MAM GROWLS, PART I: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK 'THE ANIMAL' MENDOZA, by Donna from Connecticut
Dear Fellow SMFs,
At long last, here is the first installment of “MAM Growls - the Mark ‘The Animal” Mendoza Interview”. Thank you for your patience, but as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait!
I am not going to get on with a long winded introduction; the interview is self explanatory. MAM speaks candidly of his experiences from his childhood to the break up of TS and more. The interview is poignant, and revealing beyond my wildest expectations. That MAM thought enough of his fans to share this information speaks to the caliber of man that he is...honest, straight forward, to the point, and from the heart. This is also just the beginning, there is much more to come.
It is an honor to be able to share this with you, and honor to be allowed to sit with MAM and capture this moment in TS history. Thank you, Mark. You’re the best of the best.
DCT: First of all, tell me a little bit about Mark 'The Cub' Mendoza.
MAM: The cub???
DCT: Yeah, you know, before you were 'The Animal'. (Mark laughed pretty hard at that. Hard to imagine him as a wee one! ed)
MAM: My mother said I was born 6' 2"! I was never a little kid...well, I was...but one day she just looked up and I was 6' 2" and 180 pounds. Not that I'm there anymore, but ...She'd say "You used to be this big (cups his palms together)! Your little heiney could fit in the palms of my hands, now look at you! There's no way you were ever that little."
MAM: I know, God bless her.
DCT: Where'd you grow up?
MAM: Malvern and West Hempstead, Long Island.
DCT: What did you like to do when you were in school as a cub? Activities?
MAM: I was a football player. I liked it a lot...unfortunately that’s where I first wrecked my knees. Playing high school football, getting cut across the knees. They haven’t healed since. Back then they didn't have the surgery techniques that they have now. But since I’m an old geezer and they work, I'm leaving well enough alone. I also was a big bicyclist, I rode a bike everywhere. Well into my 20's.
DCT: That must've been when you first started riding motorcycles.
MAM: No, that started when I was also a teen. We used to build and ride mini bikes.
DCT: Did you race them?
MAM: Unofficially. I think the only reason we used to race them is because we were being chased by the police most of the time! That was my early teens. By the time I was 15 or 16 years old, we used to get Volkswagen bugs, take the bodies off, and make go carts out of them.
DCT: Oh my God, that sounds dangerous!
MAM: Oh yeah, I grew up where there were dirt roads, old farms, open space, and we used to be able to race these things up and down the dirt roads and on the railroad tracks...it was great! But then civilization game and now the area is houses and residential. There’s no free space left to have that sort of fun where I grew up anymore.
DCT: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
MAM: I have one sister…always annoyed her. I will say that in junior high and high school I was always a prankster, I always picked on people for fun, not to seriously hurt anyone or anything. I was always annoying people, friends, small children, small animals...Like the dog, I always teased him. In my mid teens, I became a really wild kid. Doing crazy things, destructive at times, Things that I can't say here because it probably can still be used as evidence! I don't think the statute of limitations runs out on some the stuff...
DCT: Oh my...
MAM: (Laughing out loud) No, it's not murder!!! Not anything that bad. Some of it we can't talk about, though. Let's just say the way I am now is the way I was back then.
DCT: Little crazy, a little wild...
MAM: Yeah, back then I was a little asshole, but now I’m just a big one! (Mark laughs). I was crazy through high school, but it was a lot of fun. It was an insane time. I was into music, and into cars. My father had a little AM/FM transistor radio, and he would go to sleep early at night because he got up early in the morning and I would borrow it from him. I remember listening to WABC AM, and all the stations that played the hits back them. I can't name them because I can’t remember them, but I remember getting fifties music. Also, you have to remember it was the early Sixties, around when the Beatles first came out….I wasn't into the Beatles at all.
MAM: No, they were too la la...too nice for me. I wanted to hear fifties, I wanted to hear soul, I wanted to hear anything with guts and feel. It's hard to describe, but the Beatles never did it for me. I wanted real ‘feel’ music, no matter what it was. It had to have feel and balls and punch to it. Fifties music really did it for me. Other than that I was into Cream, Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Humble Pie...everybody always said 'who the hell are these bands?', early ZZ Top. That was late 60's also. These are the bands I liked and that I grew up listening to, Black Sabbath, I am a big Black Sabbath fan, and the list goes on.
DCT: When did you start playing an instrument?
I first picked up the bass guitar when I was twelve years old, and fooled around with it. By the time I was thirteen I got pretty serious about it.
DCT: Why the bass? (Excellent choice, I might add! ed.)
MAM: I actually picked up the guitar at the same time and learned both. But I found that, for some reason I can't fully explain it, the bass was more physical. It had more ‘feel’ to it. I don't mean pounding on the bass; I'm talking about the feel. There was more balls and feel to a bass guitar than to a guitar. I played both over the years, but to me the bass had more feel, so I stuck with bass.
DCT: Were you self-taught?
MAM: I took a total of four bass lessons from a guy by the name of Sal DeNafalo (I may have his last name wrong). He was a well known local bass player, he used to play clubs and do a lot of session work. He saw that I was too antsy to sit still and learn all the proper things, so he said if you're going to learn anything, learn what I'm going to teach you in the next month or so. I learned t-he fundamentals of bass, how to hold the bass, form all the notes, how to get everything out of it. That’s called “voicing”. He wanted me to learn the right way to play. After that he went on the road with a band and the rest of it was self taught. When I got to be about 15, I took about a years worth of music theory on a key board. I went to a local school once a week for an hour, and I was taught music theory. I wanted to know what made it tick and why things happen. And that's about the extent of formal training. But like I said, I first picked up the guitar and bass when I was 12 and by the time I was 13 it was bass and that was it. I had gotten into a school band right away with a couple of other guys.
DCT: Like a regular school band, like a school sponsored school band?
MAM: No, no, no, no! Actually, I was once in an actual school sponsored school band, I played clarinet...
DCT: No you didn't!
MAM: Yes, believe it or not! When I was in was in 5th, 6th, or 7th grade. About the time that I was getting into real serious rock music. I didn't like this kid in the band; he gave me a shove, so I cracked him over the head with the clarinet and got kicked out. That was the extent of me being in the school band! But no, I'm talking about a band with 3 or 4 other guys. We played the hits of the time. We’d play at school dances and functions. That was it until right up to 11th grade. I was around 16, and I hooked up with a bunch of guys that were older than me. They were in a club band. We'd play on Friday and Saturday nights in clubs, I was playing pretty regularly...
DCT: But you were still in school...
MAM: Yes, I was still in school, and I was working a part time job for an auto parts store, too. (This seems to me to be the beginning of MAM's obsession with multitasking. ed.)
We worked every Friday and Saturday just about, once in while a weekday. I played CW Post, The Rat Skeller, twice a month, we had a regular routine. It was a really decent club band.
DCT: What kind of music did you play?
MAM: Top 40. Even though I didn't like it, I still played. I wanted to play. Period. We did some rock, but mostly whatever was top 40 at the time. It went on like that until the drummer I was with, a guy named Fred Enoch, insisted that I try out for this band called "The Dictators". He said this band was managed by the same people that managed Blue Oyster Cult. He said that they played a whole bunch of big gigs around the world, that they have an album, and that they were going to do another one. So he got me a copy of their first album, it was called Go Girl Crazy. I listened to it and I thought it was the worst crap I ever heard! And I said that there's no way I'm playing in this band. I'm sorry. I'm just not playing this crap. He said that this is your chance to get out and go tour. This is what everybody wants to do! At the time I had just gotten out of high school. I was still 18 years old. It was around February of 1975. I auditioned, and they took me right away! We had a bunch of rehearsals, and then we played some gigs in the city. My first experience at CBGBs was right then and there. I knew nothing of this New York City scene, nothing. Then it was Blondie, the Talking Heads, the New York dolls, all of these city bands I knew nothing of it. Because kids out here (LI) never went to the city to see bands, and the city kids there never came out here to see bands. There was the New York City music scene, and the tri-state scene, and they never intersected. They never intersected at all.
I joined The Dictators, and we played some local gigs, and we immediately did some North East shows with Blue Oyster Cult, I mean big Coliseum's. And here I am 18 years old, playing in front of 20,000 people! So, when I joined The Dictators I kind of changed their style of music. All of a sudden these guys had to play pretty hard to keep up with me. It was like all of a sudden 'super charging' the band.
DCT: So you were influential in changing The Dictators sound?
MAM: I can't take credit for telling them to do it, it just happened because it happened. I didn't understand the scene, and I really didn't understand “me” either at that age. I knew what I could do, and I knew how I played.... The guys I played with before were great musicians and great singers, they were rock guys. There was no problem for us to play stuff that required being 'oomphy', or having balls to play. Not saying that the guys in The Dictators were bad musicians, they weren't, but they just didn't play in the same style that I do, so they really had to do something to keep up with me, and I changed the sound of the band because of that. It wasn’t intentional, but I did. All of a sudden they became more of a hard rock, heavy metal band, than punk. They were the first punk band; they invented the term punk rock.
MAM: Absolutely. Adny Shernoff the keyboard player invented the term punk rock. He was the first person to use that term in writing. By joining The Dictators I got turned on to a music scene that I didn't even know existed nor did I care. The few things I heard, I couldn't even stand. The Ramones took their whole deal from The Dictators. They (The Dictators) were the first to have the leather jackets and the bowl haircuts, and the Ramones took that look and went with it. The Dictators just let it go; they didn’t say anything to them about it. They were the original punk rock band. There was no one doing that at the time. Go Girl Crazy was a critically acclaimed album. I mean, everybody loved it. I got to hang out and meet Lester Bangs, and all these writers that were famous from Rolling Stone and other music magazines, but still I just couldn't understand the scene, I thought this was crap. This was just horrible music. Not so much The Dictators, but the other bands I saw. I mean, they wrote horrible songs, they couldn't play their instruments, but yet it was this huge massive scene that I was thrust into as an 18, 19 year old, and I didn't like it. We went on beyond that, though. We toured with Kiss, BOC, REO Speedwagon, Nazareth; we actually were on a bill with Foreigner...
DCT: The Dictators???
MAM: The Dictators. The line up was The Dictators, Foreigner, Nazareth and Uriah Heep. How's that for a line up?!? This was before Feels like the First time was out. They had just released the record; no one knew who they were. Six weeks into the tour, they blew everybody out; I mean they were just the biggest band in the world at that time. I hung out with the guys from Foreigner, it was really fun.
I had a little over two years with The Dictators. It was just chaos and mayhem. I wrecked 42 cars in two years. Completely wrecked rental cars, destroyed I can't tell you how many hotel rooms. Put M80's on door knobs and blew out windows. It was just mayhem and destruction.
It all culminated about two years after I joined the band. They had gotten away from this New York City, tongue in cheek music, and the guys in the band wanted to get back to it. They didn’t want to be as hard or as heavy anymore. I had enough of them, they had enough of me, and I quit. I told them that I wasn’t going to be on the next record. I didn't like any of the production, I didn't like the way management was handling the band. It was not what I wanted, or the direction I wanted to go in with the band, so I quit. I remember I came home, I told my parents I had left the band, and they felt bad because it was like a dream come true for me for those two years.
DCT: So, your parents were supportive of you and your music career?
MAM: Yeah, they were supportive when they realized that I was actually playing clubs steadily and working and making money at it!
DCT: They were worried that this may not work out for you...
MAM: Exactly. And parents always worry that you're going to get into alcohol and drugs, and I NEVER did.
DCT: You never drank and you never used drugs?
MAM: I maybe had a beer or two and a glass of wine with dinner, but that’s about it, sometimes I'd go months without even having a beer. And I never tried a drug in life, never.
DCT: So, you never tried drugs, any drugs at all?
MAM: Never. Absolutely never. No drugs. Got a contact high from being in a roomful of it, and I hated it, but that's about it.
DCT: I can understand their concern, especially in the environment that you were in, and at such a young age.
MAM: But they believed in me and they saw that I was serious and made money...especially after The Dictators.
DCT: Did they ever come to see you?
MAM: Yeah, oh yeah. Boy... we played the Palladium, which was originally called the Academy of Music. We played with AC/DC a few times when Bon Scott was in the band. We opened up for them in a few places, and they opened up for us a few places and one of them was in New York at the Academy. They were huge.
DCT: With Bon Scott?
MAM: Yes. He was a great guy and a great friend to everybody, a lot of fun to be around. I'm a huge AC/DC fan, and it was amazing to me. But yeah, my parents came, but only a couple of times, because they couldn't handle the music. My father was a real character, but that's another story. Where do you think I get some of my lovely personality from?
DCT: What was their reaction?
MAM: Well, they saw the response of the audience, and that really made them happy. They really didn't understand the music. My parents were both World War II veterans, my mother in the Red Cross, and my father was in the Army. They were hard-core. My mom saw action in World War II, even in the Red Cross. She was behind the front lines. My parents definitely have stories and souvenirs from World War II. You can only imagine the music they grew up listening to…swing, Benny Goodman. My father would always listen to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole. My father was heavily into that, my mom loved all the music and musicals from the 30s and 40s. So imagine, Marshall’s, heavy loud guitar, no...they couldn't understand it. But they just couldn't believe the reaction of the audience. And I was taking home a paycheck doing it! Any parent wants to see their child successful doing what they choose to do, and they saw it. They really enjoyed it, watching us up on stage, they really enjoyed it.
DCT: Were either of them musicians?
MAM: My father really wasn't, but my mom played piano quite well. She was a great piano player. She sang and played piano in the Red Cross, she was an entertainer and they entertained the troops. It's ironic because that was before the USO was around, but the Red Cross did the same thing as the USO does now... so ironic that in 2003 we went and worked for the USO playing for the troops also. They would've been proud of me without a doubt.
DCT: It's like coming full circle.
MAM: Definitely. They would've been really proud to know that.
But we digress - I left The Dictators, and played with a few club bands. When I was touring with The Dictators, and we came home off the road, I would go to see some local bands. And Twisted Sister was one of the bands I would go see. I didn’t know guys well, but one night, I introduced myself to Jay Jay. They had all heard of The Dictators, and they were like, “what are you doing here”? I told them I live near here, I'm from Long Island. I became good friends with all the guys right away.
DCT: And they were at the time...
MAM: It was Jay Jay, Eddie, Dee, and Tony Petrie, with Kenny Neil on bass. That was the lineup. At the time I was in and out of a couple of bands, but TS needed an extra crew member. So I actually was a crew member for Twisted Sister, for probably about six or seven months.
And one morning, we got back from some gig in Jersey, the sun was coming up, and the phone rings and my mom wakes me up and says, Jay Jay is on the phone. And I'm thinking to myself, OK, it's 7:30 in the morning. I just got to sleep an hour ago; this must be some kind of emergency.
I picked up the phone and said to Jay Jay, “What's up”? He goes, "Are you still looking for band"? And I said, of course, I'd rather be in a band thank working for one, no offense to you... and he said "No, no I understand. I have a band for you". And I go okay, what band is it? And he goes, “Oh, you'll know who they are. I go, “Who”? And he said “Twisted Sister". Now I can’t believe I’m hearing this and I said, “C'mon John, don't fuck with me”. He said he was serious. I said, “OK, John, what's the catch here”? And he said, "There is no catch. Kenny Neil quit. He's gone, he's got his religious reasons for leaving...Jesus called Kenny on the phone this morning and said that he was doing the work of the devil, so he's quitting."
So I told him I would do it! Then all of a sudden he says, "Great see ya later", and he hangs up!! Click! And I said to myself wait a minute, am I dreaming? Did this really happen? Am I going to get to join one of my favorite bands? The band I love the most? So I called him back and I go “Jay Jay, did we just have a conversation”? He said "Yes". I asked, “Well, am I in the band”? And he goes “Yes, we expected you to take the gig. So we’ll start rehearsal this week, ok?" I said “Yeah, ok”. He goes "Ok, goodbye"... click! And he hangs up on me again! So I said to myself, I guess I'm not dreaming, and I went to lay down, and now I can't sleep. I can't sleep at all...
I remember it was a good time and a bad time in my life. My father was very sick at the time; he was in the hospital dying. So I told my mom what happened, my parents had met Dee and Jay Jay several times before, and my mother was very happy about it. I visited my father in the hospital, and told him as well. He said "That's great. They're really nice guys, good stuff, go for it". And he was really happy for me, too.
We started rehearsing that week, but I didn't have to rehearse that much with them because I knew most of the material. Before I joined the band I would play six or seven songs a night with them, I would just get up when Kenny didn't feel like playing, so I knew most of the material already. We only really needed five or six rehearsals, just to make sure everything was tight. This was probably in late November, around Thanksgiving.
We planned my first night with the band as a real band member to be December 10, 1978 at a club called Zaffys. It was a Wednesday night. That’s what we shot for, and we tightened everything up, Suzette was making my costume, getting all ready. Well, my father took a turn for the worse. On December 7 1978, he died. Now, the day before he died, I believe he knew he was going to die, and I was in the hospital with him. I happened to go over by myself, because my mom went to pick up my sister. He asked me, "Where are your mom and your sister"? I said “they’ll be here in a little while”. So my father said to me," Listen, no matter what happens to me, I know you have to start playing in a few days. No matter what happens to me, you keep going." I said “Dad, what are you talking about”? He said to me “do you hear me?" My father was a tough guy, a World War II veteran, a tough army guy. Front lines, killing people, in hand-to-hand combat... a tough character. And then he just said, "You make me that promise. I don't ask too much of you. You make me that promise. You keep going." I said, “Well I don't know dad”... he said, "I'm going to tell your mother and your sister also so they understand." I said “Dad, the guys in the band, they'll understand”. He yelled at me and said "Don't question me!" He yelled at me...in the hospital! "Don't you question me, I'm the boss!" I said, “Ok dad, all right, no problem, I won't argue!” I didn't want to get him cranked up in the hospital, you know. So my mom and my sister got there, and we laughed a little about that but when I went out to get something to drink he told them that, too. I didn't know it at the time, but he told them that he wanted me to play, no matter what happened.
I left the hospital and went to a real quick rehearsal with TS, and then I went home. The next day I got up and went to the hospital, my mom and my sister got there at the same time. The staff told us that he had passed away already, about five or six minutes before we got there. We got there the same time every day. They knew we were going to be there because he had been in the hospital for about three weeks already, and they knew our routine. He passed away five or six minutes before we got there.
So we went home, and I immediately called the guys in the band to tell them what was going on. They said well, whatever you need. If you want to postpone it for a while, whatever you need. I asked them to give me a few hours. Jay Jay said he'd tell the guys in the band. A few minutes later I got a call from Kenny Neil. Now you have to understand that Kenny Neil wanted out of Twisted Sister. He didn't want to play clubs anymore; he was just tired of it. Anyway, he called me, and this was one of the nicest gestures that anyone has ever done for me, one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me. He said to me, "I'm sorry to hear about what happened. I'm not trying to get back in the band, but I'll play for a week, two weeks, two months, what ever you need so the band can continue on. I'll take your place for as long as you need." I told him I would discuss it with my family and see what's going on. He said, “Whatever you need. If you don't want anything I understand. Just so you don't have to feel obligated right now to the band, I'll keep playing until you want to step in."
My mother heard the conversation. I asked my mother her thoughts. She said, "Your father told you to move on and go." I said ‘”Ok Mom, but what am I going to do, bury him on the 9th and play on the 10th?” She said to me, "One thing you don't want to do is cross your father. He will come back to get to somehow. And he made it a point to tell me and your sister that he told you that you had to move on and do what you have to do to get that business done. So my advice to you is GO DO IT!" And I said to her but Ma, it might look bad...she said "It won't look bad. If he told you to do it, then you go do it. If you really feel that you don't want do it, then that's your business. But advice from him is advice well taken."
I called Jay Jay and told him what was going on. He told me the ball was in my court, and to do what I wanted needed do. He knew what Kenny offered. In the meantime my mother is in the background saying, "Go ahead, just go!" I said, “Jay Jay, it's a go. We're gonna go, Wednesday night, we're on”. He asked if I was sure and I told him, “We're on”.
This was on the 7th. We buried my father two days later on the 9th. The next day, the 10th, I was on the stage with Twisted. So it was tough. It was one of the happiest and one of the saddest times of my life at the same time.
DCT: Totally bittersweet.
MAM: Absolutely. Yet at the same time, it was amazing. Getting on stage again was amazing. I was in a big, huge, powerful band again. You see, you have to understand that my background in music wasn't the type of music Twisted Sister was playing at the time. I came from a totally different style of playing music. I studied playing Jack Bruce, Tim Bogart, and Greg Ridley (Humble Pie), Felix Pappalairdi, you know, real bass player’s bass players, where as TS was more of a show. I had never been in a band that put on a real show before. I always played music form a technical stand point. Then I joined Twisted and it was different than that, an offshoot of it. It was technical playing combined with a stage show. When I joined Twisted, they really weren't a heavy metal band. They were doing a lot of lighter stuff, like Bowie. And again, because of the heaviness of my bass playing it took just a few months and that all disappeared! Do you remember any of that?
DCT: Yes, I noticed the change...
MAM: Yeah, Dee even says that having me around automatically changed the sound and feel of the band. We got rid of a lot of the lighter stuff. We went from David Bowie to Judas Priest and AC/DC and Ozzy, because the band had such a huge amount of balls now. Not that Kenny wasn't a great bass player, he was an incredible bass player, he just wasn't a heavy bass player. Dee said that there's no reason why we can't play this kind of music now, because we have a rhythm section that can pump it up, you know, really kick ass at this.
DCT: How did you like working with Tony?
MAM: Tony had shortcomings as drummer, but he was a hard hitter, and he was a heavy drummer. He did the same thing every night so you knew what to expect and what not to expect and that worked out well.
Remember I was originally where Eddie Ojeda stands now? I like being on the high hat side of a drummer who plays the high hat on the left side of the drums. I feel a much better lock on that side. The band thought that the two guitar players should stay together and would work together better, so we switched sides and I went to stage left.
DCT: Yes, that was a very devastating time in my life...
MAM: Was it really??
DCT: Yes. It was.
MAM: Me switching?
MAM: Because I was no longer next to Jay Jay??
DCT: Well, yes...and I had to make a choice.
MAM: And you chose Jay Jay??? Oh, I see now...
DCT: Oh boy, there is no graceful way around this...ummm...
MAM: Here, I'll help you out...you stayed there (on Jay Jay's side) because I play louder and you could still hear me on that side of the stage fine.
DCT: Phew...umm...yeah, that’s exactly right...and I could still see you well over there. And you used to come back over to Jay Jay’s side a lot anyway.
MAM: And harass you.
DCT: Exactly, you'd step on my fingers in 4 inch boots.
MAM: On purpose. Just to bother you.
DCT: Yes, intentionally, I know. It was fairly painful.
MAM: Anyway, I can go on and on about that, but that's basically it regarding the transition from the clubs, to The Dictators, to Twisted Sister. And then TS broke up, in late 87. By the end of March Ricky Medlock from Blackfoot had called me. He had heard about TS breaking up and asked if I wanted to join him. I went and auditioned for what was left of Blackfoot, which was basically him. His whole band had broken up. They were an incredible band, they were a machine those guys, they were an amazing band. Anyway, Ricky called me and asked me to come out and audition for the band, I got the gig, and the same thing happened with Blackfoot that happened with the other bands. They became more of a heavy metal/hard rock band than the original funk rock thing that they were doing before. Ricky Medlock is a great and talented guy. Great singer, great guitar player and an excellent songwriter. I stayed with Blackfoot for about two and a half years, it was a great time and I left because it really wasn’t giving me what I needed. I left on very good terms. That was around the mid 90’s. After that, I really didn’t do anything big in music for years.
DCT: When you look at this, you left home at such an early age. You traveled around the world. I have to ask, do you feel like you missed out on anything?
MAM: No. I got to play to thousands of people a night and tour the world. What could I have missed? Yet, it’s really not that simple of a question. People often ask me, as you just did, “what’s it like being away from home for such long periods of time?” I will say that human beings are creatures of habit. And, like it or not, we like and enjoy a routine. Wake up at the same time; go to bed at the same time, in the same place, etc. When you join a band those habits, everything that brings you comfort in routine, is completely gone. There’s no set schedule. There’s no New Years Day, no Christmas Day, it could be any holiday or any special day you can name. You are in a different room, in a different venue, in a different airport, on different road any day of the week. It’s never the same, there’s no routine. And that’s why I think that some people turn to alcohol and drugs in this business, not only because it’s easy to get, but some people need to feel numb.
DCT: It helps them forget that their lifestyle is completely abnormal…
MAM: Yes, as glamorous as people think it is touring the world, you have no roots. You’re a nomad. It’s tough sometimes…the schedule can be grueling. It really tough flying from country to country, time zone to time zone, living out of suitcases…it takes its toll. I bought some electronics back in ’82, a top loading VCR, a new Sony TV and I came back from tour in ’87 and they were never used. I was never home. The technology was outdated by then! Back to your question, I guess you do miss a lot. People get married, birthdays, children are born, people die, there are special occasions in your family and you don’t see any of it. Those are the things that are hard to miss. When you’re away, you’re away. You can’t go back and forth on a whim. I never married or had children, but I can imagine it would be much worse when you’re not there for them. That would be rough.
DCT: On the other hand, you were so young and not ingrained in any real routine. Were you able to adjust to it a little better?
MAM: Well, I went away not having the responsibilities that other people did. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids, and so I could just pack up and go. There was no one at home relying on me to be there. My parents were alive and well when I went off with The Dictators, my sister was fine. It was great because a few of us lived in the Queens area and we would have the tour bus pick us up on the Expressway. My father was great because he would drive me to the bus, and he was just so proud! Yet, it really takes its toll on you, leaving your loved ones behind for such long periods of time.
DCT: Let’s talk about life after the break up of TS.
MAM: I was burnt. I was burnt with traveling; I was burnt with the music industry. I was a very angry young man. I was still reeling from the break up of TS, and I hated the world. I hated Dee Snider. I hated the record company and all of the people that I considered having contributed to the break up TS. They took us away from what we did best. I considered Love Is for Suckers an atrocity. It was supposed to be a Dee Snider solo album, and that’s what it should have been. It is not representative of TS, not in any way.
Let’s back up a little. We’ll come back to where I said that I was a very angry young man. I joined The Dictators and left, and that was ok. I joined TS and as we matured I felt more like an important part of the band than I did with The Dictators. The Dictators was fun, and I had great time and learned a lot about the music industry. But it wasn’t until I joined TS that I felt truly like an important contributing member of the band. It was five guys for one purpose. I really believed in TS, and I gave it my all. All decisions that were made about the band were made in five equal parts until the end. In the end, it was all about Dee. When we made Come Out and Play, I believed it was wrong. I didn’t believe we should do a theme album. People did like it, but I just wanted to do hard rock, heavy metal songs, and a few anthems. In your face rock music. There was no reason to try to make a master piece at this point. Give people what they expected of us, that’s it. Although COAP had some great songs and there was some great music, a song like 'Leader of the Pack' did not belong there. We did it as a spoof and a novelty thing in the clubs, but it should not have been on the album.
DCT: You’re right. 'Leader of the Pack' was kick ass live. But in studio, it takes on a whole different sound, it’s not the same. It’s a ‘live only’ song, I guess…
MAM: Right, and the production and record company and everyone thought it was a big hit, but I was the one person who didn’t want to do it and wanted nothing to do with it. I just wanted to continue to do what we did best. Everyone knows what we do best. We get up, we do a few anthems, a few hit songs and we kick ass the rest of the night. That’s what I believe is the heart and soul of Twisted Sister. I believe that doing 'Leader of the Pack' was leaning the wrong way. Twisted should have done an album full of songs that kicked ass. I like the song, especially the original. It was a novelty that should have stayed in the clubs. It was a mistake.
DCT: You said it was a mistake, Jay Jay has said it was a mistake; I believe Dee said it was a mistake as well. Why? What so horrible? What was the end result of doing that song that made it a “mistake”?
MAM: I was the only one who didn’t want to do it back then. We took a vote and out of the five guys I was the only one who didn’t raise my hand. The record company, management, and the rest of the band believed this was the right way to go for us. I was like, “Are you kidding me”? This is not what we do best. Let’s STICK- TO- WHAT- WE-DO-BEST! It was too pop, too bubble gum. To go back, take Stay Hungry, there were great songs on that album, but I questioned the cartoonish nature of the videos. I was worried that it would paint us into a corner, and ultimately it did. Where do you go after that? I thought we spent too much time and too much money when it could have been done simpler and less expensively. I thought it may have been going wrong then, but how do you argue with 3 hit singles, hit videos, and a hit album? But when it came time to do 'Leader of the Pack,' I felt it was really pushing it. It was not what I believed the band was about. If I was the producer, and I wanted to be TS’ producer, I would not have let it go that way. Do what we do best. Go back to the roots, a couple of anthems, and the rest in you face, kick ass hard rock songs like you know and love.
With Come Out and Play we got a little further from it (kick ass rock and roll) and then when Love is for Suckers came around, what they wanted to do was mind boggling, I couldn’t believe it. I believe that Dee, the record company, and management was killing this band. It was supposed to be a Dee Snider solo, and that’s what it should have been. He should have taken a year, do this album, tour with it, whatever he wanted to do, and come back and be in Twisted Sister. But the record company wouldn’t let him; they insisted that we continue as a band to record the album. So the sound of the band was changing. And withhout getting into it too deeply, I was angry. I was angry at the world, I was angry at management. I was angry at Dee, I hated him at that point - we weren’t even talking. When we went in to make Love is for Suckers, I wasn’t getting along with the producer, we’d butt heads constantly.
DCT: So then you were in the studio for the recording of LIFS? I didn’t think...
MAM: Yes, but very little. I was told to leave. I told them, “This is MY band, MY album, and I’m staying.” The record company said that there would be no album if I didn’t leave because I was making so many problems for him (the producer). They told me I had to go. So I did my parts, played my bass and told the producer that if I ever saw him on the street I’d kick his teeth in...and I left. I never went back for the rest of the making of LIFS.
DCT: That was it?
MAM: Well, it went like this. We laid down the basic tracks, I played bass on top of the drums. Joe Franco was there at the time, AJ had left. Joe Franco is a great guy and an excellent drummer, by the way. The producer wanted me to play a Steinberger bass, with a PICK...
DCT: No way!
MAM: Yeah! A Steinberger bass is a bass that looks like a paddle from a canoe, it’s got no headstock, and it’s made out of graphite. It’s the bass that all those electronic dance bands were playing. Sorry. I’m a big, full size wood bass guy who plays with his fingers, not a pick. I fought him tooth and nail. He insisted, so I just did it. And literally, as long as it takes to listen to that CD is as long as I was in the studio. He told me to take a break, and come back in a few hours in case there were some mistakes or something had to be redone. I disappeared and came back a few hours later, and he tells me that it sounds too machine-like, it’s too exact. He said it sounded too unnatural, too sequenced, too perfect. I looked at him and said “Wait a minute buddy. This is what you wanted me to do! I did exactly what you wanted me to do!” He said “Yes, you did. I’m not saying that you didn’t do what I asked you to do. But it just doesn’t sound right.” So now I’m a getting a little mad. I told him that he should let me do it my way, the way I wanted to do it in the first place. He told me that he didn’t want that either! I told him, “Look, you either want this or you want that, it’s black or white here. Plain and simple.” He told me to go ahead, he would set up a few tracks for me, and to do my way. So I took a few minutes, set up my amps the way I wanted them and told the engineer “Hit record.” I played the whole album straight through. Just enough time for them to switch the tapes. No mistakes, no nothing, just straight through, it was literally an hour. Once I was done, he told me to take a break and I came back about 45 minutes later.
When I came back he said, “You were right. This sounds just the way I wanted. The feel is there, the sound is there. It’s exactly what I wanted.” I turned around and told him, “Glad you like it, because as far as I’m concerned the whole fucking thing sucks. Don’t ever let me catch you on the street because if I do I’m gonna kick your fucking teeth in.” I turned around, walked out and never went back. I wasn’t there for the guitar overdubs, the vocals...as a matter of fact he didn’t have any of the guys do backing vocals. It was the guys from Dokken. Reb Beach did a lot of the guitar parts. Nothing against any of those guys, they’re great singers and great musicians, but the guys in the band can play their own songs! The producer didn’t like our style, so he had these other guys come in and do it. Jay Jay played some, Eddie played a little, but to this day it’s like an atrocity to me.
I was also blown away by the fact that the band wasn’t telling anyone that I was their representative when it came to the sound of the album. I should be in there doing what I do best. It’s ironic now, when they put me in the driver’s seat and let me do the producing on Still Hungry, I ask you what did it come out like?
MAM: They could have had that 20 years ago. But nobody wanted to give me a shot at it. I may not have had as much experience, but I knew TS and I know what TS should sound like. I had an ear for Twisted Sister. So, I felt my career and what I had envisioned for all those years was being torn away from me. It was being taken away by all these other people and other powers. I felt like I had no say in the situation. Could I have done something about it? Yes, but it would have made other people so miserable that I would have gotten thrown out of the band. I didn’t want to be the one who ended it, or who got thrown out of the band. When I left The Dictators there were some bad blood, but I left mostly on good terms. Not like TS. There was tons of bad blood there, it was horrible. I felt that I had put a lot of time and energy into the music and I had just gotten to the point where I wanted to share all of this with other people, and suddenly it was all being taken away from me. It was all being torn way by people who had ideas and dreams about where TS should go that weren’t valid or true.
DCT: What do you mean by that?
MAM: Well, they envisioned us going in another direction and having hits going in that direction. I believed that the band should have continued doing what they were doing and continue doing what made us successful for all those years.
DCT: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that with LIFS, they wanted you guys to be more like ‘pretty boys’. Like around that time you had Bon Jovi, Winger…
MAM: Not only that, but take the ZZ Top Eliminator album. That was such a huge departure from anything they had ever done before, a totally different direction, and it just catapulted them to fame. But we had our basis. The world at this point knew who we were and what we represented and we were changing it before they really got used to it. We had no track record. It was 2 hit singles and one hit album at that point, and you can’t screw with a career with just that behind you. You can roll the dice, and see what happens and that’s what we did. We rolled the dice and we lost. COAP didn’t do that well and LIFS was a bomb. End of the band. Dee thought he was bigger than everybody; he left the band on the last tour and said “adios”. He sort of left us holding the bag. We all know what happened to him after than that. TS is an entity of five guys. We should have continued to do what we did best as a unit and who knows what would have happened.
Getting back to being an angry young man, at that point I left the band. I joined Blackfoot and we played for over two years nonstop. Huge outdoor festivals, some little clubs. It was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t going anywhere. We were just playing to make a paycheck. I wanted to make records and be in a big band again. Eventually we parted ways. By this time I had been in The Dictators for 2 ˝ years, in TS for almost 10 years, and Blackfoot for another 2 ˝. That turns out to be 15 or 16 years in music. I came away from Blackfoot basically having nothing. I was so burnt from traveling and playing, life had gone by, and as we said before people had grown, gotten married, and I hadn’t seen any of it. I came home with nothing, a failure. I came home and I was broke, penniless. There were lawsuits, TS took everything away. When I got back I was through. I was through doing anything with music, professionally anyway.
That summer I was driving a tow truck, I remember thinking it was such a relief.
Next Up: Part II - MAM Growls – The Mark “The Animal” Mendoza Interview…