TWISTED SISTER's JAY JAY FRENCH Doesn't Begrudge Bands Who Use Backing Tracks During Live Shows
February 17, 2023
TWISTED SISTER guitarist Jay Jay French says that he doesn't begrudge bands who rely heavily on backing tracks during their concerts, saying that the practice will continue as long as "the fans will tolerate it".
In recent years, more and more artists have been given a pass for relying on pre-recorded tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent. For better or worse, pre-recorded tracks are becoming increasingly common for touring artists of all levels and genres and they're not just used in pop music — many rock artists utilize playback tracks to varying degrees.
French addressed some rock acts' reliance on pre-recorded tracks in a Cameo video message requested by the Syncin' StanleyYouTube channel. Asked for his opinion on singers use backing tracks for their lead vocals, Jay Jay said in part (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "As a manager, this is a more complicated answer. I can say, 'Oh, it sucks. Everyone should just do everything for real,' but there's a lot of money on the table and bands are under a lot of pressure to replicate records. And I guess at the end of the day, the real answer is, do the fans care or not? And if the fans don't care, and there's a lot of money on the table, the band's under a lot of pressure to replicate a record, then they get away with it and they do it. So it doesn't really matter what I say; it just is what it is, and they do it because they feel the pressure.
"Very rarely do you have artists who are so honest with themselves and they cannot do what they used to do that they just up and don't do it anymore," he continued. "[LED ZEPPELIN singer] Robert Plant is one of them. He said, 'Hey, I can't do ZEP songs. I can't even do it if you lower the key down two steps. I can't do it. I won't do it. I'm not gonna besmirch the reputation of this band, and I'm not gonna do it.' So he doesn't do it. When you see Robert Plant as a solo artist, he'll do some ZEP songs in a completely different key in a vocal range he can actually do it in.
"This mostly applies to singers, although in a band like THE ROLLING STONES, the only one in that band who's actually good these days is Mick Jagger. His vocals, actually, are as good as ever, if not better. The rest of the band [laughs] really need help. Keith [Richards] and Woody [Ron Wood] have arthritis and they can barely play. I understand that they use guitar players behind the scenes on nights where they really can't play.
"The point is, you're selling the tickets for two, three, four, five hundred dollars, what is your responsibility to the fans and do the fans care? Take a band like THE EAGLES. I don't think THE EAGLES use backing tracks, but they've got 55 guys onstage. So what do you expect with THE EAGLES? You expect to hear a band that is probably the most boring live band in the world because it's just like listening to a record. But that's what their fans want. They wanna be in a room, breathing the air with these guys, and they play all their greatest hits. If you had a great stereo, it would not [be] any different. Or get the DVD or stream a concert of theirs on a really good surround system, and that's what you get. You get it exactly how they want the record to sound. And that's what they do. So they don't have to have backing tracks because they have so many people onstage. But when you have a band with a classic lineup, people don't wanna see it polluted by different people onstage or think that there's people there. So they don't wanna know. Or maybe they don't care.
"So it's very much a matter of what you will tolerate," Jay Jay added. "If these bands believe the fans will tolerate it, then they get away with it and they do it. It's not for me to say whether they should or they shouldn't. You do what you feel you can do, and you get away with it if you feel you can get away with it, and more power to you. Again, the pressure is on. What do you do when you're charging a lot of money for a ticket and there's expectations as to the performance? And what are your expectations? Are you willing to forgo, you don't care if a singer sings flat or he can't sing in key? Does it matter to you? Are you gonna walk out going, 'It sucks', or do you go, 'Wow. He sounded really good'?
"We as a band, TWISTED SISTER performs live. We've never, in the 15 performing years, from 2003 to the time we retired, we never [used backing tracks]. Everything was right out there — all the guitar playing, bass playing, singing — everything was live. But I don't begrudge bands [who use tapes].
"We're not 20 years old anymore. Most of your heroes are now 70 or close to 80, and they can't do it. So if you're willing to pay, and you don't care, and if you're willing to forgo a certain amount of that emotion because you wanna have it like the record, then they'll do it and you'll pay, and that'll be the end of it. And so be it."
In March 2020, SHINEDOWN guitarist Zach Myers said that "90 percent" of rock artists use at least some pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. He told Rock Feed: "It bothers me that it bothers people. I'm, like, 'Why does this bother you?' It's the way it is. People have been doing this since the '80s. And we want the sound to be the best it can be. Could we go up there, just the four of us, and put on the best rock show ever? Of course. But that's not how we wanna do it."
Former SKID ROW singer Sebastian Bach has previously said that he is "one of the last people" who are still not using pre-recorded tracks at their live shows. "I don't know how much longer I can say to you that I don't use tapes onstage, because I don't, and I never have," he told Consequence Of Sound. "And I still don't. When I have opening bands, and they're using tapes, and then I come out and I don't use tapes… sometimes, it makes me feel stupid, because I'm like, 'What am I doing, when all these kids half my age can come onstage and do all of my moves, but they don't have to warm up for an hour before the show, or weeks, before the first show?' Sometimes, I'm like, 'Why do I even bother, if the public is so used to this other way?' It's becoming very rare to come see a good band that's actually a real band — that's not miming or doing silly moves while a tape is running. It just becomes more rare as the years go on."
In 2019, IRON MAIDEN guitarist Adrian Smith said that he doesn't "agree" with certain rock artists relying on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. "I tell you what, I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don't think it's a good thing at all," he told the New York Post. "I mean, the music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We've toured with a couple bands that use tapes — it's not real. You're supposed to play live; it should be live. I don't agree with using tapes … I think it's a real shame."
One musician who has been open about his band's used of taped vocals during live performances is MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx, who said: "We've used technology since '87." He added the group employed "sequencers, sub tones, background vox tracks, plus background singers and us. [MÖTLEY CRÜE also taped] stuff we can't tour with, like cello parts in ballads, etc.... We love it and don't hide it. It's a great tool to fill out the sound."
In a 2014 interview, MÖTLEY CRÜE guitarist Mick Mars admitted that he wasn't comfortable with the fact that his band used pre-recorded backing vocals in its live shows, claiming that he preferred to watch groups whose performances are delivered entirely live. "I don't like it," he said. "I think a band like ours… I have to say '60s bands were my favorite — '60s and '70s bands — because they were real, like, three-piece bands or four-piece bands, and they just got up there and kicked it up. Made a mistake? So what? Sounded a little bit empty here or there? So what? It's the bigness and the rawness and the people that developed and wrote the songs and made them and presented them. To me, that's what I really like. I mean, I could put on a MÖTLEY CD and play with it all day long. I don't wanna do that."
KISS lead singer Paul Stanley, who has been struggling to hit the high notes in many of the band's classic songs for a number of years, has been accused of singing to a backing tape on KISS's ongoing "End Of The Road" tour.
Back in 2015, KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons slammed bands who used backing tapes for not being honest enough to include that fact on their concert tickets.
"I have a problem when you charge $100 to see a live show and the artist uses backing tracks," Simmons said. "It's like the ingredients in food. If the first ingredient on the label is sugar, that's at least honest. It should be on every ticket — you're paying $100, 30 to 50 percent of the show is [on] backing tracks and they'll sing sometimes, sometimes they'll lip sync. At least be honest. It's not about backing tracks, it's about dishonesty.
"There's nobody with a synthesizer on our stage, there's no samples on the drums, there's nothing," Gene continued. "There's very few bands who do that now — AC/DC, METALLICA, us. I can't even say that about U2 or THE [ROLLING] STONES. There's very few bands who don't use [backing] tracks."
Earlier this month, KISS's longtime manager Doc McGhee defended Stanley's vocal performance on "End Of The Road", explaining that the "Star Child" "fully sings to every song" at every concert. He explained: It's enhanced. It's just part of the process to make sure that everybody hears the songs the way they should be sang to begin with. Nobody wants to hear people do stuff that's not real, that's not what they came to hear."
When McGhee was asked to clarify if he was "actually saying there are backing tracks that [Paul is] singing to," Doc said: "He'll sing to tracks. It's all part of a process. Because everybody wants to hear everybody sing. But he fully sings to every song."
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