Judist Priest

By Lori Carson Smerilson | Live Photos by Tom Rentz

Golden anniversaries are milestones that most rarely experience with their careers. Judas Priest are one of those exceptional professionals who are celebrating their Fiftieth Anniversary of their heavy metal career with a third leg of their U.S. tour.

From the start of their career forming in Birmingham, England in 1970, this extraordinarily talented hard rock band began marking their legend with world renown hits like “Sinner” from their album Sin After Sin released in 1977 and “Hell Bent For Leather”, title track from their LP released in 1979. Then they went on to bringing in the 80’s with “Breaking The Law” from British Steel released in 1980 with several hit albums to follow that led them to bring in the ‘90’s with “Painkiller”, title track from their LP released in 1990. They continued through the decades releasing more hit albums and songs like “Firepower”, title track from their last LP released in 2018. The great news is they are not slowing down!

Catching up with their amazing vocalist, front man Rob Halford, just prior to their North American fall tour (with bandmates Lead Guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner, Bassist Ian Hill and Drummer Scott Travis), he revealed some details about this new Judas Priest show, how the band has stood the test of time, how he got his start as a musician (divulging a bit about his two books Confess: The Autobiography and Biblical), and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: How did this tour came together? This is exciting, fifty years! That’s amazing!
Rob Halford: Isn’t it the most amazing thing?

SFL Music: It is.
Halford: Yeah, I still have to give myself a heavy metal pinch occasionally. Is this really happening? Has this band been making metal for fifty years? Well, the truth is, yes, we have. So, you have to look into your back catalogue from where it all started back in the seventies. Sounds like Victorian times (he laughed), but back in the seventies is when it all began. Use your albums as a kind of a templet to kind of connect all the dots. The heavy metal dots. So, to go from Rock a Rolla to the last record FIREPOWER and everything in between is just mind blowing. We’re here, so grateful and honored to be in this special place ‘cause there are very few metal bands or any bands really that have the story to tell. Our metal maniacs have sustained us for fifty years. It’s just this great love that we have with the people who have given us this metal, and so to be able to physically take this idea, this accomplishment, this achievement around the world like we’ve been doing for over a year or so now, is just great. It’s important on a lot of levels. It’s important to reflect on this band and the music that we’ve made, the shows that we’ve done. This is the source of heavy metal basically. These are some of the guys that invented the sound of heavy metal, and the fact that we’re able to do this third leg of a tour here in the United States, just shows you how important and how strong the structure for support that Priest has in the United States. We have to go around at least three times to see everybody. So, it’s a lot of stuff coming in at a lot of different levels, but the end result is this wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity to celebrate and to put the heavy metal horns up together.

SFL Music: What can fans look forward to with this tour? This show, this year?
Halford: What we have done for this particular leg is that we’ve kind of re-energized the set list. We’re gonna do a lot of focus on another anniversary that’s happening right now. The fortieth anniversary of SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE (released in 1982) which is an important album for obviously “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, for “Electric Eye”, “The Hellion”. All of the other cool songs on that album. So, we’re gonna incorporate part of the set to really enjoy again, those songs as well as the other material that we know our fans would be upset if we didn’t go “Breaking The Law” one more time or “Living After Midnight” together one more time. Those are the heavy metal memories, the time machine that we all get into. Judas Priest is very much like a heavy metal time machine in that respect. The way that we take us all around these different decades together. You’re banging your head to something from the seventies or whatever is 2022 and time becomes irrelevant, but it’s important because when you hear you know, “Living After Midnight” suddenly it’s 1980 all over again and you’re on your first date in High School. You’re going to the movies together. You’re hanging out at the park. All these beautiful memories that attach themselves to music because they’re part of your life story. These are the places that you get to when you’ve had a long life in heavy metal.

SFL Music: What drew you to become a musician in the first place? What was the inspiration that you knew you wanted to do this for a career?
Halford: I’ve got to say that the strongest memory that really triggered this whole love of music was that moment that I talked about in my autobiography Confess when I stood at the front of the class and I sang a Scottish folk song ‘cause the music teacher was putting together a school choir, and I just had this voice. This voice was there. I haven’t got a clue what it was, but it was there and I was singing and she was so impressed, she took me around to a couple of other classrooms and at the end of my little acapella, a few people would clap, and kids love attention, right? Kids love, love. It’s important to love your kids. So, I always remember that so vividly, and then as I began to grow and mature as a person, and music in your tween years becomes so important to you because you hate your mum, you hate your dad, you hate school, you hate your friends. You hate everything, but you love your music. So, that’s when I really started to get more deeply attached to music and I could somehow feel it pulling me. I feel like I want to do more than be a listener. I want to be involved. I want to be in a band. So, that’s what I did, and it was very early bands that again, I talk about in the book. That’s where you kind of test your rock boots out and see if your desire, if your dreams can be made real and you know, all these blessings that I’ve had in my life and hard work and determination, self-belief. I was slowly able to put myself into the position where I became the singer for Judas Priest all those years ago. So, it’s a great story really. I don’t think it’s any different to most musicians. Why are you in a band? Why do you play drums? Why do you play the guitar? It’s a calling that you have no control over. It’s something that you’re born to do, and that’s what it is for so many of us.

SFL Music: Now you guys are getting ready to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Halford: Yes, yes.

SFL Music: That’s amazing! Congratulations.
Halford: Isn’t that so great that it’s happening around the fiftieth anniversary as well? It’s like a double blessing. Yeah, It’s so cool in that respect. Who knew? We dreamed that it would happen and then we got close to it a couple of times with the initial nomination, and I must say that those first couple of times, you’re so excited and then you didn’t get it. Oh boo (he laughed). I’ll go and make a nice cup of tea and I’ll feel better.

SFL Music: There you go.
Halford: So, when it did actually happen, when I got the news, I was just like a kid again as far as this great feeling of another level of rare achievement in being inducted into this very important special place. Equally the fact that it’s heavy metal. We need more metal in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and then knowing that on the night you’re being inducted with all of this incredible other talent. Whether its Dolly (Parton) or Lionel (Richie) or Eurythmics or Duran Duran or Carly Simon, Jimmy Lovine. All of these incredibly important people in music and we’re all there together. It’s just a great representation of the inclusivity of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and just having a me moment in my sexual identity. First gay heavy metal head in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve only just started to think about that recently because you know, my identity is important to me as it is to everybody, but in terms of what it represents for my part of the community, it’s a very important moment as well. This was only recently put under the spot light when I’ve just been doing some interviews with like LGBTQ publications. “Well, do you realize that you’re the blah blah blah” Am I? Yeah, you’re right. I am. So, that’s sweet as well. It’s a sweet moment on all these different levels.

SFL Music: What would you say inspires you when you write your music?
Halford: I’ll tell you what it is. You have to be inquisitive. You have to have a sense of adventure. You have to have a sense of again, desire and hunger to see what else you’re capable of creating. It’s very easy to write songs when you’re in a band like Priest. It’s very difficult to write really good songs of substance that you feel so committed and have so much belief in that you physically go through the whole experience of recording and putting them on a record or whatever, and releasing it to your fans around the world. That’s part of us as a band in terms of the writing team, especially Glenn and Richie and myself. We get excited about those opportunities. It’s never a chore. It’s never the label needs another album contractually. It’s never any of that. It really is a genuine sense of we love doing this.

SFL Music: So, it just kind of comes?
Halford: Yeah, that’s why we pretty much completed this new Priest album that will be released in the not-too-distant metal future. That again, reinforces what this band has been doing forever. You know, you write, you record. you release an album. Then you take it around the world. We’ve been doing that pretty much from day one, and to think that we’re going to have that opportunity again at this point in our esteem career, is just beautiful and remarkable at the same time.

SFL Music: How did it come about that you’re touring with Queensrÿche?
Halford: Priest are notorious for our incredibly hard-core fans, so we like to think about how our fans are going to be with the guests that we take out with us, and that means trying to find a balance for the night. Of course, Queensrÿche are this incredibly powerful, potent band that have a very unique style, but it actually really marries itself well with the Priest balance because neither of us are like each other. However, as we’ve all experienced with tours together, there’s just something really special about the way it connects. The way that Queensrÿche and Priest connect together. Firstly, that band has been working for almost as long Priest, so there’s that kind of tenacity in their work and their work ethic, and their great albums and the musicianship, the standard of musicianship which is so great. So, it’s perfect. It’s a perfect set up to have this great night out for the Queensrÿche fans and for the Priest fans, and for the Priest fans and the Queensrÿche fans because you’ve got to share these things. Not every Queensrÿche fan are a Priest fan and vice versa, but I’ll tell you by the end of the night, they will be. Suddenly a Queensrÿche fan will be “I like Priest.” Priest fan, “Queensrÿche are pretty cool, man.” So, in terms of introducing each other at a venue, at an event musically, that’s just a really sweet thing to happen.

SFL Music: You’ve worked with so many people over the years. You’ve earned a Grammy. What would you say is the secret to the longevity of Judas Priest?
Halford: Oh, it’s a lot of things. So much, you know. I’ll tell you, it’s like a marriage (he laughed). It’s like a relationship. It’s like a deep relationship with in our case, five people. You really have to work, work it all the time. You can never stop nurturing it. You can never stop working to make it strong and solid and continuing. You can’t take any of that for granted. You really have to have all of the right parts in place to make this relationship that you have with other people in your lives outside of the music. You can’t underestimate that. You’re musicians, but you’re five totally different, independent people living their own lives. So, finding the place of professionalism and balance and respect and care, love and understanding for each other is as important as all the songs you write. All the albums you write. All the shows you made. It is very much like a real strong bond of teamwork, but more than that. So, its hard work really. It’s not easy. It’s not easy being in a band. Never has been easy. Never will be easy.

SFL Music: Is that the type of advice you’d give an up-and-coming band?
Halford: Yes, but firstly, that everybody believe in what you’re doing. If one of you is not so committed than you really need to talk that through because all of you have to be incredibly tight in the work that you’re making because music is such a passionate, emotional, life driving force. You’ve all got to be putting out a hundred percent because if you don’t, it gets to be wonky. So, there’s that, and then there’s all the other stuff that you only really learn the longer that you spend with each other. Why is he cutting the steak like that? Why is his mouth open when he’s chewing the steak? All this stupid stuff. All this stupid stuff that suddenly becomes the most important thing of the day. So, all of that is wisdom and again, it’s making sure that you let go of the silly superfluous stuff and really focus on the important valuable stuff. You only get that through time and through assistance and through again, working hard to keep it all together.

SFL Music: That’s great advice. Now you guys have a photographic book (Judas Priest: 50 Heavy Metal Years) that came out in 2020 as well as the 42-CD box set that came out in 2021. How did all that come about?
Halford: Again, part of the celebration of how can we really bring into the celebration all of these other elements, and you know that phrase, every picture tells a story? That’s what this book is all about. You don’t really need much apart. I mean, there are some introductions throughout the book from a scene or that particular event, but you just have to look at the pictures. Then again, you know, you’ve got the family album from when you were a little baby in your diaper, to suddenly you’re standing there with a whip (he laughed), but it’s the same guy! My God! Who knew? So, it’s that side of Priest that I think is a treasure to have visually in terms of just sitting there with the book and going, I remember that tour. Yeah, I remember when he wore that on the stage. I remember when Glenn was doing that bit ‘cause I saw that show. So, that’s another great metal memory of connectivity in a book. Its behind me right now. Its right there (he pointed to it).

SFL Music: Oh, yes, it is.
Halford: The reason I have them there is because I have to remember. There’s all this stuff I’m trying to put in my brain. That’s there. There’s Biblical above it. I have to visually surround myself with stuff to remind me what’s going on at any given moment.

SFL Music: I hear ya. You mentioned you guys are working on a new album. Was there anything else for fans to look forward to?
Halford: That’s pretty much it for the time being. There’s always stuff on the heavy metal back burner as we call it. There are always ideas floating around. I think that’s important to keep your mind and your opportunities and take the blinkers off. You know, anything can happen. So, what’s important for Priest is, we’re here (he laughed). We’re still here! We’re loving it and we’re excited about this ongoing celebration, but equally excited about the heavy metal beast of Judas Priest.

SFL Music: Anything else you want to add?
Halford: Just send our love to all of our heavy metal maniacs. Thank you for supporting us and keeping us alive in what we do in metal, and we’re ready to throw up the horns and have a great screaming night out together soon when we come to your part of the world.

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