Rock & Roll can be a small world. Just ask Twisted Sister’s Mark Mendoza.
Before he gained fame as the bassist in Twisted Sister, Mendoza was a member of a New York City punk band called The Dictators. On one particular night in the mid 70s, Mendoza and his bandmates were in Los Angeles and just happened to catch a local band on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip called Mammoth perform. A few years later and over few thousand miles away on a frigid cold morning somewhere in Michigan, Mendoza found out Mammoth had not only signed to a major record label, but had since changed their name to Van Halen. But there’s much more to this story and Mendoza told it during a recent episode of his internet show 22 Now.
“In nineteen seventy….six I wanna say it was,” Mendoza told his guest and Twisted Sister bandmate Dee Snider. “The Dictators went across the country. We end up in L.A. after driving across the country and we get there a few days early and we already had the Whisky a Go Go sold out for four nights. We get there, it’s like a Tuesday night, and the promotor says, ‘Why don’t you guys come down and see the club? We have a local band playing.’
“We walk in and I’m blown away,” he continued. “I don’t know who’s on this stage, I don’t know what’s goin’ on but I walk in and the band is playing the Cactus version of ‘Parchman Farm’… I walk into that and they’re kickin’ ass on it. I see this guitar player that’s phenomenal and the singer’s running everywhere, doing an amazing job and the bass and drums are incredible. And then they go into this other thing and I’m not gonna mention what it is yet, they go into their version of a very big hit song from years before that. They took a break and they want back on and we had to leave and we did. I never thought anything of it again. The band was called Mammoth.
“So now it’s like…the winter of ’78, it’s like March or so of ’78,” Mendoza continued. “Me and Billy Kelly are driving to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the middle of winter, everything’s frozen solid in this Hot Rod Nova. We get to, like, 20 minutes outside Ann Arbor and we got the [rock] station on, which I had just been on about eight months, six months before that at an interview with The Dictators. The DJ [on the morning show] is talkin’ about this brand new hot rock band and he goes, ‘If you can guess the name of this band, you can win their album.’ So he starts playing [Van Halen’s cover of ‘You Really Got Me’] and I’m like, ‘I’ve heard this before!’. I’m like, ‘Billy, pull over! Man, I know the name of this band!’ He goes, ‘Are you serious?!’ I mean, it’s like six o’clock, 6:30 in the morning, it’s freezing, we’ve been driving all night from New York to Michigan. So, I make him pull into the gas station, I get out. It’s a dime [to make a call]. I put it in the pay phone and I’m going ‘shhh tih-tuh-tih-tih…..shhh tuh [pretends to dial numbers on rotary phone] ‘cuz the DJ said the number on the station. And they pick it up and they go, ‘Caller, what’s the name of the band?’ I go, ‘Mammoth’. He goes, ‘WRONG!’ CLICK! I’m like, ‘Damn!….DAMN!’
Mendoza continued, “We get back in his car and we’re driving right? Fifteen minutes later the morning DJ says, ‘Alright, nobody guessed the name of this band but one guy called up and named the band what they were before they got signed and if you’re listening caller…call back ‘cuz you’re the only one who really called. They only had four calls ‘cuz no one had a clue who it is. So I call back and I go, ‘Hey, I’m the guy who said Mammoth.’ He goes, ‘Well, that’s what it was so since we don’t have a winner, you’re gonna be the winner. Do you know where the station is? I said, ‘I do.’ He goes, ‘When can you be here?’ I go, ‘About five minutes.’ [I said] ‘Billy, we gotta go to the station!’ [He said] ‘Really?!’ I said, ‘Yeah, c’mon! We’ll go to the radio station, you’ve never been to one before.’ So we drive over to the station, [they] buzz me in. I see the DJ, he’s looking through the glass, he’s live on the air and he’s pointing at me goin’ ‘Yeahh!’ He knows I’m Mark from The Dictators, not realizing I’m the guy who won the contest. He goes, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I said Mammoth on the phone.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, you’re the winner!’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ He goes, ‘That’s great, I just had you on about six months ago. You wanna come on the air for a while? Let’s do it!’ So we get on, I tell my story about [seeing Mammoth in L.A.]. He gives me the cover and I look at it and he goes, ‘It’s the new band called Van Halen and their name is no longer Mammoth. How’d you know [they were called Mammoth]?’ We discussed it on the air that I had seen them in L.A. before they were signed.”
You can watch the entire episode of 22 Now at the top of the page. To hear Mendoza’s Van Halen story, go to the 52:00 mark of the video.