myself, “My god, I’ve found my sound.

TQR: You came up at a time when successful rock bands were playing huge arenas where stage volume was essential. How ridiculous did it get for you in terms of sheer wattage and the number of speaker cabs in your rig? Could you really hear what the band was putting at that volume, or was it more just keying in on the drums in the monitors and hitting the‘on’ button for two hours?

In the very earliest days of Twisted Sister’s club life, which began in 1973, the guitar players (me and whomever else filled the rhythm position) usually played through small Fender Twin type amplifiers. Our bass player did, however, use a SVT head with one cabinet. The PA’s in those days were quite small and unsophisticated. Around 1976, after Dee joined the band, the drinking age dropped to 18 in the New York tri-state area and the clubs became larger to accommodate the influx of kids. This allowed us to start living our mini dreams as we started off with 50 watt half stack Marshalls.

By 1978 our popularity had grown so large that both Eddie Ojeda and myself were playing through three Marshall 50 watt heads and three cabinets each. The original bass player, Kenny, left at the end of ’78. He was still playing through 1 SVT head and one cabinet. One week after the legendary ex-Dictator bass player, Mark “The Animal” Mendoza joined the band, we realized we still didn’t have enough power. Mark’s stage gear was comprised of three full Sunn Coliseum bass stacks. This immediately forced Eddie and I to now play through four full Marshall stacks onstage. Keep in mind – this was 1978 and we’re still playing bars; however, the bars in the New York tristate area were unlike any other bars in the world. We were playing five nights a week within a radius of 50 miles of New York in bars that held up to 5,000 people. We were averaging 2,000 people every night. By this time our PA system had grown to enormous proportions as well. By the time we made our leap to the concert arena we had already been playing to thousands of people regularly in enormous venues. The escalation of volume, gear and overall power of rock had reached lethal proportions before we even signed our first record deal. As the crowds we played to grew larger, the stages bigger and the acoustics more atrocious, you really had to learn what key elements of the band you could rely on so that you could tell where you were in any given song. Most of the time, all I need is to hear the high hat and the snare in my monitor along with my guitar. On stages that are over 60 feet wide and 40 feet deep, it is a matter of trusting your professional abilities, because in truth, when you are running all over these stages, you are holding on for dear life. Only because we have played over 9000 shows can I, with some certainty, know what key I am supposed to be in at any given time.

TQR: What’s your stage rig like now? How has it changed, and to what extent have the changes been driven by the need to keep volume down compared to the past?

The evolution of Twisted Sister’s popularity has reached insane heights, especially in Europe. We don’t tour per se, but we play high profile headlining shows somewhere around the world on an average of once a month. Basically, we don’t own any equipment. We use rental gear supplied by the promoters.

Because we have no idea of the quality of the Marshall heads or the Ampeg gear we get, we have to do something so that our soundman can rely on an evenness of tone. He must be able to acquire this within 15 minutes (that’s the stage changeover time) before we hit the stage. How ironic is this? We have never been more popular, we play to way more people than we have ever played to, and yet we have the least control that we have ever had in dictating our sound quality. So, how do you solve this? It is elegantly simple and almost too embarrassing to admit. Both myself and Eddie carry with us Pod XLT’s that have presets which are plugged into the effects loop outs of any of the Marshalls and can uniformly assume the correct tone of our guitars anywhere on the planet within minutes. What it comes down to is this reality: After spending thousands and thousands of dollars on heavily modified tube chassis on the dozens of Marshalls that I have owned, not to mention the myriad of stomp boxes and hours and hours of tube changing just to be able to say that this frequency is better than that frequency and that this meshes with that, what my guitar tone is dictated by today is a solid state chip manufactured in China that costs roughly $.06 at source. Who ever would have thunk?

My current stage setup is as follows: Two full Marshall stacks directly behind me and an additional half stack on the other side of the stage so that I can hear what I’m doing as I’m running back and forth without having to rely on the monitor mix. That is a total of three 100 watt heads and five cabinets. My other guitar player uses the same system. My bass player uses two Ampeg Model 4 heads and three SVT cabinets. We currently play at a volume of roughly 123 dBs on stage and wear custom made earplugs, so I don’t hear too much of anything.

TQR: We’ve got more choices among amps, guitars, speakers and effects than at any other time in the history of the electric guitar, which can be good, but it can also become a tremendous distraction if you spend more time futzing with gear than playing… How do you handle that, and how has gear gotten better (or worse) in the past three decades?

My guitar collection is dictated by the fixation I have with guitar heroes and their photos on album covers. I am not a Fender guy and I really haven’t been since I owned my first Telecaster in ’66; however, I had the opportunity to buy a ’52 Tele several years ago and it just is one of the meanest sounding guitars I have ever heard in my life. Fender guitars historically are tougher to play than Gibsons. Frankly, I’m not clean enough to play a Fender guitar. Most guitar players who play Strats should be banned from that exercise, but I won’t embarrass these people by telling them that they shouldn’t be playing these things. If Strats can expose your weaknesses, then Telecasters are ten times more unrelenting. The greatest Telecaster player I ever saw was Roy Buchannan. This ’52 Tele that I have sounds like Roy’s Telecaster. Imagine if Neil Young played a Telecaster – it would sound like the guitar equivalent of Yoko Ono singing, and I love Neil…

TQR: Tell us about your guitar and amp collection and what is special about your favorite pieces.

The first vintage guitar I bought was a ’56 Junior, which I bought in 1970 for $300. I spent the next two years fucking it up through stupid modifications. I believe that I had the first Bill Lawrence pickups ever built put on that guitar by Bill Lawrence himself. Back in 1970 when this modification was done there were no after market humbuckers. These god awful looking, big, fat pieces of metal with a dozen screws on each plate had to be glued to the plastic rims of black humbucking pickups. Then the guitar had to be routed to accept two of these big ugly things. Bill Lawrence was so proud of them, he even had them wired split-coil and insisted that I have mini toggle switches. In order to accommodate this, the original pick guard was thrown away and a thicker piece of plastic in the shape of a pick guard, routed out for these pickups, was installed and two toggle switches were screwed into the pick guards. This “Frankenstein” Les Paul Jr. was traded away in ’74 and I have no idea who wound up with it.

I have seven goldtops (1 x ’52, 2 x ’53, 1 x ’54, 1 x ’55, 1 x ’56 and 1 x ’57). I got into goldtops because when I used to hang around Dan Armstrong’s guitar store, he used to have them on the wall for sale. I remember seeing a sign “Stephen Stills’ Gold Top for sale – $550.” I thought “Wow, that’s a lot of money, I can’t afford that.” That was 1968. However, by the fall of 1972 I was walking down West 4th street and in the window of this little music store called The Music Inn there was a 1953 goldtop for sale with a Bigsby for $700. At that time I had two black custom Les Pauls and a Junior. The black customs were reissued ‘68s. I asked the guy how much he would give me in trade for the goldtop Les Paul for one of my black Customs. He said “$300.” So I traded in one of my black customs and $400 for the goldtop with a Bigsby. The story of what became of that goldtop has become local continued legend.

Because I had seen Mike Bloomfield, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton all playing Sunburst Les Pauls, I really really wanted one. However, back in 1972 a ’59 burst was going for $1500 – way more than I could afford. Somewhere around 1977 a local custom guitar luthier named Steve Carr (not the same Steve Carr who makes amplifiers) had become well known for making KISS some custom guitars. I brought my ’53 gold top down to him.

At this point I had already modified it from its original condition, removed the P90’s and had replaced them with humbucking pickups. I asked Steve if he could transform my goldtop into a ’59 burst, and he said, “No problem!” I also asked him if he could put “Disco Sucks” in pearl inlay on the fretboard. He laughed and said, “No problem!” Six months later I got my rebuilt ’53 gold top transformed into a ’59 sunburst from Steve Carr. The guitar, however, never worked. It never stayed in tune. It was a fucking disaster – by far one of the dumbest things I ever have done.

12 years later, 1989, on the advice of legendary guitar salesman Steve Pisani from 48th Street, he gave me the phone number of a gentleman named JT Ribiloff, who ran the newly-built custom shop at Gibson. Steve suggested that JT could possibly rebuild my once beautiful ’53 goldtop back into its original state. I contacted JT, sent him the guitar, and he told me after laughing hysterically that he could rebuild it, but that it would take at least a year. Two years later the guitar arrived back at my house, perfectly rebuilt back into the ’53 that it was originally. That guitar hangs from a wall bracket and I stare at it everyday. JT Ribiloff is a legend and an absolute genius.

I also own a 1954 Les Paul Jr., a 1956 Black Les Paul custom, a 1958 Les Paul TV Jr., and because I saw Clapton play one at the Murray the K Easter show in 1967, I own a ’61 SG Les Paul. The one guitar that Steve Carr really did correctly was transform an otherwise ugly 1979 Tobacco Burst Les Paul, which weighs 10.5 pounds and is essentially a boat anchor, and gave it a pink sunburst finish. That pink Les Paul has been on every recording I have ever made with Twisted Sister. In fact, it is synonymous with myself and Twisted Sister. This year I am honored that Epiphone guitars has decided to issue the Jay Jay French Signature Les Paul in pink sunburst. I have probably logged 10,000 hours of playing time with Les Pauls on my shoulders and I’d like to think that I know something about weight, contour, pickups, etc. That’s why I have a belly scarf to make the guitar more comfortable to play live and I have the new Gibson Burstbucker pickups on the guitar. I have to say that Epiphone’s factories (wherever they are) are manufacturing some superb instruments. All the Marshalls that I used to own in the past are gone, but I do have a 1959 Fender Deluxe, a 1963 Vox Pathfinder, and a Blockhead 50 watt head that was made for me this year. Needless to say, I don’t play very loudly in my apartment anymore.

TQR: The music scene in Europe seems so much healthier than the U.S. and capable of supporting a remarkably broad spectrum of music. What’s happened to the music business in this country? It just seems so sick…

Twisted Sister’s popularity in Europe reflects the ‘80s metal phenomenon that is currently going on there. It is, however, so out of proportion to how much time we have spent there that it truly baffles us. I wish I could say I knew why. After all, of the 10,000,000 or so records we have sold, 80% of them were sold in the US. Out of the approximate 4500 nights of rock that we have played, easily 90% of them were in the US. Our MTV exposure here in comparison to that of Europe was so disproportionately favoring the US that the only thing I can think of is that when the band did play Europe, our shows had become stuff of legend and there was such demand to see the band after our 16 year layoff. Our new DVD called “Live at Wacken” is a perfect example of this phenomenon in practice. I am proud to say that I am an extremely successful, middle aged transvestite, much to my daughter’s embarrassment. The United States music scene is so hung up on “youth, youth, youth” that it literally forces bands from the ‘70s, ‘80s and now early ‘90s to become this generation’s equivalent of Las Vegas show bands. Meaning, we can sell concert tickets for a lot of money, but nobody wants to play your new original music on the radio. Europe always has had a history of embracing classic acts, whether it is jazz, blues, or rock and roll, and still give you the feeling that you have relevance.

TQR: Can you recall any memorable encounters with other players of note?

Johnny Cash. We were playing somewhere in Ontario and he just showed up at the venue. One of the guys was in the hallway outside our dressing room when he came around the corner all by himself and said, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash and I’m looking for the Twisted Sisters.” We fucking could not believe it. Apparently, his kids were fans of the band and he hung out that night and told us that if we were ever in Nashville to look him up. “Just call the House of Cash.” Well, later on we were in Nashville playing and we got the phonebook out and there it was, so we called. This older southern woman answered the phone, and I told her that Johnny Cash had told me to call this number when we were in town. She said, “Wail, he ain’t here – he don’t stay here, but I can get a message to him if you like.” I left our number and within a couple of hours he called and asked if it would be alright if he brought a couple of friends to the show. He brought June and a lot of family members and they stayed for the whole show. Loved it. Unbelievable.

TQR: Did you see any of the Cream reunion shows at the Albert Hall?

Well, yes, I did. Ticket to show – $200. Roundtrip airfare to England – $500. Clapton playing Cream songs with a Stratocaster and two Fender Twins – worthless. I mean… What was he thinking? There was no band on Earth whose sound was more defined by its equipment than Cream. It just goes to show how enormously insecure one of the greatest guitar players on this planet is. This really does hurt me to say these things because Clapton’s tone on the Bluesbreakers album not only is the basis for everything I have done guitarwise, guitarwise, but it is the foundation of this entire “tone quest” industry.

Yet, here is a man who broke up one of the greatest bands in the world because of a bad review in Rolling Stone magazine and forever cut his link between a Les Paul and a Marshall amp, choosing from 1970 onward to play a Strat because he felt it legitimized him more as a player. I have no issue with this. Any guitar player can play anything they want at any time – there is no law that says otherwise. But my god, there was never a band that was so defined by its sound as Cream. Cream was about humbucking pickups and Marshall amps. In fact, this tone combination was given a name by the press – it was called “Woman Tone” because of its sweet, wailing sound during string bends. But I am sad to say that the Strat/Fender amp sound that Eric decided to stick with is what I call “Bitchy ex-wife Tone” They shouldn’t use the name Cream for this reunion – they should call themselves “Skim Milk.”

TQR: Tell us about the upcoming shows in Europe and what you’ll be doing during the next year.

Since our reunion began in 2003, we have been averaging 20 shows a year – most of them festivals in Europe. We have already committed to one in Spain in March 2006 and one in Norway in August of 2006. This also marks the 30th anniversary of the core of the personnel of Twisted Sister (myself, Dee and Eddie Ojeda). Thirty years is a hell of a long time. That says more to me about the band’s relevance than anything else I can think of.

TQR: After all these years, is the Quest for Tone ever going to end for you?

I am an absolute guitar tone junkie. I don’t believe this will ever end. After reading your review on the Ruokangas guitars, I ordered one. My collection of guitars goes way beyond just the collectible versions of them; I have about 40 guitars in all and I never get tired of plugging in one of them to an amp and continued seeing what comes out of them. It brings me as much pleasure today as it did when I was 15 and I can’t imagine it lessening for the rest of my life. I have about ten other amplifiers which I’m also going to be ordering within the next year because when I am in the studio, that is where the experimentation still goes on. The quest for tone never ends.

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