The Single Word That Killed Dee Snider’s Best Album
Dee Snider had every reason to believe things were moving in the right direction in 1990, despite the recent collapse ofTwisted Sister and associated financial problems. An effective bankruptcy arrangement was set to sort him out. He’d identified some of what he felt to be his personal weaknesses as a rock musician, and formed a new group to directly address them.
He realized that he wanted to be in a band, rather than being a solo artist, and picked former Ozzy Osbourne and Gillan guitarist Bernie Torme as a partner in crime. They ended up writing more than 100 songs in the run up to these sessions. With the recruitment of former Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr and bassist Marc Russell, the supergroup Desperado were ready to rock. They then secured an impressive record deal from Elektra A&R man Brian Koppelman, a fan of Twisted Sister from early on.
“Dee called me and shouted at me down the phone for hours,” the late Torme told Rock Pages in 2016. “Typical Dee, loved it – he’s a force of nature! They had been looking for a guitar player [or] foil to set Dee off against, like Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] or Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, and that really appealed to me. So I went to New York and Dee and I got on like a house on fire. We bonded; it was good.”
Sadly, it didn’t take long for everything to begin unravelling. Still based in London, “the band had taken to dressing like Wild West outlaws, complete with spurs,” Snider said in his 2013 memoir Shut Up and Give Me the Mic. “During the two-month stay, Desperado would perform what would turn out to be its only show ever, at a club in Birmingham under the pseudonym the Clinky Bits, referring to all the ‘jingling’ our spurs and jewelry did.”
At that point, Snider was bankrolling everything until the label advance came through. He returned home in high spirits for the 1988 holiday season, fully expecting the record deal paperwork to arrive in short order. Instead, he had to wait for months.
“It was maddening,” Snider recalled. “All the while, my financial situation – which had been cleared up less than a year earlier – was quickly eroding. By the time the deal was done and signed, it was too late. I’d been supporting first Bernie Torme, then the rest of Desperado, and all the ancillary expenses (housing, equipment, plane flights, per diems, etc.) since the end of 1987. As we prepared to head into the studio to record, almost two years later, I was already back in debt. The huge advance and budget from Elektra for the first album wasn’t enough to save me.”
Listen to Desperado’s ‘There’s No Angels Here’
He considered the possibility of selling his house, but told himself it wouldn’t be necessary. “As soon as I got the Desperado record out, everything would be fixed,” Snider remembered thinking. “I would be back on the top of the charts, and all of my monetary problems would be solved.”
The album, titled Ace, was completed early in 1989, under the auspices of producer Peter Coleman. Snider was intensely proud of the results. “My greatest songwriting and some of my greatest vocal performances were on that Desperado album,” he later told Classic Rock.
Still, the clock was ticking and his wallet was emptying. “It was hell,” Snider recalled in his autobiography. “I found it positively painful to watch MTV. Hair metal was a massive force to be reckoned with at that time, and to have to witness bands that had opened for Twisted Sister on tour or, even worse, watched us in the clubs (hello, Bon Jovi and Poison) taking the spotlight was killing me.”
Months passed and Snider remained on edge, until finally the crunch moment came in August 1990, just as he was packing his bags to head to England and shoot a video for Desperado’s debut single, “There’s No Angels Here.” “I received a devastating call from my manager,” Snider said. “Elektra Records had dropped Desperado and shelved our album. The news hit me as if I’d been told a family member died. I collapsed in a chair and listened to an explanation of how my record – which already had a catalog number and was in the Elektra database and slated for release in just weeks – had come to an end.”
Turns out, Brian Koppelman – “the fan who had signed us” – had left the label after getting a better offer. “Insulted by Brian’s move, Elektra got even with him by ‘shelving’ all the projects he was working on,” Snider added. “As if we were inanimate objects, Elektra Records shut down our careers.”
All of this was perfectly legal, Snider learned, because of one word in the contract. Elektra only had to complete its obligations upon receipt of a “commercially viable recording,” a matter of personal opinion. If it had read “technically viable recording,” Snider said, Desperado would have been on strong legal ground.
He regretted that his management company didn’t have the required clout to fight back against Elektra. Top executive Bob Krasnow wouldn’t even return their calls.
Listen to Desperado’s ‘Gone Bad’
Eventually Snider met him face to face and “asked him how he could do this. … The asshole replied, ‘Dee, it’s nothing personal; it’s just business.’ Not personal!? It couldn’t be any more personal. ‘I’m sure your group is very good,’ he continued. What?! He hadn’t even listened to our record?! ‘Hey,’ I recall him saying, ‘if it was up to me, I would get rid of all the heavy metal bands we already have on our label.’ The audacity of this piece of shit!”
Snider said someone else with Elektra later “gave me the answer, off the record. They told me that Dee Snider’s career seemed dead, but he might resurrect himself. The company view was, it’s better to write off a half-million-dollar loss than to take a chance, let the record go, and have it be a hit for another label.”
In some ways, Snider never quite got over it. “They’d put half a million dollars in the project. I’d put three years of my life; I spent so much of my own money,” he said in a 2013 interview. “It just was a major blow to all of us, in a story about downhill spiral for me.”
Torme said he kept a distance from the contractual discussions, but revealed more background about how this sad saga began. “It never should have been Elektra in the first place,” he told Rock pages. “It should have been Atlantic, which was Twisted’s label, and the label that the project started out on. So it initially was Atlantic, but there was a lot of politics going on, and Dee … sort of wanted to teach Atlantic a lesson.
“So instead of continuing with Atlantic they switched to Elektra, who were also offering slightly more,” Torme added. “Elektra was a serious mistake; I personally think Dee was very badly advised.”
Desperado’s Ace was eventually released in 1996 under the title Bloodied but Unbowed – but Snider nevertheless ended up selling his family home. “Some of my proudest moments are on that album,” he tweeted in 2021. “Sad what Elektra did to that record and my band.”
Krasnow died in 2016, but time had not healed old wounds. “May he rot in hell,” Snider later tweeted.
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