On March 20, while on the road with Adrenaline Mob, longtime Twister Sister drummer A.J. Pero suffered a fatal heart attack while asleep on his tour bus. He was fifty-five. According to Twister Sister frontman Dee Snider, Pero had advanced heart disease, but this wasn’t discovered until after his untimely death.
Anthony Jude Pero was born in 1959 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and his family moved to Staten Island when he was four years old. He gravitated toward the drums at a very early age, playing a set owned by his uncle Carmine. When he was six years old, his father bought him a Ludwig kit; later that year the young drummer began playing professionally, doing gigs with the Buddy Russell Trio, whom his family met while on vacation in the Bahamas. “I had begged my parents to let me sit in with the group one night,” Pero told Modern Drummer in February 1986. “I ended up playing with them every night of the week. They started to fly me out to do weekend gigs all over the country when I was seven.”
Although he was known as the hard-rocking heavy hitter who crafted the simple yet unforgettable head-banging drum intro, complete with cowbell, to Twisted Sister’s biggest hit, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” from its most commercially successful album, 1984’s Stay Hungry, Pero was influenced by jazz and big band drummers, including Sonny Payne, Gene Krupa, and Buddy Rich. It wasn’t until Pero turned fourteen and began hanging out on street corners that he started listening to bands like Led Zeppelin, the Who, Yes, and ELP.
After high school Pero played in a few bands and worked three jobs in order to survive. He even stopped taking wedding gigs in order to stay true to the mission he originally set out on. Although he knew of Twisted Sister from the ’70s New York club circuit, it wasn’t until 1981 that he learned the band was looking for a new drummer. He auditioned twice and joined the group in 1982, in time for its debut recording, Under the Blade, which was released that same year. Pero played on the band’s next three albums before departing in 1986. After participating in various projects, he rejoined Twister Sister for its 1997 reunion, remaining with the group until his death. In 2013 A.J. replaced Mike Portnoy in Adrenaline Mob, playing on the band’s second album, Men of Honor. Portnoy in turn took the drum chair in Twister Sister after Pero’s death.
“A.J. was not only a great, truly underrated drummer,” Portnoy says, “but an incredibly kind soul who was taken from us way too soon. It’s my honor to help out his band Twisted Sister in their time of need, just as he did with Adrenaline Mob after I left.”
Throughout his life, Pero was active within his community; in recent years he participated in 2009’s March of Dimes Bikers for Babies event and Staten Strong’s fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy victims. For five years Pero also took part in the Bonzo Bash tributes to Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.
“It was an honor to have A.J. be a part of it,” Bonzo Bash founder Brian Tichy says. “He brought huge power to the stage with every performance and left the drums in a smoky haze! This past May’s Bonzo Bash was in his honor, and we gave him the Legend Award. We all want to acknowledge his mightiness and impact on the world of rock drumming, as well as showing us that hard work and tenacity with a passion can pay off.”
“Pistol” Pete Kaufmann