In September, 2014, Jay Jay French began writing a bi-weekly column for Inc. Magazine’s web site. This is an idea that nearly took root on an early version of, but due to the band’s reunion and subsequent performance schedule, it never came about. But every good idea eventually sees the light of day, and the inc. column is the result. Here are all of the columns from 2017.

Knowing When it’s Time to Pivot From the Choices You Made Yesterday to Align with Your Plans for the Future

Deciding if you are an actor or movie star can be a crucial first step
Originally posted on December 6, 2017

“I’m not an actor. I’m a movie star!” So proclaimed the character Alan Swan portrayed by Peter O’Toole in the 1982 movie, My Favorite Year. In it, he played an over-the-hill out-of-work actor appearing on a “live” TV comedy show (much like “Saturday Night Live”) where he walked out of the studio in front of a live audience because he was frustrated by his inability to ad lib on live TV.

Eventually he did rise to the occasion with his performance, which was so convincing that he proved he really was talented–regardless of the work of others (cameramen/women, directors, editors, etc.) whose job it was to boost the actors’ presence in order to reach the masses. That is/was how Hollywood works.

When I first saw the movie in 1982 it really resonated with me. Why? Because I asked myself a similar question (related to music, of course) when I started Twisted Sister in 1973. At some point on my journey, I decided that I wasn’t going to be one of the world’s great guitar players. I was instead going to channel my talent toward being a rock star–something easily derided to be the creation by a manager, record company and producer who package a mediocre talent in a very pretty box.

When I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, I wanted to be famous. But as I learned to play and improve I became much more serious about my craft. I changed course. I even took jazz lessons in order to get studio work. I was a musician! Then Bowie entered my life with Ziggy Stardust when I was 20 and I changed course again. I knew that I had a certain look, along with a burning desire to perform live. I learned enough about how to play the guitar and I was ready.

I know enough people who are very successful yet somehow manage to believe that they’re frauds and they’ve fooled everyone, and some day the world will find out. The truth of it is that many of these people are just revealing their massive insecurities.

Regardless that you put the hours in, sometimes it happens where the path you originally thought you were on may not be the one that ultimately leads you to the place you wanted to be. For me, there were plenty of times when I didn’t give myself enough, or any, credit for what I had already achieved–after all the hours and hard work I put in.

I started out with the one goal of being a great musician, but later pivoted and landed on a different path, which brought me to rock stardom, the place I really wanted to be. Just like the Peter O’toole character! It just took me a long time to recognize it.

I’m often asked if I feel lucky to have made it. I personally, and we as a band worked our asses off to be the best live band in the world. The goal changed along the way and we adapted. That was my strength. That was what I was built for. I became a rock star but I’m also a real musician who changed my focus in order to succeed.

I still marvel at some of the world’s best guitar players and recognize that I’m not one of them. No, I can’t play 10,000 notes to three people, but I can play three notes to 100,000 people. When I started my journey I never understood that difference or how the dream of being a great guitar player could or would change. I chose a path to be a great performer because that was where my natural talents took me.

In short, I chose to be a “movie star” instead of an “actor.”

Which one are you?

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Understanding the Value of Time (and the Loss of Tom Petty)

Sometimes it takes a tragedy (or three) to put the finer point on perspective.
Originally posted on October 6, 2017

If the terrorist explosion in Manchester, England, at the Ariana Grande concert wasn’t hard enough to fathom, the mass shooting in Las Vegas during a country music concert further accentuated the feeling that senseless violence in large places has become an uncontrollable and almost inevitable possibility of our now everyday existence.

Then on top of those horrors came a report that Tom Petty had died of a heart attack. As I scrolled through the news feeds that seem to run my daily mobile phone life, the news of his death as it went from a non-confirmed story to one where he had not yet passed, but was on life support stopped me in my tracks.

Trying to understand the Ping Pong of emotions concerning all of this was really starting to make me feel guilty. It wasn’t until after I asked myself why I was seemingly more upset about the death of a 66 year-old rock star, whose music was not even on my daily playlist, than I was for the 59 innocent people who died while attending an outdoor concert.

The answer, of course, was because I saw in Tom Petty’s arc of life, my own. His death brought about so many questions for me. I questioned everything I’ve done so far, everything I still want to do, and it forced me to face the reality that while time was my greatest asset when I was young, now it had become my greatest enemy as I grow older.

To be fair: the deaths of Lou Reed, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Chuck Berry and Prince all hit me the same way. I loved each one of those artists but I was able to recognize that the paths to their demises were not the same as mine. Petty’s death, as far as I know, was not about drugs, prescription or otherwise, as it was with Reed, Frey, and Prince, or cancer as it was for Bowie, or from old age as it was with Berry.

Tom Petty was dead from a heart attack–one of the scariest and most random of all deaths. Maybe that was it. No one saw it coming. There was no time for him or anyone else to say goodbye; no time to reflect on accomplishments. The sudden sense of mortality, the idea that I could just drop dead at any moment, as he had has completely turned me around.

Tom Petty and I are one year apart in age. We both saw the Beatles on TV and were inspired to pursue our dreams. We both had huge MTV success. We both had 40-year long careers, and we both knew when it was time to retire and smell the roses. I retired in 2016 and Petty retired, ironically, just one week before he died, playing the last show of his “farewell tour” and of his life, at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A.

I always admired the fight he had against his record label when they used one of his albums to justify increasing the price of all the albums they were about to release. I like that he embarrassed the company forcing them to back down.

When he joined the British-American supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys, I began to understand his value. That group contained the greatest talent of any band ever assembled: George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and, Tom Petty. If rock music was an Olympic event then The Traveling Wilburys were the USA Gold Medal-winning Men’s Basketball Team of Rock ‘n Roll!

Tom Petty had said that he wanted to spend time with his granddaughter, that he didn’t want to die on the road. I get it. Friends of mine don’t really understand me when I say that not touring anymore has been the best thing that has happened to me in years. They can’t understand that it doesn’t matter how many people you play to or how much money you make. At a certain age, the issue of time becomes its own arbiter. When you have dedicated your life to your dreams and are lucky enough to attain them, aging has a way of altering your life path.

It’s not like I will never play again. It’s not like Tom would never have played again after retiring. It had become apparent to both of us, in our own unique and very separate ways to value the thing that’s more important than anything: time with family and friends.

I know that many people work until they die either because they want to or they have to. I would bet though, that most at least saw their family members or friends almost everyday. What it is about touring is that you are surrounded by thousands of people who outwardly seem to love you. In reality, after the show you find yourself walking down a long hallway only to enter a stark and empty hotel room at night.

Tom Petty made it to the finish line and he died in his own home, and I, and millions of fans mourn him for all he did and all he gave. He will be missed. At least there can be some solace in that we still have his music to remember him by. As for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, the ramifications may be somewhat harsher, ultimately changing what it means to our quality of life.

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5 Lessons From a Rock ‘n Roll Manager on Reaching Your Pinnacle of Success

It might not be quick, and it might not be easy, but passion, perseverance, decision making, and more will put you on the right road (no tour bus required).
Originally posted on September 19, 2017

People come up to me all the time and comment about our documentary We Are Twisted F***ing Sister and remark about how shocking it was that it took us so long to get a record deal. They almost invariably ask if I ever wanted to give up during those 10 years before we got signed.

It would seem to the casual observer of our documentary that after each excruciating rejection, one would want to just give up. But we all just took the hits and shook them off. Though trust me, it was never easy. I learned lessons of survival with each one, which is why I can speak with such authority about how a small business can keep coming back over and over again.

1. Utilize Your Passion. Whether you want to be a rock star or create the ultimate app, this is the foundation of it all. This is the well you draw from in the earliest stages of your business when money is scarce and all you have to bank on is your belief that your goals will be accomplished. The cliché, “Just love what you do, the money will follow” is true…and it’s not.

The belief that you have enough passion to help you navigate the hard and lean times is admirable, but if growth hasn’t occurred in the allotted time frame that you may (or may not) have created for yourself, passion alone won’t pay the bills or put food on the table. After a stretch of time of not making any profit, your family and/or significant other (or all) will remind you about your part of not living up to a certain standard at a particular time of your life. “Do you really still want to live with your parents when you are 30? I don’t think so.” You will know when the lack of forward movement starts to take its toll. Passion has a built-in deadline and you need to be aware of it–no matter who brings it to your attention.

2. Be in it for the Long Game. It’s not just about how you start, it’s about how you finish. Of course many things can happen on the lengthy road to success but understanding where you want to go is just as important as how you start. I processed the lessons learned early on and made the adjustments (especially in terms of hiring and firing members due to substance-abuse issues) that I was sure would prevent me from being in a successful rock band.

3. Decide if You Want a Partner. You have a choice when you start a company of whether you want to be the sole “hero” or if you want to have partners. If you want to be in it alone, that will always cost you more because you are paying people who have no real investment to do the work for you. There’s also no guarantee that they will be there for you in the end. Partners on the other hand will share the pain in the beginning, both financially and emotionally. They’ll carry some of the load of the inevitable challenges because (hopefully) they are fighting for the same outcome and will be just as willing to sacrifice as much as you are to get to where you both want to be.

4. Put Your Ego in Storage. Ego can destroy your dream. I have seen too many really good artists fail in their quest to succeed because of their own distorted perception of their talent. This can be tough if you are a classic Type-A personality. Many years ago I asked Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary chairman of Atlantic Records Group (my record label), how it had managed to become so successful and for so long (present day included). He had said, “Success is easier if you don’t mind who gets the credit.” He was always generous in acknowledging those in his company who had made things happen. It was also a belief that I had instinctively. I brought in band members who eventually became partners–and for which without their contributions and sacrifices I would never have become successful.

5. Listen to Your Critics. I have found that family and friends’ analysis is usually not the most objective, and oftentimes one should steer clear of taking it all to heart. I have heard the same thing from other musicians. It is important to be weary of people’s agendas when it comes to advice about your product. So often jealous family members and good, well-intentioned friends scuttle one’s dreams, which is why you must digest a lot of information before adapting or changing your vision. Also, just because someone tells you that your product sucks and you think the person saying so is a complete idiot, doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck and can’t be improved. This answers directly the question I was asked about the amount of rejection and how we were able to endure it as a band during our 10-year battle before getting a record deal.

We did not get signed sooner because, as good as we thought we were, our songs were just not good enough. We kept going back over and over until the music (and our image) was ready. It turned out that we made it when we were really ready for Prime Time. It just took time and we knew that our critics were right.

We listened. You should, too.

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Flashback to 1977: The Colliding Worlds of Twisted Sister and the Son of Sam

Knowing how to take advantage of current events when it comes to your business strategy
Originally posted on August 3, 2017

August 10 will mark the 40th anniversary of the capture of David Berkowitz aka “The Son of Sam” whose murdering spree held New York City and its surrounding counties in the grip of constant fear for nearly a year. NYC in the 70s was the murder capitol of America. According to, a website that collects the FBI UCS annual crime data for NYC, there were 3,888 murders in 1976 and 1977 alone, compared with the record low of 315 murders in all of 2016, according to reports by the local government and the NYC Police Department.

On July 29, 1976 the Son of Sam murders began with the killing of Donna Lauria, 18, and the injury to Jody Valenti, 19, in the Pelham area of the Bronx. With a murder rate of nearly 60 homicides per week at the time, it is no wonder that the Son of Sam murders were not recognized as a pattern until six months and six shootings later with the shooting of Christine Freund and her fiancé John Diel on January 30, 1977 while they sat in a parked car at the LIRR station in Forest Hills, Queens. It was then that the NYC police finally acknowledged that a gun similar to the one used in previous shootings meant that a pattern could be established.

This also happened to be the exact time period that Twisted Sister began to attract large crowds in bars in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. The Son of Sam, as he called himself in letters written to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin that were famously published, was especially fond of shooting young couples in parking lots.

The slow pouring out of details of each murder eventually led to the belief that he targeted young brunette women. Because of this, many girls started to wear blond wigs. The band and I started noticing that the attendance of women at our shows was dropping precipitously in the winter of 1976-77, and when the girls stopped coming, so did the guys. Our response to this news cycle was actually the precursor to our future stage antics, which are most famously associated with our “Death to Disco” stage shows later in the decade.

We started to taunt the “coward Son of Sam” from the stage as we riled up the crowd and threatened to kick his ass, on the off-chance that he ever attend any of our shows. For us, it was all about (faux) vigilante justice. We didn’t know how else to voice our frustration with the fans that came to see us, who also wanted the nightmare to be over with. By January 1977, I let our agent know he should start booking us as far from the Nassau/Queens border as was possible. (Side note: We found out after his capture that he actually lived down the street from a club we had regularly played in Yonkers, New York, called The Rising Sun.)

As 1976 turned to 1977, the Son of Sam’s murdering spree continued, and the fear was palpable among our fans who lived in Nassau County, as it appeared that the Son of Sam did most of his shooting in nearby Queens and Bronx. Because there was so much publicity about the unpredictability and capriciousness of the shootings, the Long Island newspaper Newsday came to one of our big club dates to interview our fans for a story incorporating their concerns about the possibility of being killed in the parking lot of one of our shows.

In what was one of the most outrageously insensitive, if not downright dangerous aspects of the story, the newspaper ran a huge photo of the line of fans waiting to get into our show at the Mad Hatter in Stony Brook, Long Island, with the caption: “Twisted Sister fans in Stony Brook don’t seem to be concerned about the Son of Sam.” Really? Why not just print the directions to the club while they were at it? We were stunned and so was the club owner.

The Son of Sam’s last killing was in Brooklyn on July 31,1977. He got a parking ticket for illegally parking his car in front of a fire hydrant while he walked into the parking lot of a city park near Bath Beach. There, he shot Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violente, both 20 years old. Moskowitz died shortly after the shooting, Violenti lived but was left blinded. After the shooting, a witness near the scene told the cops that someone got into a car parked near a fire hydrant after ripping up a parking ticket.

That is ultimately how he was traced and caught. The police were waiting to arrest him as he was leaving his house in Yonkers on the night of August 10, 1977. In the back seat of his car was a rifle, and in a paper bag was a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver whose matching bullet casings were found at most of the crime scenes. It just so happened that on the night of his capture we were again playing at the Mad Hatter in Stony Brook, Long Island.

The next day David Berkowitz quickly confessed to the shootings and claimed that his neighbor’s dog was one of the reasons that he killed, stating that the dog demanded the blood of pretty young girls. He said that “Sam,” who was mentioned in the first letter, was his former neighbor Sam Carr. Berkowitz also claimed that Harvey, Carr’s black Labrador Retriever, was possessed by an ancient demon and that it issued commands that Berkowitz must kill people.

After his capture, things returned back to normal but not before I realized that current events like that one could impact our business and we needed to always be on guard and plan accordingly for when/if the time came again.

Thankfully, nothing quite as dangerous (or as local) as the Son of Sam murders happened again during our time in the spotlight, but the popularity of Disco nearly wiped out the club circuit and led to our famous Death to Disco stage show. One year later, the gas crisis of 1979 impacted the ability for fans to drive to the clubs to see us, which minimally impacted our bottom line; then came the Iran hostage crisis of 1980, which inspired us to write a song about the Ayatollah (our fans loved that); and lastly the much-feared, possible crash-landing of the Space Lab on earth, specifically in the NYC area.

All of these events were ultimately incorporated into being part of our stage shows–which began a pattern of wild audience participation (not unlike professional wrestling) and had become a hallmark for us ever since.

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What You Can Learn From Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club as It Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

Hint: It has something to do with marketing, branding, and paying attention to your customers
Originally posted on June 23, 2017

One would have to be living under a rock to not know that what is arguably the most significant rock album of all time just celebrated its 50th anniversary of the date it was released–June 1, 1967 in the U.K. and Europe and June 2, 1967 in the U.S.

This is an example of how a company like Apple Corps., the Beatles’ production, management and marketing company since 1967, can exist and grow with a specific set of products and maintain its connection to a loyal consumer base for more than five decades. Its success hinged on its exceptional ability to understand all the short, medium, and long-term needs of its consumers.

Thirty years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper, I happened to be doing business in London, England. On that day, June 1, 1987, HMV record shop, the world’s No. 1 record retail chain at the time, released a special box set of all the Beatles’ music on CD. Although the CD had been around for seven years, the Beatles had the legal right to stop the release of their catalog in the new format until their egregious record deal could be renegotiated.

As it happened, the new deal was in place just in time to commemorate the 20th anniversary. There was a very big marketing campaign running the gamut over TV, radio, magazines, and subway posters. There were even TV specials. It was huge. I remember thinking that since the Beatles were not only the world’s biggest-ever recorded selling artists, but, in the U.K. they were considered a national treasure. I thought, If they play their cards right, they can repackage, rename, and reinvent all their albums and movies for years and years. Maybe even create a 50th anniversary release of Sgt. Pepper, which would be sociologically massive.

Over the course of the following decades, the special anniversary deluxe reissues of their first Ed Sullivan appearances and the acclaimed movies A Hard Day’s Night, Help, Magical Mystery Tour, in addition to the anniversaries of such notable albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver where the worldwide music press covered them with numerous reviews and essays about the individual significance of each release, were all just appetizers before the main course. They were also the ancillary business for many others as dozens of best-selling books were written about the Beatles phenomenon–by authors like Bruce Spizer, Mark Lewisohn, and Bob Spitz (to name a few) contributing to the machine that kept the Beatles business in the public eye.

And, now, finally, on June 1 and 2, 2017, the main event had arrived in the form of the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with a series of incredible packaging choices. In the U.K. especially, there have been no less than three TV specials, with the U.S. having at least one, with video of the actual sessions. Then there were all the interviews with the band, crew, and fans, both famous and not, with the topper being that the entire original album was remixed for the 50th anniversary package by Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles’ original producer, George Martin. The sonic effects of the remix are no less impressive than the effect of the restoration of the Sistine Chapel (no, that is not hyperbolic, if in fact, one perceives the Beatles as a once-in-a-century phenomenon).

Finally, instruments that were previously recorded and either not really heard or mixed so low that you didn’t know they were even there, are now in full-audio bloom along with vocals that were meticulously restored. This is because the new digital technology has given producers the tools to recapture sounds that were long ago buried in the grooves because of the limitations of the actual record pressing at the time. (P.S. it’s awesome.)

A variety of separate packages were newly created and are now available for different levels of Beatles fans. You can buy a remixed CD or a double-vinyl set, or a deluxe box with six CDs and alternate versions of the songs at various stages of the songs’ development. This kind of forensic excavation is unheard of.

Neil Aspinall, a former original Beatles roadie who started in 1959, became the CEO of Apple Corps. in the 80s. He once famously said, “I’m not in the music business, I’m in the Beatles business.”

The Beatles have been and remain a very vital business model because they understand what the buying public wants, and although they have not recorded a new song since 1970, with the exception of the completion of Lennon’s Free as a Bird, the business model is a marvel of product development and timing.

All businesses not only need to know this, but also need someone at the helm of their company with the ability to see how the product can and/or will play out over time. Keith Richards once referenced Mick Jagger’s philosophy with this funny but true analogy that the difference between them are that Jagger wakes up every morning and thinks about what he’s going to do that day, 10 days from now, 10 months from now, 10 years from now. Whereas Keith wakes up and says, “I got up this morning!”

The Beatles always seem to have a new (re-packaged) product ready to commemorate an important historical milestone in Beatles history. They not only have a seemingly never-ending amount of material that perfectly coincides with the event, they know how to make it special by slowly releasing with just enough fanfare to keep their base happy without overdoing it.

This is how a legacy product is marketed over time–understanding why the product was successful to begin with, and then carefully deciding what the marketplace wants over time by paying attention to how their consumers are responding. That’s not to say that the Beatles didn’t make any mistakes along the way. They did, and they were huge. One was when John Lennon inferred in an interview in 1966 that they were more popular among young people than Jesus. He quickly apologized, but not before thousands of Beatles records were burned by Christian groups in the Deep South, along with their music being banned by some radio stations. Then again a year later when, just 6 months after the release of Sgt. Pepper, they released the Magical Mystery Tour movie which was a critical disaster (the first critical disaster in their history at a time when what the press said really mattered). In both cases, they pivoted quickly with more new products because they had such a huge base of loyal fans that they overcame what could have been to a lesser company, commercial suicide.

Another example of overcoming brand damage is Coca-Cola, considered the biggest name in worldwide branding. They really blew it with the highly touted marketing of New Coke. Their error was trying to fix something that wasn’t broken (from the marketing viewpoint). Real Coke lovers didn’t want to see “New Coke,” which is an example of how packaging affects customers’ responses to products. In reality, consumers actually liked the taste of new Coke, they just didn’t want to see the new name on the can. It was such a disaster that any new “fail” in marketing is now considered “a new-Coke disaster.” But just as with the Beatles, Coca-Cola survived the misstep.

Most products are not that lucky and in the case of the Beatles and Coke, they had enough other options available at the time and quickly responded to their consumers.

So, remember: When it comes to keeping your customers satisfied, know exactly what they want in product choices and understand the value of branding.

No matter how big you are, the customer is always right!

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What a Chance Meeting with Sir Paul McCartney Can Teach Us

What not to do when your face is your brand.
Originally posted on May 24, 2017

When I decided to end Twisted Sister as a live entity in early 1988, as pragmatic as that decision was, I was confronted by a huge sense of loss since my identity was connected with that brand, which I helped develop, for more than 15 years. We went from playing in tiny nightclubs in New Jersey in 1973 to headlining stadium concerts; we shot MTV videos and wrote and recorded international anthems of rebellion. As far as the pop culture media world was concerned, we as a band and most important, as a brand, were over.

As hard as it is to deal with the mental challenges of creating a pathway to rebuild your life the one thing I didn’t have to deal with was the impression that people who met me were thinking “loser.” This is the entertainment industry we’re talking about here where perception is reality and your reputation truly precedes you. It takes some creativity to design a diversionary scenario when you are being introduced, like: “I’m currently working with a new band,” or “I’m producing a new project.”

The reason I didn’t was because my face was covered in makeup and my own name was not connected to it. I didn’t have to confront the kinds of questions that my singer Dee had as the “face” of the band. People took liberties and asked such questions as, “Hey what really happened?” Or, “Are you talking to the other guys?” Or, “Are you broke?” Or, “Do you hate each other?”

I, on the other hand, was able to go on and get a “straight” job without the baggage of having to answer any probing or inappropriate questions while planning our return. This brings me to the story of an old friend who, years ago, was working part-time as a cashier at a NYC gift shop.

One very hot summer day in 2005, Paul McCartney walked in with his then-wife, Heather. My friend looked up and standing directly in front of him was Sir Paul, one of the few people on Earth that he revered. Thoughts ran through his head but because my friend very much respected one’s privacy he chose to only speak if he was spoken to.

Paul had walked in because Heather had noticed a Vera Bradley baby bag on display. Paul looked at my friend without uttering a word and gestured with his foot (as the bag was on a low hook) then asked about the price. My friend responded that the bag was $100. Paul then looked at my friend and asked “Are you making up that price for me?”

The scenario is probably not what my friend would have conjured if I had told him that one day he was going to meet and have a conversation with one of his biggest childhood idols. Being accused of ripping Sir Paul off? He was a lifelong Beatles fan and only a few years younger than Paul. (Paul, at the time was a 63-year-old man; my friend was 58.)

When a 21-year-old assistant store clerk (who clearly had no idea who he was) showed Sir Paul that all the bags were priced at $100, my friend observed that he appeared to be embarrassed by his earlier accusation and started making small talk with my friend–as if attempting to erase his coming across as being as arrogant as he had. Mr. McCartney paid for the bag and walked out.

Of course, my friend called me immediately to relay the ridiculously surreal circumstances about what had happened when he met Sir Paul McCartney. I asked him if he resented the former Beatle now and if he was no longer interested in listening to another one of their records in his life. His response was measured and philosophical. He said he felt sorry for the man who had most likely been lied to, ripped off, and hustled because of who he is since he was 20 years old.

The point is this–if you tie yourself by name and face too closely with your brand, and things go south, you could not only lose your name (or brand) in a lawsuit, but also your ability to reconstruct your next business plan. While your goal may be to fly under the radar, if you’re not careful you can suffer by failure identification.

You may not be as lucky as Sir Paul McCartney was in finding such an understanding consumer as my friend. Paul was lucky to have a fan like that. These days, with social media being what it is, good news travels fast and bad news (carrying with it all the haters) travels faster.

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Sometimes, You Can Be Too Frugal. Chuck Berry Is a Good Example

Chuck Berry’s cheap habits helped launch him to stardom. They also gave him a poor reputation as a performer and landed him in hot water with the IRS.
Originally posted on March 29, 2017

Rock ‘n roll is now officially dead.

John Lennon said it best: “If Rock ‘n Roll had another name, it would be called ‘Chuck Berry’–but now he’s gone.

He was 90 years old and probably lived much longer than anyone would’ve expected. Consider all of our rock heroes who seem to be dying almost on a monthly basis. Most of them were way younger than Chuck, yet Chuck was a rock and roll pioneer who had survived being on the road and touring almost nonstop for the past 60 years.

Sixty years ago Elvis, Chuck, Little Richard, Jerry Lee and Roy Orbison escorted a few million of us into the new world of rock and roll. A time when uptempo rhythm and blues music–called “race records” in the trade–were finally played, thanks to Elvis’s breakthrough on certain radio stations. It was from that exalted perch that some bands like The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zep, The Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead, Springsteen, Queen, AC/DC and Twisted Sister, kissed the feet of their idols and took away lessons that led to the creation of a body of music that today is the soundtrack for the lives of millions around the world.

From the minute I heard the classic intro to “School Days” blasting from my dad’s car radio in 1957, through the master class of all guitar intros like “Johnny B. Goode,” and continuing to the sinewy blues-formatted riff from “Down the Road Apiece,” Chuck’s guitar style and tone became a passion of mine. It was, perhaps, the first time something actually moved me enough to dream about what it would be like to play like that.

But he was so much more than a guitar genius. He was an incredible songwriter of compact emotional lyricism, observation, humor and beauty especially given the deplorable state of race relations in the U.S. (notably in the southern states) in the 1950s during an era where the Jim Crow laws were still enforced.

With songs like his first big hit in 1957 “Maybellene” to “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Little Queenie,” “School Days,” “No Particular Place to Go,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “You Can’t Catch Me” and “Promised Land,” Chuck’s lyrics ventured into a color-blind world of the first generation of rebellious teen angst, cars and girls during the post-war baby boom. Chuck’s songs were so universally loved and recognized as cornerstones of the genre that they were covered by some of rock’s most famous artists at the peak of their careers like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Elvis, to name a few.

He was a musical innovator and businessman who created a unique music-business, live-performance model that served him (not always well) up until his death. The way Chuck played two strings on a guitar simultaneously (“Johnny B. Goode” is a classic example and stands as the Holy Grail of rock and roll guitar intros). It was created because Chuck was too cheap to hire a second guitarist for his band to create the sound in his head so he developed the simultaneous two-string guitar sound so that he could play both parts by himself!

Pure genius!

But that same approach to financial economy was also his undoing. He never wanted to have the expense of a dependable and professional touring band. He would drive himself to his concerts, carry his own guitar and amplifier in the trunk and have the concert promoter hire a local band to back him up. He assumed any bunch of kids would know all of his songs and all of the arrangements. This turned out to be not such a good thing, and Chuck’s reputation of putting on erratic and sometimes out-of-tune performances began to become a regular occurrence.

He went to jail for violating the Mann Act by transporting an underage girl across state lines. He never paid the bands that were supplied as part of Chuck’s appearance agreements, and rarely, if ever, thanked them. He also insisted on being paid in cash before he even walked on stage. This was understandable given the suspicion artists had in general that a promoter would stiff them by either not paying them or bouncing a check.

Still, one has to pay taxes on income, and this led to IRS problems that dogged him for years, and later, he served time for income tax evasion. As an example of Chuck’s cash-only, cash-first philosophy, my band ran into this issue with Chuck in 1985. Twisted Sister wanted Berry to play on one of our songs, “Be Chrool to Your Schuel,” from our “Come Out and Play” album. Alice Cooper, Clarence Clemons and Billy Joel had already happily signed on for little more than union scale wages.

Twisted Sister, having had a history of playing several Chuck Berry songs during our 10 years in the bar scene, really wanted Chuck to play on the song. It was a real homage to 50s’ rock and roll, as the title itself was a deliberately misspelled version of the Beach Boys’ song “Be True to Your School.”

We sent our tour manager to talk to Chuck, but he demanded $17,500 in cash in a brown paper bag. Our record label, not surprisingly, refused and instead Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats played the Chuck Berry-style lead guitar part.

As far as rock and roll music and the sound he created is concerned: he wasn’t black, he wasn’t white–he was Rock ‘n Roll.

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Clichés That Work at Work

Tapping into the tried and true to get through the tough times.
Originally posted on February 23, 2017

I love talking to young entrepreneurs. I want to hear how they get through days where nothing seems to happen; when it seems as though everything is stuck on pause; when they begin to doubt if they will ever “make it.” It’s something I think about, it’s someplace we’ve all been. I know. I’ve had those doubts.

But among the many tricks I’ve used to get past tough days and tough times is by repeating certain clichés. They work because they are short and unbelievably insightful. Some of the many tried and true that I keep going back to:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up.

I managed a singer-songwriter years ago whose career had short-circuited many times. He signed two major label record deals over a three-year period only to have his two big-budget albums dropped one after the other from the release schedule because of the politics of changing management regimes. This is among the cruelest of conditions to young artists, many of whom just get so fed up with the corporate politics of entertainment companies that they walk away from their dreams. This particular artist though, decided to continue with his craft on the side, even though he became a successful building contractor by trade. He still writes, records and releases independent records and knows that they are being listened to by a very small but devoted fan base.

Ever the optimist, he wrote a song called “I Say Grace” that contained one of my all-time favorite and positive statements about how to look at life when your dreams seem to be fading away: “And when the roof caves in, it lets the sunshine in.”

Which leads me to the cliché that I never really had any use for: Everything happens for a reason. To me, this is the most obvious and, at the same time, the most misused and misapplied of all clichés. Yes, everything does happen for a reason, and yes, there is a reason that anything happens. It is called cause and effect. But it doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to not try anything because whatever happens is meant to happen.

That the travails in life are somehow preordained.

That there are no coincidences.

That there is somehow a grand design.

I have never and will never believe that! This kind of thinking is poison to an entrepreneur. Any successful entrepreneur, when faced with defeat, can’t allow that defeat to win. When I was 22 I could have easily stopped pursuing my dream.

When the first lead singer pulled a loaded gun on my drummer in a bar fight and threatened to kill him, which led to the band almost breaking up, it would have been very understandable to take that as a sign that rock and roll wasn’t my path. Or the time that our truck transmission blew up on the way to a show and another band member, a roadie and I waited for six hours in the freezing cold for a state trooper to call for a replacement; reloaded the new truck and got to the club two hours late but we still played. It was torture, and I could have easily walked away then. Or the time a record executive, after deciding to sign the band, collapsed of a heart attack on a flight back to Europe with our newly signed record deal in his briefcase, which ended up being no deal. Yea, that must have been a sign. Or the time our truck was deliberately set on fire by a rival club owner; or the 50 record label rejections…

Or… or… or…

I could have given up many, many times over because it was plainly obvious that it was not meant to be. All the reasons for it not to happen were clear; they all, in fact, happened for a reason. But we didn’t let those reasons short circuit or distort our goals and stop believing in who we were and what we wanted. And you shouldn’t either.

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The Monotony of Excellence

Cultivating Repetition in the Name of Success
Originally posted on January 20, 2017

The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. This does not sound like insanity to me. In fact, it sounds like my band’s business plan. Actually, it sounds like the plan of most successful artists and athletes. Probably, after peeling back enough stories, it can also be the unofficial or unspoken mantra of many successful people. It perfectly melds with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule, which is based on a study by Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist, scholar and professor. In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of “deliberate practice” to achieve mastery in any field.

I added up all the hours we spent playing in the bars during the first 10 years of our history and found that just in playing time and rehearsing alone, we spent about 9,600 hours from 1973 to 1982! Once all the travel and performance prep time was added up, I was amazed to discover that we actually spent 50 percent of every waking hour of everyday working toward our goal of a record deal.

I thought about that for a moment and what it really means. Talk about endless repetition becoming a habit. I thought about the ability we all have to actually rewire our brain’s synapses so the real results of repetition become an automatic and almost perfect replication of a defined goal. It’s the ability to call up the delivery of that habit, like having it On Demand, whether it’s performing a piano solo or gymnastic exercise.

We played about 7,000 performances before we got signed. The shows never seemed to end. The repetition of playing five or six nights a week, four or five shows per night–day after day, week after week, year after year–was very, very boring at times. And that’s just it. That’s the downside at becoming good at something. The monotony.

We did the same show for months at a time, playing until every aspect of the performance was right, and then changing the show again and performing in hundreds of new shows again for long stretches. Repetition can be tedious. However, if it’s all for the good of achieving your goals, it’s time well spent, no matter how much. This is what it takes to achieve excellence. This is what it took for us.

Are you prepared for the monotony of excellence?

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