Tales of Rock: Rob Halford Reflects on Fifty Years of Judas Priest

I LOVE JUDAS PRIEST!

When Rob Halford, one of the world’s most notable voices in heavy metal says, “You and I may be seeing Wickedtogether,” you might be just a little bit confused and a little bit star struck. I had the privilege of speaking to the Judas Priest front man the day before my birthday, and he asked me what I was planning to do to celebrate. Upon answering truthfully that I was going to see a play, we began our in depth discussion talking about our adoration of the theater and Broadway shows—specifically, Wicked. I just so happen to have seen The Wizard of Oz reimagined show on Broadway, as well as having read the books it’s based off of—just as Rob has; he was desperately trying to fit seeing the touring version of show into his schedule—prior to embarking on a tour himself.

If you couldn’t already tell, Rob Halford and I had a conversation that was bursting with energy, honesty, and creativity from start to finish—similar to that of his still-going-strong musical career with Judas Priest—50 years since they formed and changed hard rock music and the metal scene as the world knew it.

You have one of the most distinct voices in rock. When did you know you sing? Or, I should ask, when did you know that you had such a range and vocal ability?

Well, I didn’t really discover all the range and all of the possibilities that the voice has given me until I started kind of playing around in the beginning with the very early bands that I worked with. You’ve probably heard names like Hiroshima and Lord Lucifer and Athens Wood, and I think a lot of musicians, before they have the chance and the good luck and good fortune to become professional—no matter what you are, singer, drummer, guitar player—you all kind of find out what your abilities are in those early experiences. That is how it was for me, really, Debra. I’m probably talking about my late teens, before I went into the twenties. Those bands that I worked with weren’t metal bands, they were more like progressive/blues/rock bands, and so we did a lot of covers, but we also tried to write our own songs, as well. That is pretty much when I discovered the voice and what potential it had. Having said that, all of the wonderful producers that I’ve worked with since becoming a professional musician, including recently with Andy [Sneap] and Tom [Allom] and Mike [Exeter]… great producers will find things about you that are in you that you don’t even know exist. That’s why even the acts that have been around for the longest time need a unique producer, because a producer will get things from you that you won’t be able to find for yourself. That’s basically it. It’s a never ending journey, to be honest.

Oh, absolutely. Now, speaking of the bands that you were in before Judas Priest, did you take anything from those bluesy, progressive groups and those experiences and implement them into your career as a metal and heavy rock musician?

Absolutely! When I was a kid we had the old black and white TV in the house we would sit around as a family—there really wasn’t much going on the TV at the same, we only had one national television broadcasting company, which was the BBC and is still there, and there was one entertainment, commercial network called iTV on the British television, of whom are still there even though they morphed—but, generally, the weekends were known for kind of just sitting around the TV like families used to, and you would watch the TV. More often than not there would be an American movie on, and it could have been anything. Talking about Wicked, it could have been The Wizard of Oz or it could have been Meet Me in St. Louis. What I’m saying is that as a kid, you really soak things up when it comes to creativity and exploring…  musicals and films and whatever it might be… all that visual stuff. My mum and dad were very much particular with their tastes, so I’m kind of quite grateful for them for my viewings, because I took it with me. I know I took it with me, because when you and I were just talking briefly about Broadway and show business in general, I was able to show that, yes, I love all of the great singers of the world of all genres; whether it’s Michael Bublé or Barbara Streisand or Michael Feinstein or John Cafferty or The Grass Roots or Barry Manilow, Elvis, Frank Sinatra. It’s all of it, you know? Whenever I talk with my friends about other singers, I always emphasize that it’s great to have a favorite rock or metal singer, but the human voice is a remarkable instrumental and you can do many, many things with it if you take off the blinkers and get out of the box and just listen to everything else that surrounds you.

Right, and being a singer doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stick to the genre that you’re used to, or you like. You can mix rock with pop, folk, blues, and more to create your own sound.

Exactly, exactly, and this is the blessing of being in a band like Judas Priest, because, say, on this recent record, the guys took me on a journey with my voice; whether it was the intense performance of the “Firepower” track or the very emotionally demanding ballad at the very end of the record called “See it Red.” I loved to be in that world of different experiences, of different voices coming through, rather than one, full on, yelling and screaming performance…. Just to hear myself doing one kind of voice? I love to mix things up and to make it interesting for the band [and] for our fans.

On the topic of your latest record, Firepower, what was it like to go back in the studio and work with Tom Allom 20 years later?

Oh, it’s beautiful! You know, Tom knows everything about Judas Priest. He’s an expert. We see Tom pretty much every time we go out into the world and the idea about Tom coming back as a producer was born out of the idea that we had to kind of focus on all of these certain elements of Priest that Tom was involved with, so putting Tom with Andy, who is from a different kind of generation of producer, it was just remarkable to watch them do what they do sitting side by side. Tom knows everything. He knows everything about my voice, he knows everything about Glenn [Tipton]’s guitar tone, [everything about] Ian [Hill]… just in general. Working with Tom is a gold mine, it’s like a treasure. You mix those opportunities up and you get something special like we saw with the production of Firepower.

That’s fantastic. I think the creative juices really flowed fiercely between the producers and the band, which I personally think paid off.

Thank you, thank you! You know, we feed off of each other in this band. If I watch Scott [Travis] going crazy on the drums and doing these amazing drum patterns and seeing his efforts and determination, then I’m going to bounce off that. I mean, that is what is important about having the love and respect of your fellow players. We all have a job to do, but the best of that job comes out of the teamwork effort and being there for each other and encouraging each other. Much like every Priest album, the end experience is born out of a lot of important team dynamics more than anything else.

That’s a stellar outlook on being in a band and making music, especially over so many years. On the topic of older music of yours, do you ever go back and listen to some of your deep cuts? With a discography as unique and immersive as yours, I can imagine that there are songs that even you rediscover once in a while.

We’ve been doing that a lot recently, Debra, because we are trying to dust off the mantle of songs that we haven’t played in a while. There are so many tracks, but we’re mentioning certain tracks like “All Guns Blazing” and “Out in the Cold.” There are all of these incredible Judas Priest songs that you tend to forget, you know? You’re always out there showing of your latest creation, as we are with Firepower, and then you have to include the songs that your fans are ravenous to hear and are absolutely entitled to hear. So, once you start putting all that together, a bulk of the show has already made itself on the set list, but by the same style, there are always 45 minutes that you can utilize for some new adventures. That is what we’ve been doing recently, so, yeah I listened to Rocka Rolla, our first album, recently and I would love to do the title track live. I’m not sure why I feel that way, but there is just something very special about the Rocka Rolla title track that still resonates with me, and I would love to hear Priest play that track now, how many decades later. There are so many things to listen to and try out that I’m sure we’ll be able to bring to life by the time we come to your parts of the world.

I hope so! If you, yourself, find some of these songs so special even now, then I can only imagine how special it would be for fans to hear.

Yeah, because, first off when you make your first hit record, you think “That’s it. I made it.” [Laughs.] And, “Everything’s going to be great now!” Well, wrong! That’s wrong because that is when the pressure starts. You’re suddenly under limitations that you didn’t have before and so many things get out under the microscope that may have never been under the microscope before. So those songs, those very early Priest songs—some of which didn’t even make it to the first record—for lots of different reasons, you listen to them now and play them to perfection just because they mean so much to you in many different ways. I think listening to the first album shows that Priest was going to be a band that was going to take us all on this great journey together in heavy metal. It’s a good album, still, especially for a first.

Absolutely! Like you said, you’ve done a lot since then, too, but you’re still doing it in the ways that you want to, which I think is important.

That’s a difficult thing to work in, too, because when you do get success and when you do start to see things come back at you, there is a tendency to lose the focus of what you’re trying to be about. What I mean by that is that if you have a very, very successful selling record, there is an intonation that we need to make another one of those. That has never been the case with Judas Priest and our label, Sony, and even all going back to Columbia and Epic, CBS… our labels have been wonderful in giving us free range. They’ve always had a lot of faith in Priest and still do. They know that we are going to deliver the goods and every one of our records have kind of stood on their own legs and shown its own character, so it’s a good thing.

Of course, you’ve been known as the Metal God for decades now, but you’ve also been a hero to thousands of people with all different backgrounds and all walks of life. Your impact on the metal community, the LGBTQ+ community, and the music industry itself is immense. Do you feel—or have you felt any sort of pressure— over the years when it comes to being such a high caliber and influential person?

Oh, thank you! I don’t think that about myself, but those were very kind, generous words and I appreciate that greatly. Thank you, Debra. Here’s the deal, though: these things come along from your own making, but I don’t think you’re aware of them right away. When you start to see the accolades in the press and the praise from your fans and this award and that award, it makes you feel good, you know? It makes you more concerning to do better, to be better. That’s the thing with us in Priest, I don’t know if it’s with our British, working-class background or whatever, but, again, you have to be able to know how to deal with that change and those feelings. You know, the world is a different place than when I grew up. The music is still the same, but the world is a different place in terms of communication. I have a fairly decent social media presence and I see what the fans say, whether it be on my Instagram or my Facebook or Priest’s own Instagram and Facebook. I read what the fans say. I am aware of how they feel. How you digest that can be kind of tricky. You have to have a thick skin in some cases and in some cases, you kind of utilize the information that you’re getting back from them and put it to good use; which goes back to how you take it and how you use it to make you a better musician and a better person for yourself and your fans.

 

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Tales of Rock – Tony Iommi

Birmingham was an industrial town in the Sixties, “much like our Detroit.” He had been welding, but grew infatuated with making music, playing guitar and accordion. When a band he was playing in wanted to tour Europe, he decided he’d take the rest of the day off from welding, but his mother sent him back to finish off the day. “They put me on a huge machine, a massive thing, and I didn’t know how to work it,” he said. “As I was pushing the metal into the machine, it came down with such a force and bang, it just chopped my fingers. There was blood going all over the place.”

A co-worker had put his fingertips in a matchbox and sent him to the hospital, but doctors told him he could never play again. “I was extremely depressed and very down,” he said. “The manager of the factory came to visit me at home…and then he told me the story about Django Reinhardt, who had lost his fingers.”

Feeling inspired, he created makeshift fingertips, invented light-gauge strings, dropped his tuning and explored a number of other ways he could play guitar. The combination led to an “aggressive, raw and fat” sound that became Black Sabbath’s signature style.

“Of course, losing my fingertips was devastating, but in hindsight it created something,” he said. “It made me invent a new sound and a different style of playing, and a different sort of music. Really, it turned out to be a good thing off a bad thing.”

Thank you Tony, for 45 years of joy!

 

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Tales of Rock: Swedish Metal Fiasco – Ghost – Part 3

Ghost is a Swedish heavy metal band that was formed in Linköping in 2006. In 2010, they released a 3-track demo followed by a 7″ vinyl titled “Elizabeth”, and later their debut full-length album Opus Eponymous. The Grammis-nominated album was widely praised and significantly increased their popularity. Their second album and major label debut Infestissumam was released in 2013, debuted at number one in Sweden, and won the Grammis Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Album. The band released their third studio album, Meliora, in 2015, to much critical acclaim and high record sales, reaching number one in their home country of Sweden, and number eight in the United States. Its lead single, “Cirice”, earned them the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance.

Ghost is easily recognizable owing greatly to its eccentric on-stage presence. Five of the group’s six members, its ‘Nameless Ghouls,’  wear virtually identical, face-concealing costumes. The most distinguishable member is its vocalist, called ‘Papa Emeritus’, who wears a prosthetic mask of skull face paint and appears as what can be described as a “demonic anti-Pope.”  Each album cycle has brought about a change in the band’s appearance. Though the vocalist is always portrayed as roughly the same archetypal character, there are slight appearance changes, and even altered personality traits from former versions.

All of the band members’ true identities were kept anonymous until 2017, when five former members revealed themselves, four of whom filed a lawsuit against the lead singer Tobias Forge, marking the confirmation of his true identity.

Church and I get to the venue around 8:45pm. It’s hot as hell this summer. They check our ID’s at the door and stamp our hands. We go through security like it’s a fucking airport. I have to take out my keys and show them to the nice lady who is patting me down and I just pretend she’s fondling me for a second.

Then I see my adorable young friend Emily! (See: Emily – 2015 to Present – Super Baby Sister) I forgot she works here at the Fillmore. I love little Emily. I give her a hug and I feel all of the rage that I had bottled up for the last four days simply drain out of me. I’ll have to bear that in mind on the next occasion I’m angry. Simply hug a cute girl.

Church and I hit the bar. He gets a coke because he’s not drinking. But buys me a vodka and tonic. Free drinks always make me feel better. We walk around and check out the venue. He’s never been here before. The Fillmore is one of my favorite places to see a show. It’s an old refinery that’s been converted to a concert hall. So it’s very spacious. They have a big open lobby area, then there is a bar called the Foundry as you get inside. To the left is the main concert area. And again, that’s very spacious as well. There’s a huge long bar in there as well. It’s just the perfect place to see shows. This is a general admission show so there is no seating. Church tells me the show is sold out, and the place is packed. But not the bar area. So I’m happy to just sip my drink and I’ll watch from the back.

The show starts and the band comes out and hits it. Ghost is the antithesis of Catholicism where they worship the devil. They are lead by Papa Emeritus whose costume is similar to that of the Pope. Ghost had been to Philly before opening for Avenged Sevenfold in 2013. That lineup consisted of Papa Emeritus II who has since been replaced with Papa Emeritus III.

Ghost’s tour to the smaller venues is an amazing show as their light show is one of the best I have seen. The lights enhance their songs perfectly. They stay with the Catholicism theme using a thurible during one of their songs. Giving sacrament by using two ladies from the audience to give communion wafers and wine. Ghost has really reinvented their sound with Papa Emeritus III. The older songs do sound better with the new Papa. Hearing “Cirice” live reinforced the Grammy Award as it a perfect song. The Nameless Ghouls wore masks that would represent Moloch as well.

Like I said before, I don’t know anything about this band, but they rocked out and the guitar work was solid. I didn’t know any of the songs but near the end I was swaying and tapping to the music. If Duncan were here he’d be head thrashing. I always wonder why most people I see at concerts just stand there. I always move with the music. Maybe because I’m a musician.

All in all I had a good night and didn’t spend a bunch of money. So by the end of the night I was happy again, and making plans to see Emily one of these days for a Sugar Baby night of drinks.

But like I said in the last chapter of this trilogy. Never again will I get roped into someone else’s plans. NEVER AGAIN!

Church wants me to go to Las Vegas to see Billy Idol at the Hard Rock casino in October to celebrate his 9 months of sobriety. Never happening. I love Billy Idol, but that dude is sixty and I don’t gamble and why would I spend that kind of money to go to something I have no interest in? Church needs to pull himself together and do whatever he needs to do, but my life is magical enough without going to Vegas.

I’m happy with my life the way it is. I’ve done so much and lived so much. I continue to live in the now and feel life’s energy. I get my energy from people and I love that. I am full, and they keep pouring it on.

I’m fine. Daughter is fine and we’re hitting on all cylinders. She gets it and of course so do I. I’m surrounded by some empty lost souls. I’ll help them but that shit gets tiring. Let go of the bars of your prison and walk the fuck out.

 

 

 

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Tales of Rock: Swedish Metal Fiasco – Church – Part 2

I tell Church about how Duncan bailed on the show. He thinks that’s fucked up but is all amped to go see Ghost at the Fillmore.

I on the other hand I’ve been working my ass off at my job, the salon and getting the fitness center off the ground. I don’t even feel like going now that Duncan isn’t coming up. But Church bought a ticket and now I have to go. I swear, if he wasn’t so amped to go, I wouldn’t even have opened the email from Duncan with the tickets in it. I would have just finished my shift at the salon, and  went home.

I find I have had such a big busy life and have enjoyed the people and events and places in this city, I’m like a seasoned New Yorker now. People that have lived in Manhattan for years usually don’t go out much. I’m like that now.

I especially don’t like getting dragged into something I’m not interested in. I don’t know who the hell Ghost is, and I have no interest in seeing them live. My life is plenty exciting enough. I don’t need to truck up to the Fillmore in 100 degree weather, and go through a pat down, and then pay $8 for a vodka and tonic plus tip. I don’t like crowds and metal shows are always crowded with a bunch of scruffy ruffians.

I hardly even listen to metal anymore. I’m literally having anxiety about going to this show. I even thought on several occasions of emailing the tickets I have to Church and telling him I’m sick and he can take two other people. I just really don’t want to do this.

I’m even more pissed off at Duncan for setting up this whole shit show and then bailing three days before the show. What a dick. All because of the money aspect. He’s rich! What the hell?

Once he bailed on this show, I told Achilles I could work that night, because I figured, Doors open at 7pm. Warm up act goes on at 8pm. Headliner goes on sometime after 9pm. That’s how most bands and venues roll. I finish work at 8pm so after some final clean up I close the doors around 8:30. I don’t give a shit about the warm up act so I’ll get there when I get there.

I’m miserable about this. Church told me earlier that day he was driving down from Lancaster (Who knows why) and will meet me at the venue. I’m thinking, great. I can focus on the salon, no distractions during closing, and get an UBER to the Fillmore around 8:30-8:45.

I plan on ordering dinner. I can eat in peace, get my drinking armor on for the show and I’ll be fine.

Don’t I get a text around 7pm that fucking Church is now going to come pick me up. He’s been to the salon dozens of times. He must be familiar with when I normally get out of there. I’m like fuck! I have to order my food now because I want to eat in private. I really don’t want him to come here because it’s going to turn stressful.

He gets there around 8pm. Why couldn’t he have just cruised by at 8:30 and I could have just hopped in and off we go? No. He has to go park, and come up to the salon. I’m barely civil when he arrives. But behind him in comes my food delivery guy and I’m delighted to see him.

Now the fucking pressure is on. Fucking Church is talking about his parking and worrying about his mirror. He wants to help with folding the towels. I’m rage eating my food.

“You’re inhaling that!” he says.

Why couldn’t he have just gone to the fucking Fillmore and I could have met him there? Because he’s never been to the Fillmore and he didn’t want to go there alone. You’re a grown fucking man! Sack up and act like one! You were in the military! Where’s your nuts?

Then I have to go to the bathroom.  Church is actually concerned that I’m going to defecate rather than urinate because of the time factor. This is ridiculous. It’s all a waste of time.

I am so fucking angry at Duncan and now Church. We finally get out of the salon. I need a cigarette. Church lets me smoke in his car, thank God. He drives like a maniac through the streets pf Philly and I’m genuinely frightened and feeling a headache coming on.

We finally get to the venue and Church is practically running to get in there. He’s creating this whole stress level that shouldn’t even be here. I just tell him I’ll catch up and get there when I get in there and he slows down.

We get into the venue and the warm up act is done, and nothing is happening. So all of that pressure, and stress and speeding to the venue was all for naught. I knew it would play out this way. I just need to get some alcohol into me so I can chill out.

I vow tonight that I am never letting any of this happen to me ever again. I’m not going to any event I don’t really want to go to ever. My life is better than it’s ever been, and I’m not going to let anyone fuck up my smooth glide anymore.

So if you’re reading this do the right thing. Don’t ask me again!

(I see during final edit that whatever shitty Ghost video I posted on here is now unavailable. I’m not even going to bother replacing it. Because I don’t give a shit!)

 

 

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Tales of Rock: Swedish Metal Fiasco – Duncan – Part 1

“You should come up! We’ll rock out and you can see your family. No one ever laid on their deathbed and said, ‘I should have spent more time at the office.”

My buddy Duncan reached out to me a couple of months ago. He’s the one who works all the time at the bank in commercial real estate in North Carolina and makes tons of money. He’s completely driven by succeeding and earning, so he’s lost all site of the little things in life.

But I thought there was still hope when he sent me some music clips from a Swedish heavy metal band called Ghost. I thought it was pretty good, but I’m not thrilled with metal in general anymore. I’m just not that angry. I enjoy music that’s a bit softer now as I’m well into middle age.

A few weeks later he texts me that Ghost is playing at the Fillmore here in Philly. He says he’s buying two tickets and flying up to see them with me. I’m thrilled that I’m going to spend time with my old friend. I wouldn’t care if we’re going to see the Wiggles, I’m just happy to hang with my buddy.

He also tells me he’s staying up here a couple of days because his sister is getting married on Saturday. Ghost is on Thursday so I figure I’ll take off a few days and do stuff around the city with him until Saturday. It’ll be awesome just like the last time he came up.

I was hanging in a bar with my friend Church having some food and drinks when that text came through. Church says he loves Ghost. He wants to go too. I figure the more the merrier. Church buys a ticket on Stub Hub, and now we’ll all go rock out.

Three days before the show, (I’ve already asked for the time off) Duncan texts me that he’s not coming up now. He states that it will cost him $1000 for everything round trip and he just doesn’t want to spend the money. (This clown will be a millionaire by the time he’s fifty years old in two years!) What the hell?

He says it always costs him that much with air fare hotel, transportation, etc.

“Dude. Listen to yourself. You’re close to being a fucking millionaire.  A thousand bucks is like piss in the ocean to you!”

“I just don’t want to spend that much money on anything right now. Got to stay focused.”

“What about your sister’s wedding?”

“I’d rather do a longer fun filled trip and spend a thousand dollars rather that a quick up and back for a ‘questionable’ second wedding.”

“Oh, come on! This was your idea!”

“I’m emailing you the tickets now.”

“You suck! Church already bought his ticket.”

“Well you can bring someone else, or sell the ticket or give it away.”

“I think you’re making a mistake. Dude, you work a lot, you like this band and can totally afford to take a break and come up and enjoy the show. Live a little!”

“I would have really liked to see this band with you, they are good but a little different than what we’re accustomed to listening to.”

“You should come up! We’ll rock out and you can see your family. No one ever laid on their deathbed and said, ‘I should have spent more time at the office.”

“You sound like my mother.”

“Fine.”

 

 

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Tales of Rock – Zakk Wylde Accidentally Survived A Fatal Disease By Drinking All Of The Time

“Because you are shitfaced, all of the time.”

As a guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Wylde isn’t a stranger to the world of wild partying, it’s fair to say. His last name is literally the word “wild” as spelled by a drunk person. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this is the only reason he got into rock music.

However, after a monthlong bout of extreme illness finally forced him to see a doctor, Wylde discovered that he was suffering from a rare blood condition that caused his body to overproduce blood clots, which are things that can suddenly kill you at any moment without warning. Furthermore, he’d been suffering from the condition for several years. Wylde sagely asked how the hell he had managed to stay alive for so long with such a deadly affliction, to which the doctor responded, “Because you are shitfaced, all of the time.”

You see, the treatment for Wylde’s condition involves a course of strong blood thinners, which slow down the rate at which blood clots develop. You know what else thins the blood? Alcohol. Zakk Wylde’s years of being heroically wasted saved his life, although nowadays he’s banned from booze and restricted to taking standard medicine, which we feel is a little unfair to the booze.

 

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