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Notes from My Listening Room #37
By Josh Bizar

John French, or Jay Jay French, as he's known to his millions of fans around the world, founded and plays guitar in one of the biggest 80s metal bands of all-time: Twisted Sister. I was lucky enough to meet him a few years ago through the hi-fi world. John is an audiophile with a deep love for great sonics. He has also has considerable experience with the world's finest gear. When we were introduced via email and some phone calls, I was surprised how funny, cool, and generous he was with his time. I felt like I could just sit and listen for hours to all the incredible stories he had to tell about his crazy nights on the road.

Most interestingly, he told me about all the concerts he saw as a kid in New York City and around the tristate area – a fantasy-filled list of every artist and band any classic-rock enthusiast could dream about seeing back in the day (late 60s early 70s) when most of the artists were in their prime. When John was young, he got all the drug use out of his system and never looked back. Twister Sister never used drugs. The band may have looked wild and crazy, but the members remained serious about their business and playing. The group became one of the hardest working bands in rock ‘n roll, and earned every accolade though dedication and touring.

After our initial conversations, John came to Chicago for a weekend and offered to meet. We had discussed his large guitar collection and the fact that I didn't own a Les Paul. So we met at one of the area's best guitar shops just to hang out, talk, and check out what was on offer. I had a fantastic time, picking his brain about his amazing experiences gained from decades of touring. But then John disappeared while I was drooling over some vintage guitars on the wall. He came back with a friend, one of the shop's managers, and called over to me to say hello. I was escorted to a part of the shop most people do not get to see and was handed two vintage Les Pauls: a ‘59 and a ‘60. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I got to play more than a million dollars' worth of prime maple-capped mahogany that day, and I will be eternally grateful to John for the experience.

My point is not to brag but to convey who John is as a person. Even after living a life of stardom, he took time out of his busy day to give me one of the most memorable experiences of my life. He didn't need to do it. A couple of years later, Mobile Fidelity was lucky enough to get access to the original analog master tapes of Twisted Sister's Stay Hungry. The multi-platinum record was recently released on Mobile Fidelity vinyl, and is the first audiophile pressing of the album.

Recently, John was kind enough to share a couple of good stories and answer a few questions about his love of music, audio, and life on the road.

Today's Guest: Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister
80s Rock Icon/Goldmine Contributor/Successful Entrepreneur/Audiophile
When I'm asked about the most memorable things about being in the band, it is not the 35 gold and platinum albums. It's not the 9,000-plus live performances we played. It's not the PMRC hearings. And it's not helping to create MTV. The thing I'm most proud of is, in 1987, Richard Blackwell, the fashion maven who publishes the annual "Worst Dressed Women Award List," added Twisted Sister as one of the worst dressed women by describing us as "looking like a car crash in a whorehouse!"

But seriously, the most important show we ever played was a New York benefit concert called NY Steel at which the band came back after a 12-year hiatus to raise money for the families of the police, fireman, and emergency services workers who gave their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attack. We raised $100,000 with Anthrax, Ace Frehley, and Sebastian Bach in a heavy metal benefit concert because the big televised benefit concert at Madison Square Garden with McCartney, the Who, Bowie, Clapton, Elton, and others didn't want heavy metal bands participating. Our show was just down the street from MSG at the Manhattan Center on 34th St. My band members had not talked for many years but reformed to help our fellow New Yorkers. I was most proud of what the guys did to put aside their differences and play for this important cause. This was the catalyst for the band's reunion, and then, we all set off on a 14-year farewell tour that finally ended in 2016.

Q. What music do you play when you need a boost?

A. My default is blues, but lately, thanks to the TV show "Bosch," I have been listening to some jazz (i.e. John Coltrane, Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins). Sometimes, the Beatles are in the mix.

Q. What music lead you down your career path?

A. I was, and always have been, a pop guy. But the blues bit me at the age of 15 through the Rolling Stones, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Cream, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and Albert King.

Q. What band do you want to see when we can go to concerts again?

A. I will go out and see my local friends play, or if my wife really wants to see someone. But I have very little interest in seeing live music anymore. I've played more than 9,000 shows and seen about another 2,000. I have really had enough!

Q. Any remembrances of your musical past?

A. Twisted Sister has occupied 47 years of my life, so there are way too many to list.

Q. Name a guilty pleasure or two.

A. Listening to 60s pop music on my Sonos system (so easy and fun), watching pro wrestling, watching the Band's The Last Waltz, JAWS, Weekend at Bernie's, and the movie Guys & Dolls. I could watch this stuff forever.

Q. Tell me about your first stereo system and why it meant so much to you.

A. I was dealing weed at the age of 15. The first two things I bought with my newfound profits were a Fender Telecaster – bought new for $135 on 48th St. – and my first real stereo system: a Sony 6050 receiver, a pair of KLH 6s, and an AR78 turntable with a Shure M91 cartridge. I was in heaven with that system, although I bought a Rabco SL 8E arm about a month later. That's when I knew my upgrade path was never going to end.

Q. Can you tell me about your reference system now?

A. A VPI HW-40 Anniversary turntable with an Ortofon A95 cartridge. My phonostage is a Simaudio Moon 810. I am currently listening to the PS Audio BHK Preamp and Pass Labs X250.8 power amplifier. My digital is the Marantz SA-10 SACD player/DAC. And my speakers are Magico A3s. I use various high-end cables, power cords, and accessories to make the system sound its best. And it's really sounding great now.

Q. What albums do you grab to hear the best sonics from your system?

A. On Vinyl: Santana Abraxas, Dean Martin Dream with Dean, Sonny Boy Williamson Keep It to Ourselves, Sam Cooke Nightbeat, Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin & Paco Deluca Live: Friday Night in San Francisco, Miles Davis Kind of Blue. All mastered at 45RPM. Also, the Beatles' Abbey Road, White Album, and Sgt. Pepper. All Giles Martin remixes.

On SACD: Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet, Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman, Sonny Boy Williamson Keep It to Ourselves, Art Pepper The Intimate Art Pepper/New York Album/Art Pepper, John Coltrane A Love Supreme.

On Redbook CD: Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters Blues & Ballads.

Q. What do you reach for when sound quality is meaningless and it's just musical satisfaction you crave?

A. I listen to what I want, when I want, regardless of sound quality. When I'm in the mood to hear something, that's what I play. I think it's ridiculous to just play "showcase" stuff.

May 19, 2020

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