Dee Snider — the peroxide blond, lipstick and makeup-wearing lead singer from Twisted Sister — is doing an album of Broadway showtunes. The first response is "What has gotten into him?" but upon closer examination it makes sense. As a young boy, he sang in church choirs and school ensembles. He mixed that vocal approach with the highly-theatrical look he cultivated in Twisted Sister and when you think about getting from there to doing metal renditions of "Mack The Knife" and "Luck Be A Lady," the leap isn’t such a great one. Snider brought his love for musicals and metal to Dee Dee Does Broadway, an album made up of signature songs from a variety of shows including West Side Story, Damn Yankees and Guys and Dolls. The arrangements have been brutally electrified and the singer’s performances will raise a lot of eyebrows in appreciation. He duets with everybody from straight-up Broadway vocalists like Patti Lupone and Bebe Neuwirth to more pop/rock singers like Clay Aiken and Cyndi Lauper.
UG: At first blush the idea that Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider was doing an album called Dee Dee Does Broadway smacked a little bit of desperation.
Dee Snider: First of all be honest. I welcome it—even the negativity. Just to encapsulate this, somebody Tweeted the other day, “Dee Snider: He goes Broadway. Sellout.” And I re-Tweeted, “Career suicide maybe. Sellout? No.” It’s not like I’m joining that long line of people doing showtunes.
But you knew that your hardcore fans might not accept you singing musical numbers.
I knew going into this that people may react negatively but I’m at a point where I want to do things that challenge me and that I feel passionate about doing and to me are fun. We had no money and I’m out of pocket on this thing a lot and people were doing it for nothing or doing it for little because they felt so excited about it.
You were in school choirs and participated in state competitions when you were younger?
I grew up in a household where I was singing in the church choir and the school choir and in elementary school showtunes were always part of any choral concert. My parents loved shows and as a matter of fact I don’t think they were truly proud of me until they saw me on Broadway in Rock of Ages and that’s not a joke. As 80-year olds, they couldn’t connect to the rock thing or a movie thing but they could connect to a Broadway show and seeing their son’s name quote/unquote “in lights.” But they used to take us locally to see shows like Carousel, Brigadoon and South Pacific so I grew up with these things and certain songs and certain parts of the music, I felt a power within them. A strength and a forcefulness I thought would translate into more of a rock presentation.
You exchanged these singing voicemails with Alice Cooper and that also led to the recording of the album?
It absolutely did. I know Alice now for years and he invited me to sing in his Christmas concert that he does in Arizona as a fundraiser. So we were going back and forth and leaving each other voice messages and I’m not sure who did it first—I’ll bet it was Alice—but he sang his message to a showtune. And then I wound up singing it back [in a singing voice], “Hey Al-ice, please call meeee baaack on the phoooone.” Then when we finally did talk I was like, “Dude we should do a record.”
You actually approached Alice Cooper to do an album of Broadway songs?
As a matter of fact for me as a fan, it was his hidden love or not so hidden love of Broadway. Because he’s such a theatrical performer that through some of his music I felt like I connected with him. The Jets song [“Gutter Song Vs. the Jets”] he did on the School’s Out record and it was even in one song maybe “Desperado” or one of those songs, there was a quick reference where he says “Suffer,” which is said in Bye Bye Birdie during the song “Honestly Sincere.” I always thought that was the coolest moment in the Bye Bye Birdie show when the singer says “Suffer” and the girl suffers. When I heard that as a kid I’m going, “This dude gets me.” So surprise surprise we’re both singing showtunes.
How far did you get with that duet with Alice Cooper?
We demo’d “Luck Be a Lady” together and it came out great and it at the time it just wasn’t right for either of us. Then the next year when I was on Broadway and decided to revisit it, Alice still was like, “You know what? I don’t know if this is for me.” I said, “Well dude, I’m doing it.” And he said, “God bless. Go for it.”
There is a little bit of an Alice Cooper element in your vocals on Dee Dee Does Broadway.
Truly. I’m an Alice Cooper disciple. I mean my rock voice at its core has some Bon Scott in there as well but I am in the upper octave of Alice Cooper. I hope one day you guts get to hear “Luck Be a Lady” because he’s got the lower octave Alice and I’ve got the upper octave Alice and we really blend well together. No, I am a huge Alice Cooper disciple. You could say, “Hey man, you’re imitating Alice Cooper on that track” and I’ll go, “Thank you.”
Did you have an idea of the types of arrangements you wanted to put together on the songs for Dee Dee Does Broadway?
"I’m an Alice Cooper disciple. I mean my rock voice at its core has some Bon Scott in there as well but I am in the upper octave of Alice Cooper."
The thing was it couldn’t be a rock song to begin with and you may have read that in the liner notes. There was no challenge in just turning up the guitars on Jesus Christ Superstar or Rocky Horror; they’re rock songs from the start. It had to be showtunes and the second thing I wanted orchestration. I wanted it to be a rock band but I didn’t want to strip it completely and lose the orchestration.
You wanted the metal and the classical elements.
I wanted to mix it together. From the start I had certain songs in my mind like “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” I said, “This is the most metallic song on Broadway.” I could hear the double-bass drumming and the riffing and there were certain songs in my mind I knew would go a certain way. Cut to when I had the idea and who was I going to get to do this record with me? Bob Kulick immediately came to mind; I worked with him before and most recently on this SIN-atra record because a lot of those songs are showtunes actually cause Sinatra tends to sing showtunes. He really got mixing the rock with the orchestration of these kind of songs and he also knows how to get the job done. We had a shoestring budget so I reached out and he loved the idea after demoing with Alice and I heard the tracks they pulled together. Him and Brett Chassen his co-producing partner and drummer got it and then for the orchestration, Doug Katsaros who is a Broadway orchestrator and does arrangements and is a keyboard player and in the rock world he was in a band called Balance years ago with Bob. He got it. If I’m rambling, I’m sorry.
No, this is great.
It blows my mind because I’m on Long Island, Doug is in New York City and Bob, Rudy Sarzo who ended up playing bass and Brett are on the west coast, and we’re talking on the phone and stuff but we were just so getting it. Everybody’s sending pieces to each other that are inspiring each other. Without ever being in the room together, we are so unified. Everybody got it and everybody was passionate about it and we fed off each other and just made it better. It was amazing.
There are a lot of duets on the album. Where did that idea come from?
With the original idea being an album of duets with Alice, with Alice gone I viewed it as a solo record. But I revisited this idea once I was on Broadway in Rock of Ages. So I started thinking, “Man, it would be really cool to get some Broadway people to join me on this thing.” And because now I was in the Broadway community, I started to have these one degree and two degrees of separation deals from certain people and the first person I reached out to was Bebe Neuwirth. Who I said, “Man, she’d be amazing on ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ and I was hoping against hope that she would even consider it. And she was like, “Yes, this is cool.” I forget that at this point in the world virtually every generation that is alive today is raised on rock in some form and they all get it. Where my parents who are still with us, they don’t get rock as a concept. After their generation everybody gets it. So she was a rock chick in her time and now she was gonna get to combine both of ‘em and she came in. The funny thing with her is I’m going, “Man, you’re perfect on this song” and she goes, “Well yeah, I sang it on Broadway for like two years.” And I was like, “What?” She goes, “You don’t know I was nominated for a Tony Award for this role? This is my song.” I said, “No, I just thought it was good casting on my part.”
You recorded “Big Spender” with Cyndi Lauper—how did that happen?
I’d known Cyndi literally since the club days on Long Island. Not that we had a lot of contact but we’d run into each other. I said, “Man, her voice and that cutesy would be amazing on ‘Big Spender.” And bam, Cyndi was like, “I”ll do it. I’m in.”
What was it like singing with Patti Lupone on “Tonight/Somewhere”?
I was like, “OK, who’s the biggest Broadway star you can think of? Patti Lupone. OK, let’s just take a shot here.” She was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” She was in the studio and I’m like, “Does she know who she’s in the studio with? Does she have any idea of who I am? Has anybody told her?” But she’s a Long Island girl and she’s a rocker and she just loved it and it kept going from there.
Your duet with Patti Lupone on that West Side Story song was pretty amazing.
“Tonight” is like the original power ballad and that’s what I heard in the song. That one and even “Music Of the Night” for that matter. I said, “These are power ballads,” and as I said in my liner notes, “People are shocked that I’m doing something with musicals. Have you looked at my band pictures? Could it be more theatrical?” A lot of rock and especially theatrical rock draws on the musicals and the classical past and “Tonight” is a power ballad. That’s the finale on the record and I get a chill every time I hear that song I got goose bumps. It’s the orchestration and the power of the song but it’s friggin’ Patti Lupone. Jesus Christ, I’m just blown away sitting there singing the final notes of “Somewhere” with her.
So you were live in the studio for all of these duets?
They’re all New York-based and because they were coming in for me essentially, to me I felt it was mandatory that I be there to direct and work with them. My parts were recorded but you never know if it’s gonna work, if it’s something to be fixed. So I was in there for all those sessions with Clay Aiken and with the guys in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert [Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon and Nick Adams] and everybody.
Were those pretty cool moments for you being in the studio with all these different singers?
"Career suicide maybe. Sellout? No. It’s not like I’m joining that long line of people doing showtunes."
I was stunned. I can sing, yes, but to have these Broadway stars to a man or woman literally as we’re playing them stuff in the studio, do a slow turn and look at me and go, “What the fuck?” Every one of them did the same thing because they were front listening and I was behind them and then all of them would just slowly turn around when they heard me. And to have Broadway stars go, “Dude, you can sing.” Why is everybody so surprised? First you’re like, “Yes, I can” then it’s, “Wait a minute.”
The compliment becomes an insult.
Yeah, why didn’t you think I could sing before? That to me was the greatest thrill was to have people love you. I mean Patti Lupone is one of the greatest Broadway singers period and the tone of her voice. To get her to say, “Man, you were belting” was like, “Wow, thank you.”
Do you have to change emotionally from the person who sang “We’re Not Gonna Take It” when you were doing these showtunes?
It depends on the track. Take a track like “Mack the Knife” and the video, that song basically defines the record. It starts with that fakeout beginning [jazzy arrangement with acoustic piano and bass] and for that it was the sorta thing, “Well I can do this.” Trying to get into that head, “Hey, I’m the cool guy” because I am the cool guy but it’s a different cool guy. But I had to really attack it and I couldn’t do it as a throwaway. I had to say, ‘Alright, you’ve got to really believe you’re that cool guy” and set up the rock part.
Did you ever consider doing all of “Mack the Knife” in that acoustic arrangement that opens the song?
No, not at all. To me again I always heard the rock in these songs and Bobby Darin was a rockstar. They didn’t have rockstars but that dude was a rockstar. My greatest treat was I always wanted to sing “Mack the Knife” and I didn’t know it was from a Broadway show. When I Googled it with fingers crossed and hoping it was from a Broadway show and I was like “Yes, Three Penny Opera. It counts.” So I was glad I could actually get to do that one.
Did you ever have a chance to meet Bobby Darin or Frank Sinatra?
I never met any of that world of people. In a contemporary world and I don’t put him in the same category but Barry Manilow wound up coming to see me in Las Vegas and he went nuts. I was doing rock stuff in the Elvis Presley Theater after his show and he literally was dancing in the aisles and I’m not kidding you. He started pulling people out of their seats and going, “Get up.” He came up to me and kissed me on the cheek and he said, “Nobody owns that stage the way Elvis did—you owned that stage.” So again not that I live for the approval of people like Barry Manilow or Bebe Neuwirth or whatever, but it’s nice to get the respect of people and acknowledgement that you have value beyond “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” And don’t forget about Bob Kulick; his guitar work was amazing and inspired and he feels it’s some of the greatest work he’s ever done and the greatest challenge to play. Because he’s really tapping into his knowledge of jazz and the stuff that traditionally a lot of rock bands don’t deal with. So it takes a real talent to not only be able to play that stuff but to be able to translate that stuff and make it rock. Because some of the chord stuff is not three-chord rock at all—it’s like 17-chord rock.
“Music Of the Night” really did suit your voice. You rocked on that.
Penn Gilette paid me the highest compliment. Penn and I are friends and I sent him the record ‘cause he’s a real music fan and I said, “I’d love for you to listen to this.” He said, “The fact that you’ve got me listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Music Of the Night’ shows how much I love you.” And then the next text was, “The aggression in your voice actually makes this song more palpable.” “Music Of the Night” was a little bit of dick shakin’ in the sense of saying, “OK, let me show you. I can do that. I have burnt down my classical voice and I don’t have to go yeahhhh [does big rock scream]. I can give you a little moment here of the sweet voice and then kick it in from there.” So each song was approached differently.
You recorded “The Joint Is Jumpin”” with your son Jesse Blaze Snider. What was that like trading verses with him?
I’ve sang with Jesse only a couple times live actually and usually it’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or something like that. I wanted to do something with him and as a father I wanted to show off my son or whatever and so I picked “The Joint Is Jumpin.’” His original stuff that he does—because the high singing thing isn’t as popular as it once was and now it’s more baritoney—didn’t make me nervous but I’ll say curious as to how he would be singing on there. He decided, “Hey, I’m gonna show my genetics” and he just started rippin’. And my engineer was, “Dude, I’m losing track of who’s singing what.” So I couldn’t have been prouder of that performance. And that song is “Hot For Teacher.” That’s another one I always heard and said, “This is a boogie, man. This is a Cactus rock boogie; this is ‘Parchman Farm.” And I said, “Let’s just go in there and approach it as a boogie” and it just works as a boogie.
Cactus were one of the greatest boogie bands ever. That was some of the most amazing music Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert ever did.
Oh my god. You’re not kidding, man. There’s not a lot of younger people that know about this band but it’s worth going back and listening to “Evil” or “Parchman Farm” and acknowledging where metal came from. And if you’re a Cactus fan and you go back and listen to the different live versions there’s “Parchman Farm” from the Isle of Wight. Where it’s like early in the morning and freezing and a sort of laid back Rusty Day says, “We’re just gonna warm things up” or whatever he says and then all of a sudden it’s bdoom doom [Dee sings opening drum riff.] And you’re like, “Whoa.” And at the end he says, “No one’s cold anymore, man.” It’s like, “Shit!”
Metal and rock have changed so much since you were doing it back in the day with Twisted Sister. What changes have you seen?
"My parents loved shows and as a matter of fact I don’t think they were truly proud of me until they saw me on Broadway in Rock of Ages."
There are great bands but you sort of scratch your head and say, “How are they ever gonna be noticed or seen?” They’ll play to the niche audiences that are out there like the hardcore metal scene that has got a fanatical niche audience. My daughter is in a post-hardcore band and she goes to all these shows and these clubs and little theaters are packed with rabid fans but you say, “Well is this ever gonna go to a stadium or an arena? Can it ever translate to what Metallica did?” Then you go to the other side of things and no one is interested in quirky or that middle ground of good rock.
What new bands do you like?
I’m a big fan of a band and I’m fanatical about them and it makes me feel like I’m in high school again—they’re called Foxy Shazam. It’s Queen meets the Darkness and if you’re older it’s Queen meets Sparks but people who don’t know who Sparks is will know the Darkness. In fact Justin, the singer of the Darkness, produced their new album, The Church of Rock and Roll. I’ve given away 10 copies of their record and I go to their shows and I never go to shows. I have three Foxy Shazam t-shirts. This band is quirky and weird and they’re starting to break out a little bit but will they ever have the opportunity? Because they’re playing non-traditional rock will they ever have the chance in this day and age to be heard? It just seems the current marketplace either caters to either niche rock music or just the current trend in pop rock music. No one wants to know about straight ahead rock.
You have your own radio show the House of Hair. Has that afforded you the opportunity to showcase new bands like Foxy Shazam?
I’ve been doing House of Hair for 15 years on 220 stations and we never play any new music. It just speaks to why I never do new music with Twisted Sister—the marketplace is not there. New music from old bands is what I called the bathroom break songs. The minute they go, “This is from the new,” well the minute they get the word new out, you can see people standing up and leaving. It’s insulting as an artist but they don’t want to hear it and the program directors don’t want new music on the House of Hair. And the fans really aren’t interested in hearing about the new music. Yeah, there’s a small audience but it’s hardly worth catering to those people and you can’t because you need people tuning into the radio show. They want old music from old bands and if they want new music they’ll go to new bands but where are they getting those new bands? It’s a conundrum.
Is that one of the reasons why you decided to revisit Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry album and rerecord it in 2004 as the Still Hungry record?
That was our version of Some Kind Of Monster by Metallica. My book Shut Up and Give Me the Mic comes out on May 8th and I document this in detail but the band started falling apart during Stay Hungry as a unit. We jokingly said as we reunited, “We should go back and redo that one as the ultimate gesture to repair the damage within. Go back and try to explore this.” Our record label said, “Well, we’ll finance it” and we said, “If you want to pay for our therapy, we’ll do it.” And that’s what came about. I have to wrap this up—any last questions?
What was it like doing “I Wanna Rock” with the Black Veil Brides at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards?
My daughter dragged me there and it’s always great to get the accolades, respect and appreciation from the younger bands. When Black Veil Brides walked in, I said, “Oh, there’s the band” for the first time in like 25 years because you don’t know who’s in the band anymore. You think you’re talking to the singer in a band and it’s the caterer. Nobody’s a rockstar anymore and Black Veil Brides are rockstars. So when they asked me if I would do “I Wanna Rock” with them, for them it was a real showing of respect and old guard meets new guard and they really draw from the past a lot. So it was a fun thing to do and all of a sudden I’m in that place where back when we were coming up and we asked Alice Cooper to sing with us, now I know what Alice was feeling like. You really appreciate the respect they’re showing and the acknowledgment they’re giving you. And you go out there and try and show ‘em a thing or two.
Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2012