This is a feature from the all-new MAY/JUNE 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story and more photos, plus features on Beatles gear collectors, Guernsey’s 2016 guitar auction, GA’s Ultimate Luxury Products Guide, and Dave Mustaine and his Mustaine Vineyards wines, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.
THE FIRE STILL BURNS: With his new line of hot sauces and upcoming D’Angelico signature model guitar, Eddie Ojeda looks forward to life beyond Twisted Sister.
By Richard Bienstock | Photography by Justin Borucki
The D’Angelico showroom booth at the Winter National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention—the world’s largest annual gathering of musical instrument and gear manufacturers—in Anaheim, California, this past January immediately confronted visitors with several things that seem incongruous with the most storied name in archtop building. For starters, there was an abundance of slick, shiny, and very obviously solid-bodied guitars lining the walls. Then there was the man playing one of these modern electrics on a small stage located toward the back of the room: Eddie Ojeda.
The 60-year-old Ojeda, in glasses and a sleeveless shirt and sporting a long, thick mane of jet-black hair, is best known as the lead guitarist for mascara-clad Eighties glam-metal act Twisted Sister. He’s without a doubt a talented and accomplished musician. To the former, as a youngster in New York City he took classical guitar lessons from a teacher who had studied under Segovia. To the latter, Twisted Sister have sold millions of records over the course of their roughly 40-year career, and their biggest hit, the 1984 anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” is an instantly recognizable pop-culture touchstone, most recently having been used and abused by Donald Trump as a campaign rally song.
Onstage in the D’Angelico showroom, Ojeda is playing a beautiful SD single-cut model sporting the trademark bull’s-eye finish (initially made famous in the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” music video) and ripping through some of his band’s old tunes. The room is packed with fans, clearly more of a Twisted Sister than traditional-archtop crowd, pumping their fists and singing along in response. Taking in the scene, one thing was abundantly clear: This is not your grandfather’s D’Angelico company.
“The D’Angelico name was always associated with classy jazzboxes,” Ojeda says, relaxing in a backroom office space following his performance. “I mean, John D’Angelico never even built a solidbody guitar back in the day.” Indeed, John D’Angelico made his legendary name on handcrafted, stunningly designed f-hole archtops, which he built out of his shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side starting in the Thirties. When he died in 1964, the name went with him (even as his apprentice, Jimmy D’Aquisto, carried on in a similar tradition). In the years since, original D’Angelico guitars, particularly his New Yorker and Excel models, have become some of the most desired instruments in the guitar world.
But roughly four years ago, a new team of guitar men, including current D’Angelico executive vice president Steve Pisani, purchased the name and revived the company. “In the last few years, they’ve updated the line to include different styles, which also keep that classiness that D’Angelico is known for—those art deco touches like the stairstep tailpiece and the beautiful headstocks,” Ojeda says. “It’s a very cool thing.”
Now Ojeda is working with D’Angelico on a signature version of their SD model (which will feature artist-specific touches like hotter pickups, a thinner neck, and Ojeda’s bull’s-eye finish). What’s more, the two are cross-promoting the endeavor with another of his products: his new line of hot sauces. Dubbed Eddie Ojeda’s Twisted Hot Sauce, the award-winning brand boasts three varietals—a mild Apple Serrano, a medium Cherry Habanero, and a tongue-scorching Peach Carolina Reaper. To tie in with the condiment, D’Angelico will be offering the Eddie Ojeda signature guitar in three colors: green, red, and peach, each with a black bull’s-eye, to match the trio of flavors. Says Ojeda, “When they first came to me with the idea, I thought, I don’t know, a bull’s eye-on a D’Angelico? But when I saw it I said, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool!’ And I thought it was a great touch to pair the colors with the hot sauces.”
Ojeda, who still tours regularly with Twisted Sister, got into the hot sauce world almost by happenstance. “At first it was just something I used to spice up my own food,” he says. “I eat egg whites in the mornings, and egg whites are pretty bland, you know? So I started trying out different hot sauces to add to them. Eventually, I was talking to a chef friend of mine and I said, ‘I think I wanna do my own.’ I eat a lot of cherries, for health reasons, and I thought I’d like to try to do something made with a fruit. We got together, made a few different batches, and finally came up with the right one, which was the cherry habanero flavor. I did a small run, maybe 150 cases, and I figured that maybe I’d break even. But then the response was amazing. I won an award, and people were buying it wherever they could find it. I never thought it would turn into a real business.”
When it was clear that it was becoming a real business, Ojeda turned to Pisani, an old friend, to assist in helping him market the sauce. The two have known each other since the early Eighties, when Pisani worked as a salesman at the 48th Street location of Sam Ash Music in Manhattan, and the members of Twisted Sister were among his regular clients. After 30 years at Sam Ash, Pisani says, “I had the opportunity with my partners to take over the D’Angelico name. We restarted it as a new guitar line, and within a few years we made it into a global brand. Eddie and I figured we could do the same thing with his hot sauce. And it’s a nice fit: D’Angelico is a New York brand, and Twisted Sister is a New York institution. And Eddie is an iconic guitarist with an iconic guitar design.”
Ojeda says he’ll be playing his newly designed D’Angelico onstage when Twisted Sister returns to the road later this year. Amazingly, since the band reunited in the early 2000s after more than a decade apart, they’ve been riding a wave of popularity that rivals, if not in some ways surpasses, what they experienced in the Eighties. “We’re regularly headlining festivals for crowds of 80,000 people, which is not something we ever did back then,” Ojeda says. “It’s mind blowing.” That said, Ojeda also confirms that this year—his 40th with the band—will likely be their last hurrah. “I know some people don’t want to believe it,” he says, “but as far as we’re concerned, this is the ‘final final.’”
After that, Ojeda says he might explore the possibility of doing a second solo album, which would be the follow-up to his guitar-heavy 2006 solo debut, Axes 2 Axes. He’ll also continue to work with D’Angelico, as well as delve even further into the food world. “The whole foodie thing is so new to me,” he says, “but I love it.”
To that end, Ojeda recently had a chance to flex his food muscles on national TV, taking part in a special rock-and-roll-themed episode (sample ingredients: rock candy, chicken drumsticks, beer) of the Food Network competition show Chopped. There, Ojeda went toe-to-toe in the kitchen against Lita Ford, Dweezil Zappa, and the ultimate winner, Foreigner singer Kelly Hansen. “It was intense!” Ojeda says of the Chopped experience. “You have 20 minutes to come up with a dish, and at the same time there’s, like, 40 cameras in your face. It’s like trying to cook on a red carpet.” He laughs. “I’m definitely not a chef, but it was refreshing to do something a little outside of my normal thing.”
In general, Ojeda says, he wants to continue to pursue new endeavors, be they musical or otherwise, and see how far he can go with them. “With D’Angelico, I think it would be great to explore more options, like maybe doing an SD with an access heel, or even a double cutaway,” he says. “And with the hot sauce? I mean, I’d love to see it continue to grow, to the point where you see a bottle on the table in every restaurant, just like Tabasco. That would be the ultimate, you know? There’s no limit.”
This is an excerpt from the all-new MAY/JUNE 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on Beatles Gear Collectors, Guernsey’s 2016 guitar auction, Dave Mustaine and his Mustaine Vineyards wines, and Dave Mustaine and his Mustaine Vineyards wines, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.